One can’t help but giggle at the irony of the Modi administration removing the name of the man who founded India’s premier Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT), an oasis of the brightest technical brains who have aided the nation and contributed to her progress. You will get the irony when you think about Smriti Irani. That this administration thought it was okay to select Smriti Irani as Education Minister earlier in its tenure is in itself an insult to the legacy of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, India’s first Education Minister.
Legacy of Maulana Azad
As India battles with divisive forces, it is vital to remember Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the architect of India’s education system, who wanted to create an educated and cohesive community that transcended religion, caste, and creed barriers. Azad’s dedication to education culminated in the establishment of prestigious institutions such as IITs, UGC, and scientific institutes around India, bringing the country into an era of academic accomplishment.
As seen by his Persian translations of the Mahabharata and Ramayana, Azad believed in the power of knowledge to transform a nation and unify its people. His lectures, writings, and views emphasised the importance of religious tolerance and solidarity. However, the decision by the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government to delete references to Maulana Azad from NCERT class 11 political science textbooks has overshadowed his enormous significance.
Why Modi government chose to quietly bury Azad’s legacy
Surely, the Modi government would have found it more difficult to remove Maulana Azad’s name from textbooks than that of Mahatma Gandhi. It is not only because he is the founder of IIT. While RSS’s thinking is directly opposite to that of Mahatma Gandhi’s ideology, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad’s personality was such that it is difficult for even the RSS to just directly oppose him.
Sincerely, working to free India from the clutches of the British, he was a staunch supporter of a united India. He always advocated for Hindu-Muslim unity and tried to prevent Muslims from migrating to Pakistan. After the independence, he was invited by Nehru to join independent India’s first government. He was offered to choose any portfolio he wanted. He could have become Home Minister, Finance Minister or Defence Minister. Yet he chose to become Education Minister because this is the field where he saw India was lacking the most.
Only 12% of Indians were literate after the British left India. He was visionary enough to know that for a strong & developed India, high literacy was absolutely necessary. How can such a man be criticized or insulted who did not seek power even when he could have? Instead, he kept serving India in the best possible manner till his last breath. But a Muslim being a pioneer of independent India’s educational system is not something many feel comfortable with in this new India. That’s why the BJP administration took the path of quiet deletion of Azad’s name from textbooks. Direct insults and ostracizing the legend would not have worked as it works against Gandhi or Nehru.
The damage being done by erasing Azad’s legacy
The erasure of Azad’s name not only distorts history but also risks fuelling India’s present hatred-fueled politics. The current administration’s rejection of Azad’s plea for religious and cultural harmony denies future generations the chance to learn from a great visionary who helped determine the nation’s destiny.
The BJP’s 2014 election manifesto promised a brighter future for India’s education sector, but the reality falls well short of that expectation. By not addressing fundamental concerns such as admission process regulation and private institution pricing structures, the National Education Policy (NEP) contradicts the constitutional goal of an inclusive education system. The budget’s allocation to education remains sorrowfully inadequate, demonstrating a sharp mismatch between the BJP’s rhetoric and reality.
Damage to IITs, the vision of Maulana Azad
Under Modi’s rule, India’s prestigious higher education institutions, including the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), are facing significant challenges. In a statement by IIT Bombay students, they question the government’s contributions towards providing quality education and point to the decline in public expenditure in higher education. This decline has led to a surge in private universities and forced public universities like IITs to raise their fees, hindering access for numerous students. Despite the announcement of a Rs 1,000 crore grant for IITs, students criticize the Modi government for scrapping fellowships for Central universities, particularly those aimed at supporting SC, ST, and OBC students.
The implementation of the General Financial Rules (GFR) by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) and the Universities Grants Commission (UGC) for Central universities will result in a substantial portion of the central universities’ expenditure being covered by student fees. This has led to concerns that IITs and other institutions will be increasingly inaccessible for students unable to bear the increased financial burden of higher education without state assistance.
Under the present government, IITs are encountering difficulties. Students at IIT-Delhi and IIT-Bombay have recently protested hefty fees increases, with MTech costs at IIT Delhi increasing by 100 percent. Students complain that the rise places a significant load on them and their families, making it impossible for many to continue with their studies. While the schools believe that the tuition fee hike is required to maintain and improve facilities, students contend that the steep rise is unwarranted.
The present administration’s measures have raised fears that the elite IITs may become increasingly inaccessible to students who cannot afford higher education without government support. Students from lower-middle-class households are finding it increasingly difficult to attend these schools, which were formerly thought to be a realistic alternative for excellent education, since costs continue to climb without equivalent increases in stipends or the availability of scholarships.
The BJP-led government’s continuous push for commercialization, centralization, and communalization of education is undermining India’s education system and destroying its federal structure, with potentially fatal consequences. As a result, India risks falling into intellectual illiteracy.
As a result of the decline in education over the previous nine years, the country is on the edge of becoming dumb. Students and educators are banding together to resist the BJP’s anti-people policies, which have been camouflaged beneath clever labels and media campaigns.
Future of India’s education system
While India struggles with internal turmoil and the growth of hate-driven politics, it is critical to recall and preserve the principles and philosophies of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, who dedicated his life to ensuring a literate and educated India. It is time for India to reject the divisive and damaging policies that threaten to wrap the country in darkness, as they jeopardise the educational system’s future and Maulana Azad’s legacy.
Like many patriots, I am too worried about such deletions and omissions that are being done in the name of the National Education Policy. Clearly, attempts are being made to not tell students the history of India but the story that will fulfil the goals of RSS. Facts and giving the next generation a complete picture of India’s past is obviously not the goal.
Doesn’t matter even if the past is about the man who founded the IITs in India. Don’t be surprised if someday the Modi government decides to include Smriti Irani’s name in NCERT textbooks and terms her as the mother of the Hindutva education system in India.