Stalin cannot be spoken about in the same ‘ruthless’ breath as Hitler. Not, at least, in Bengal.
Bowing to persistent demand from many Left teachers’ lobbies, the West Bengal Council of Higher Secondary Education has scrapped a whole chapter from the English syllabus as it contains a line not in keeping with the leanings of the powers-that-be.
The ‘offensive’ lines were part of Louis Fischer’s My Week with Gandhi and a part of the syllabus since the 1970s, when the Congress regime introduced it in the Higher Secondary (HS) curriculum. The paragraph, not to the liking of the Left lobby, has Gandhi asking the author: “You have lived in Soviet Russia for 14 years. What is your opinion of Stalin'” Fischer replies: “Very able and very ruthless”, prompting Gandhi to ask: “As ruthless as Hitler'” The author then replies: “At least.”
With Stalin’s pictures still adorning the CPM headquarters on Alimuddin Street and students’ bodies continuing to mourn his death on March 5, the teachers’ associations have now made it clear that the extract from Fischer’s work shows “Stalin in poor light” and so must be blotted out.
The issue was raised at a meeting of the Council on Thursday, where the ‘delete’ demand was discussed in detail. The Council authorities ultimately yielded to the teachers’ demand and decided to scrap the chapter from the English syllabus from the 2004 academic session.
“The line (as ruthless as Hitler…) was presented in a manner that may create a wrong impression about Stalin among students,” said a leader of one of the organisations that championed the chop.
“We wonder how such a piece was allowed to be taught for so long, but are happy that the Council has finally agreed to scrap it,” he added.
The protest, said officials, had been aired ever since the Left Front government came to power in 1977. It did not matter to the Left lobbies, said officials, that a reconstruction of Stalin’s rule will probably show him up as being “at least as ruthless” in dealing with internal enemies (particularly people of the Muslim-dominated principalities that have since seceded) as Hitler was with his own enemies (see box).
Council president Jyotirmoy Mukherjee, however, said it was not just the controversial line on Stalin that prompted the authorities to drop the chapter. “The decision to do away with the piece is also part of our comprehensive plan to bring about some major changes in the entire HS syllabus from the 2004 session,” said Mukherjee.
“For instance, we may not concentrate much on pieces written by foreign authors and may include an extract from a book authored by Gandhi himself,” he added. The Council has plans to include prose authored by other Indian leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan.
The Council, say officials, has also decided to adopt certain measures to make the “English syllabus easier”. A decision has been taken to scrap precis-writing from the English second paper following a demand from students and teachers. It was found that a bulk of HS examinees scored poorly in English as they failed to handle the precis, officials said.
The Council has also decided to introduce a new section dealing with translations from Bengali to English in the paper. This would enable students to score higher marks. Zoology, botany and physiology will no longer be taught separately, with a new subject (biological sciences) combining “important portions” of all three.