The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Atal salutes ‘saffron’ Joshi

New Delhi, Jan. 5: At the end of one-and-a-half hour of fulsome speeches, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee sang the best “birthday song” that Murli Manohar Joshi could have heard on his 69th birthday.

Vajpayee went all out to defend the human resources development minister for “saffronising” history texts, lauding his “contribution” to primary education and literacy and changing the face of education.

“What colour other than saffron can Joshi bring' He is not going to bring the colour green,” said the Prime Minister, felicitating Joshi on his birthday at a function in Vigyan Bhavan.

Hitting out at Joshi’s adversaries who are opposed to his “saffronisation” drive, Vajpayee said: “Saffron is our colour. It is the colour of sacrifice and purity. I salute any effort by the human resources development minister to reform education in a way that we can have pride in our culture.”

Of late, Joshi has been on the margins of the BJP. Since L.K. Advani was annointed deputy Prime Minister, Joshi, his bete noire, has been struggling to find a firmer footing in the higher echelons of the BJP. His drive to rid textbooks of a “Marxist bias” gladdened the RSS gurus but triggered no loud ovation from the party bosses.

Today was an occasion, for the Prime Minister seemed to make up for all this indifference by patting Joshi on the back. However, very few top BJP leaders were present. A solitary Bangaru Laxman, thrown out by the party in the cold, was visible along with a sprinkling of BJP MPs. None of the senior Cabinet members were present. Joshi was feted by a committee that included Justice Ranganath Mishra, M.J. Akbar, Uttar Pradesh Governor Vishnu Kant Shastri and constitutional jurist L.M. Singhvi.

Joshi’s political stars were not shining. But the presence of the Prime minister was a signal that the minister has not been left totally in a lurch. After a series of monotonous speeches, the Prime Minister spiced up the evening by cutting jokes. But, above all, he made it clear that he is at the head of Joshi’s band of cheerleaders.

“People do recognise the HRD minister’s contributions to education. The next generation will recognise it even more,” said Vajpayee. There were occasions in the past when some of the Prime Minister’s statements on Joshi’s move to “cleanse” education had seemed critical. But not today.

Joshi and his trusted lieutenant, National Council for Educational Research and Training director J.S. Rajput, could not have felt better.

“Murli Manohar Joshi’s opponents cannot answer his arguments. So they keep walking out of meetings. Joshi told them to hear him out. But they would not listen — because they had no answers to his logic,” said Vajpayee.

Recently, state education ministers walked out of a meeting summoned by the ministry, protesting the new national curriculum and the changes.

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