People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 25

June 20, 2004

         Convention Demands Withdrawal Of Books Now!


A STRONG demand for immediate withdrawal of the saffronised and substandard NCERT textbooks brought out by the previous BJP-led government emanated from a convention against communalisation of education held here on June 11, 2004. The convention resolved that pressure for secularisation of education and, indeed, entire society must be piled up on the new UPA government through continuation of movements.


Eminent historians, economists, academics, lawyers and others participated and addressed this convention organised by the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT), which was chaired by Professor D N Jha.


In a statement adopted, the convention strongly felt that not a day should be lost in withdrawing the curriculum framework of 2000 and recalling the text books, especially those of history and social sciences prepared under it. The older national curriculum framework of 1988 should be restored and the earlier textbooks, with necessary updating, should be reissued. It wanted these changes ought to be given effect to from the current academic session.


Underlining the need for a firm stance to protect the secular foundation of the nation, the convention called for decisive action in the realm of school education. It advised the government to not allow procedural or bureaucratic delays to hamper action according to the priorities it needs to set.


It noted that one clear national mandate to the new government is that the entire project of the BJP government to spread communal poison through the educational system be immediately and uncompromisingly demolished.


Renowned historian, Professor Irfan Habib, in a critical reference on the new Congress-led government for dithering on this important task. He said these NCERT textbooks were a total negation of our past, our nationhood and our struggle for nationalism and that they should not be taught in schools for another day more. Referring to the HRD minister’s statement that there will be no witch hunt, Professor Habib angrily asked “Who wants you to do witch hunt. We only want you to discharge your duty.” He underlined the need to rectify the grievous damage done to important institutions like NCERT, UGC, ICHR by the previous government, which systematically disrupted and undermined them.


Professor Irfan Habib asked the new Human Resource Development minister Arjun Singh to take a leaf out of Railways minister Laloo Prasad Yadav’s book. He said Laloo was the lone minister in the new government who, with a single order, made a difference to the people. He referred to how Laloo’s order of using earthern pots, kulhads, in all trains and railway stations for serving tea and butter milk benefited hundreds of thousands of poor potters across the country. He revealed how he spotted enthusiastic potters selling their wares to railway authorities in Lucknow station a day after Laloo Prasad Yadav issued the directive.


“Laloo did not cite bureaucrats opinions to appoint committees to study the feasibility of this measure but acted firmly without wasting time. Arjun Singh should learn from this”, said Professor Habib.


Professor Habib saw a pattern in the statements and actions of key ministers – be it Chidambaram’s rushing to Mumbai to reassure stock brokers or Arjun Singh’s high profile meeting with IIM directors, or even Natwar Singh’s statements signalling continuation of India-US-Israel axis – all these show that these ministers are ashamed of being a government of the poor. There is a conscious effort to disown their constituency of poor and an attempt to distance the new government from the people’s mandate, which was an emphatic rejection of the communal policies of the Vajpayee government. “If it is only soft Hindutva and continuation of reforms by the new government, why should the people have voted you in place of BJP?” he asked, emphasising that this was the real danger. Professor Habib said that any expectations that given the people’s mandate, changes would occur automatically will be just illusions. He called for continuation of movements for secularisation of society, which alone would pressure the government into learning some wisdom.


In a brief intervention, eminent economist, Prabhat Patnaik said history should be left to historians and that all and sundry should not be allowed to meddle in it, as was allowed by the previous government. He rejected the argument that by withdrawing these books the present government would only be doing what the BJP-led government had done. The academic universe was in danger of destruction from the Vajpayee government due to its arbitrary classification of professional historians as Communists and others. He said the basic thrust now must be to free academic writing from political intervention.


Noted lawyer, Rajeev Dhawan felt that if the new government adopts the kind of leisurely attitude exhibited by the HRD minister, then these textbooks will continue for the next academic year, which was a dangerous thing. Since NCERT was a State publication house, the government can perfectly issue directive withdrawing these books since they were not only communal but also substandard and pliagarised. He brought out how the Supreme Court had never endorsed these textbooks by quoting relevant parts from the judgement. He felt that by withdrawing these books, the government would be fulfilling the mandate of the Supreme Court and the Constitution itself.


Rajeev Dhawan also made a demand that the government must set up an enquiry to probe how an important semi-government publishing body like NCERT was allowed to be totally hijacked by the minister. Making a passionate plea for protecting the children of the country from these books, Rajeev Dhawan concluded saying that it would be extremely unfortunate if a government which has come to power on a secular mandate does not act in this matter.


Among others who addressed the convention included, Professors Anil Sadgopal, Arjun Dev, Suraj Bhan, and Aditya Mukherjee.