MAKING BHARAT VISHWAGURU – THE REALITY – GUEST BLOG BY RAIMA SARKAR

 

President Droupadi Murmu on Sunday exuded confidence that the country would become the viswaguru’ by the time it celebrated the centenary of its Independence (in 2047) with its pride restored.

Being a Vishwa Guru would make all Indians proud. We all yearn for the glory of those days when our people reached the pinnacle of thought, achieved great understanding of the divine, and invented excellent ways of living. However, India cannot simply reclaim such a position; it must be earned afresh. Our people will have to do the necessary tapasya once again, with new thinking for modern times. We can be guru only if the global community acknowledges us as such; we cannot thrust our gurudom upon them.

India’s claim to world guru status is based upon old thinking: Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, the world is one family. We argue that since we were the first to say so, and the only people who follow the precepts, we are uniquely qualified to be the world’s guru. It may well be true, but nobody is buying it. All religions claim moral superiority. And the way BJP and RSS are making the case, we look like all other religions. Consider RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s recent appeal: “Let the entire world regain its lost balance on the basis of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam and walk in the path of righteousness,” led by “a Bharat that is capable of restoring the world’s balance of Dharma.”

A constant refrain of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the last eight years has been that of India as the “vishwaguru” or the spiritual mentor to the world. It has become an overused figure of speech, and it is sounding hollower than ever because all that India has to offer is land and cheap labour, apart from a handful of highly qualified CEOs. The prime minister and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman have time and again pleaded with American and European captains of business and industry to invest in India, and it has not fetched any significant results so far. But in his enthusiasm to project Brand India, Modi has been projecting India as the great giver, whether it be in terms of Covid or wheat.

They turned out to be premature claims. India has shared about 200 million Covid-19 vaccines, out of which 140 million were commercial transactions. And wheat exports had to be restricted because there was not enough wheat to meet supply fluctuationsat home. There is nothing ignominious in selling vaccines or restricting the export of wheat, but it is embarrassing to claim that India is saving the world by doling out vaccines and wheat to the needy. There are limits to a sales pitch before it loses it punch.

India-as-vishwaguru-mantra perhaps is meant to fire up the imagination of Indians to do better. On the contrary, it seems to be making Indians arrogant and complacent without any achievement to show for the arrogance. The more dangerous aspect of this vishwaguru syndrome is the feeling that Hinduism is a superior religion compared to the rest. Inadvertently, the vaunted Hindu tolerance turns into contempt for other religions. It is perhaps inevitable for the Shankaracharyas, the Vaishnavite jeeyars, and other orthodox Hindus to believe in the superiority of their own variant of faith. But it cannot be made into a national and political mantra without deleterious effects.

 

Modi and his colleagues in the government and the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) cannot get off the high horse of vishwaguru rhetoric because getting on it requires no skill but to get off it, you need both skill and sagacity. It is quite unlikely that the prime minister and his colleagues will change their ways because it has brought them rich electoral dividends. But persisting with it will create unwanted culture wars within the country and outside.

 

Inside the country, the culture wars as directed by Hindu nationalists will lead to constant friction with Muslims and Christians and also between language groups, especially in the form of Hindi and the rest of the Indian languages. Abroad, it would mean that we fail to respect the civilisational values of Christian Europe, Islamic Middle-East and Confucian China. It is a great loss to India that we do not understand other countries and civilisations, which is necessary to respect them and collaborate with them. The cultural self-centrism that the Vishwaguru attitude breeds is not just solipsistic, but it also affects India’s ability to look at the world’s diversity with respect.

 

 

Talking about how much Modi and his government has spent on themselves as compared to the education sector- The reply from the Information and Broadcasting Ministry says that the government has spent around ₹1,700 crore through advertisements in newspapers and ₹400 crore was spent on outdoor publicity and it includes hoardings, banners and billboards. The ministry had then stated that ₹448 crore was spent from June 1, 2014 to March 31, 2015 and

₹542 crore and ₹120 crore was spent from April 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016 and April 1, 2016

to August 31, 2016 respectively.

However, the BJP government’s expenditure is never questioned, but the Aam Aadmi Party’s ad spend of ₹97 crore was highlighted. Earlier in March this year, Lt Governor Anil Baijal directed that ₹97 crore be recovered from AAP that was allegedly “splurged” by the city government on advertisements. The LG had stated that it was in violation of the Supreme Court guidelines and had ordered an inquiry into the money spent on advertisements projecting Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his party, though the Supreme Court in 2016 permitted the use of photographs of governors, chief ministers, Union and state cabinet ministers in government advertisements, modifying an earlier order that restricted the use of photographs to only three top dignitaries.

 

According to statistics released by the Labour Bureau, job creation or job growth for 2015 and 2016 (April-December) stood at 1.55 lakh and 2.31 lakh in numbers respectively. These numbers are less than 1% of the 2 crore jobs promised per year by PM Modi.

