The University Grants Commission has asked all universities and colleges in the country to set up selfie points with images of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the background, the directive coming in the run-up to next summer’s general election.
The higher education regulator has nudged the campus authorities to encourage students and visitors to click selfies at these points and share them on media platforms, virtually turning them into unofficial campaigners of the BJP.
The idea is to create a buzz around what the UGC has described as “India’s achievements in various fields”, thus “fostering a sense of collective pride”.
Several academics accused the regulator of drafting academic institutions into a “cult-building” exercise they should “have nothing to do with”.
“There is a unique opportunity to harness the energy and enthusiasm of the youth, moulding their minds with inspiration drawn from India’s progress in diverse fields,” says a letter from UGC secretary Manish Joshi, sent to the vice-chancellors of all Indian universities and the principals of all the colleges on Friday.
“Let us celebrate and disseminate the incredible strides made by our country by establishing a ‘Selfie Point’ within your institution. The aim of ‘Selfie Point’ is to create awareness among the youth about India’s achievements in various fields, particularly the new initiatives under the National Education Policy 2020.”
The letter adds: “You are requested to encourage students and visitors to capture and share these special moments on social media platforms, fostering a sense of collective pride.”
The UGC has suggested a range of designs for the selfie points. Each design is dedicated to a particular theme, such as the internationalisation of education, unity in diversity, Smart India Hackathon, Indian knowledge system, multilingualism, and India’s rise in higher education, research and innovation.
Each selfie point should be established at a strategic place on the campus and have a 3D layout.
A faculty member at a top institution said the government was portraying every ordinary achievement as a spectacular one and attributing the credit to the Prime Minister.
“What is happening is full-blown propaganda to build a cult figure. The State is doing it using public institutions that have nothing to do with these activities,” he said.
“There is no provision in the law to enable the government or the UGC to ask academic institutions to promote such propaganda.”
The academic said the Prime Minister’s pictures had been circulated via many channels, including Covid vaccine certificates. Selfie points have been set up at the Rozgar Melas where newly appointed government employees — or promoted in-service employees – have had to stand before Modi cut-outs and get photographed.
“A subtle perception is being created that only one leader is responsible for all these activities. This is being done to misguide gullible voters keeping the elections in mind,” the academic said.
A faculty member at Jawaharlal Nehru University said that selfie points that promote diverse ideas, encouraging debate and furthering public issues, are always welcome.
“The university is a place to nurture a multiplicity of opinions. If the idea is to promote a singular opinion, pushed by the dominant forces, it compromises the long-term interests of the university,” he said.
A management teacher said the UGC keeps issuing such circulars but the campus administrations are free to ignore them.
“(Educational) institutions should not heed such advice. Those institutional leaders who are not sycophants will be able to ignore this kind of advice,” he said.