Smriti Irani attends a meeting of the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in New Delhi on Monday. (PTI)
New Delhi, June 23: For a change, it is not the gerontocracy but Generation Next that has given a headache to the BJP just when Narendra Modi was warming up to deliver on promises he made to the “aspirational class”.
At the centre of the Delhi University mess appears to be an attempt by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) — the student’s wing that is beholden to some of the geriatric views of the RSS — to ensure that the Left does not walk away with all the “credit” in the battle against the four-year programme.
The Modi government’s dilemma is that it cannot ignore the persistent clamour from the ABVP to revert to the three-year undergraduate course. Nor does it want to be seen as an interventionist in education, especially when the autonomy of institutions is also at stake.
Besides, whatever student organisations of all hues say, the government does not want to be projected as being insensitive to sections of the so-called aspirational class for which foreign education remains a priority.
All of which has made the seat hotter for Smriti Irani, the human resource development minister who had braved uncharitable and insensitive slings from within and was settling down in the ministry.
Smriti has already thrown her weight behind the ABVP, although since then she has taken a step back to the fringes.
But the DU-UGC face-off is already being regarded as her first trial of sorts, a “baptism into state craft”. “She should have kept a low profile, been inclusive, taken all the stakeholders on board and not risked being imputed with labels,” said a former BJP colleague.
Adding edge to such condescension — probably influenced by heartburn over her plum post in the cabinet — are tweets by Madhu Kishwar, who has morphed from championing Narendra Modi to the government’s conscience keeper-cum-amicus curiae.
Two days ago, the academic and writer wondered in a tweet why the “new HRD minister” seemed determined to bring down the DU vice-chancellor who is “most serious about improving teaching standards”.
Kishwar, who had first flogged a non-issue like the HRD minister’s higher education background, told Smriti that she could not issue “sultani farmans” (royal edicts).
In another tweet, Kishwar insinuated Smriti was influenced by the university’s Left bloc because the minister had met Nandita Narain, the president of the Delhi University Teachers’ Association (Duta) and associated with the Left.
A BJP insider said the minister could “not have avoided interacting with Nandita, so this charge is absurd”. But he added: “What shocked us was that she repeatedly met teachers with pronounced Left leanings and who were among Modi’s bitterest critics for all these years.”
But the BJP insider conveniently forgot the fact that the minister had also heard out the ABVP.
A neutral view that is emerging from the BJP is that Smriti ought to have engaged both the teachers and students together and not as “separate entities” to get a “fuller perspective” of the issue and kept the UGC at a “distance” so that the Centre was not perceived as “partisan”.
As the Left-ABVP polemics over claiming ownership of a possible climbdown by the DU vice-chancellor — who was counselled by well-wishers to not resign and “go with the popular tide of opinion”— was playing out, a youth leader explained why Smriti had to take a pro-active role.
“The student community is huge, I would put the number at nearly seven lakh. We were motivated to vote BJP only because it eventually took a sympathetic stand. Had it hemmed and hawed after coming to power, things might have taken another turn,” said Saket Bahuguna, the ABVP’s Delhi state secretary.
Bahuguna gave the impression that the BJP was disinterested in the three-year demand to begin with. “We had taken the matter to many political parties and asked them to make it an issue in the (Delhi) polls. Finally, the Delhi BJP manifesto said the party would ask for the decision to be rescinded. Recently, we met the HRD minister. She assured us and what the UGC did is a good step,” he said.
At its national executive meeting at Mangalore from May 26 to 29, the ABVP had passed a resolution demanding the Centre roll back the four-year programme. By then, the BJP was ensconced in office.
The ABVP’s main complaints were the programme “grossly violated” the national education policy (based on the 10+2+3 template), an extra year was being “wasted in the name of impractical courses”, it increased “financial burden and decreased job opportunities” and the syllabi was “severely diluted”, “undermining the quality of education”.