New HRD minister M Pallam Raju walked rather quietly in his Shastri Bhavan office. He did upset a small group of self-proclaimed secularists scholars as he not only performed a puja inside the offices premises, he also went ahead putting moral values in education on the top of his priority list. His immediate predecessor had hogged media space far ahead of any of his colleagues in the initial months, May 2009 onwards. Nothing substantial ever came out of the numerous reform measures that were being reported on a daily basis. What happened to 44 deemed universities that were derecognised in a huff and another 44 that were put on notice? All are functioning as before. Not many even recall the fate of much-hyped bill that was to eliminate the multiplicity of regulatory bodies in higher education; or the bill to establish tribunals to settle disputes between teachers, students and managements. When bodies like the UGC and universities like IGNOU do not get their regular chairperson and V-C for years, the MHRD cannot be blamed for efficiency and a sound work culture. Creating an environment of internal efficiency and urgency is a tough proposition and the new minister may have to put in extra effort on this. It appears Raju is dexterously getting acquainted with his new assignment and it is indeed refreshing to observe that he has so far made no high-sounding proclamations
The challenges before the MHRD are indeed complex. Educational expansion was necessary and there are tangible achievements on those counts. Education plays the most important role in nurturing and inculcating human, ethical and moral values. On this front, Indian education system has failed. Any objective analysis would reveal that the emphasis on values and morals was gradually reduced in textbooks and school practices when a select group of ideologically constrained individuals took control of educational initiatives. Even the Ramayana and Mahabharata were removed from textbooks in the name of secularism. Gita was declared a Hindu religious text and hence unsuitable for being included in textbooks. Political compulsions permitted continuation of such an approach for decades. The implications and imports of such a lop-sided approach were realised by those who had a foresight and faith in Indian culture and tradition of knowledge creation and its transfer to future generations. One of the most brilliant luminaries of the freedom struggle, Rajagopalachari, had pointed out what should really be done: “To misunderstand the secularity to which people think we are pledged, and to treat religion as untouchable is one of the many unfortunate follies our government has fallen into. It is not impossible, or even very difficult, to deal with and include religion in a nationwide effort to make men truly religious, each in the way shown by his or her own religion, and to add to it a spirit of understanding and respect for other people’s religion and way of life”. Let the new minister ponder over this great insight.
It is now universally acknowledged that education must be rooted to culture and heritage of the nation and, equally effectively, committed to progress. The time of alien and transplanted models evaporated much earlier. The spirit in the above words of Rajagopalachari was endorsed by a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court on September 12, 2002. The court inferred that teaching of basics of all the religions to children in schools to enable them to “know the commonalities and learn to respect differences wherever these exist” was not against secularism and, on the contrary, strengthens secularism in its true sense. If the MHRD could sincerely accept and implement this judgment, it would make a great contribution to moral regeneration and also to social cohesion and religious amity.