 

In the 2016 survey of the Labour Bureau, it was found that in most of the eight biggest employment generation sectors — textiles, leather, metals, automobiles, gems and jewellery, transport, information technology and handlooms — jobs were shrinking, including teaching jobs.

 

We have a shortage of trained teachers as well as training institutes. There are 6 lakh posts of teachers vacant under the SSA. Even in the KVs, 7698 out of 44,529 sanctioned teaching posts are vacant; so are 50 per cent of positions in teacher-training institutions. Most teacher training colleges, as the Verma Committee observed, are so bad they should be closed down. If we train teachers badly, they will teach children badly. A serious initiative by MHRD is needed: urgent recruitment, more Teacher Eligibility Tests, remedial training. Instead we have a level of

 

governmental inattention to the crisis that matches our notorious culture of teacher absenteeism. The picture is even worse in higher education: Central Universities, IITs, NITs, IIMs, are all suffering crippling shortages of teachers.

 

India’s universities and other higher education institutions continue to be plagued by high faculty shortages. It was reported last November that among the older IITs, Bombay had a vacancy of 38.66%; Kharagpur of 42.42%; Roorkee of 41.88%; Delhi of 33.11%; Guwahati of 26.50;% and IIT-BHU of 53.39%. Central universities have the same problem. Total vacancies across these elite institutions in 2015 stood at 1,277 positions for the post of professor (or 53% of the total sanctioned positions); 2,173 for associate professor (46%); and 2,478 for assistant professor (26%). Even more worrisome is the fact that no improvement is foreseen in these numbers for the near future.

 

The Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry has said that there is a shortage of 3,00,000 professors in India. But given the booming education market and the mushrooming of a number of academic institutes offering various courses, why is there such a huge dearth of teaching talent?

 

Professors at leading institutes have said that despite vacancies, poor recruitment policies and insufficient salaries in government-owned institutes and the shoddy implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations are key reasons for this shortfall.

 

The data released by the Central government was collated by the Task Force on Faculty Shortage and Design of Performance and Appraisal System, which was set up by the HRD ministry in coordination with the University Grants Commission. The Task Force also estimated that during the coming decade, the shortage is going to increase at the rate of 1,00,000 faculty members a year.

 

Padma Sarangapani, professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai has said, “Until now, the higher education system was not attractive. Poor salary and no provision for permanent positions are the main reasons (for staff shortage). It is since the past five years that the higher education sector has been booming.” People who want to come into the profession of teaching are currently undergoing the required formal education. So there is capacity building, which takes time. A lot of investment—like scholarships and funds for helping students to complete their PhDs—is required, since they would be the ones interested in taking up teaching as a profession.”

 

Earlier, there have been media reports of teachers not being paid according to the Sixth Pay Commission. The Sixth Pay Commission did improve the salary structure, but has not been implemented in many of the colleges/universities across India, The situation at state government institutions is a matter of serious concern. They are offering salaries far lower than the Sixth Pay Commission’s recommendations which are applicable to Central government institutions. The situation of employment conditions in the private sector is worse. Unless the terms of employment improve, people will not come into this profession.

 

Talking about the education sector as a whole, One issue that has not received the attention it deserves from observers of the Modi sarkar has been its treatment of education. We have all heard for some time about the demographic dividend that awaits our nation from its youthful population, but we can only reap that dividend if we train and educate our young people to be able to take advantage of what the world has to offer them in the 21st century.

 

But the Modi Sarkar’s performance in education so far does not inspire confidence. Its budgetary allocations tell the tale. The overall education budget is down from ₹ 82,771 cr to ₹ 69,074 cr. Whereas under the UPA, the Plan allocation went up by 18 per cent in 2012-13 and by 8.03 per cent in 2013-14, the BJP Govt has reduced the Plan allocation for 2015-16 by

24.68 per cent. In higher education, we have long lamented that not a single Indian university is in the top 200 of any of the global rankings. But look at the non-seriousness of the BJP’s approach to our flagship IIT system. They have announced the creation of five new IITs with a grand total investment of ₹ 1000 crore – but the Government’s own Detailed Project Report specifies that the cost of establishing an IIT is ₹ 2200 cr over a period of 7 years: in other words, each new IIT needs an annual expenditure of around ₹ 310 crore a year.

 

Today if India wishes to be viewed as an exceptional country, it must offer new solutions to modern-day problems. The problems of diversity, religious extremism, inequality and authoritarianism are desperately seeking new answers. Indologists would of course argue that their solution is hidden in the Vedas and Mahabharat. Christians and Muslims say the same about their holy books.

 

This is not to say India doesn’t have unique strengths. In fact it has the rare combination of a universal philosophy, inherently tolerant religion, good size country, young population, democracy, and diversity that no other nation can match. The key is to put these strengths to good use instead of squandering them.

–BY RAIMA SARKAR

 

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