New Delhi: Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Saturday accused the BJP government and the RSS of systematically undermining institutions such as the Supreme Court and the Election Commission, adding that the country’s education system was under attack.
Gandhi, who was speaking to professors gathered at the Siri Fort Auditorium in New Delhi, said, “Educational institutions, the Supreme Court, the Election Commission are being systematically captured, but they (the BJP and the RSS) will not succeed.”
He said Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) wanted to instal their acolytes at the institutions of higher learning to curb dissent and make money.
The Congress president said so far as the Indian education system was concerned, there were two non-negotiables: first, educational institutions, teachers and students must be allowed to have a voice, and second, teachers need to feel secure about their future. “For the education system to work, there has to be harmony. How can there be harmony when professors are hired and fired on ad hoc and contract basis?” Gandhi asked.
He said, “A country of over a billion people cannot possibly be run on one single idea and the fact that people are allowed to express is the strength of the country.”
Attacking BJP president Amit Shah in his address, he said the BJP viewed the country as a commodity. “Amit Shah had said India is a ‘sone ki chidiya’. He sees India as a product. He sees India as his ‘sone ki chidiya’,” he said.
Gandhi also took a dig at RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, saying: "Bhagwat in his earlier speeches has said ‘we are going to organise the nation'. Who is he to organise the nation? The nation will organise itself. In the next couple of months, their fantasy will be smashed.”
The Congress chief said public education was the foundation of the education system and needed to be focused upon. “Public education has to be the guiding light. Private institution must look up to public institutions of learning,” he said, adding that the cost of education was skyrocketing in the country and was heading to a point where it would be unacceptable.
He also recalled that former US president Barack Obama had said the real competition for America was from the engineers, doctors and lawyers coming out of India. This was praise for the teachers of India, Gandhi said.
Academicians from over 20 states attended the interaction and raised their concerns about the state of education in the country. Professors said the teaching community was “deeply disturbed” at the state of higher education under the BJP rule.
Teachers listed the major issues plaguing higher education and said the government had taken away autonomy of institutions of higher learning. “We can’t decide what to teach, how to hold exams. Now, the MHRD sends circulars to us telling us what we should teach. They are changing history,” one professor told Gandhi during the interaction.
Most teachers complained about the loss of autonomy, the downsizing of UGC funding, ad hoc appointment, the new pension scheme, systematic silencing of dissent and questioning, and a complete shutdown of dialogue between the government and the teaching community. They also demanded assured pension to professors and said the education budget had only decreased under the BJP due to which public higher education had suffered.
“Rajasthan has fared the worst under the BJP and the RSS ideology. The Right to Education Act has been ruined in the state. Thousands of schools have shut down and the government is implementing the Sangh agenda. The school timings have been changed so students can see RSS broadcasts,” Subhash, a professor from Rajasthan, told Gandhi. He also said the education system should reflect the ideology of India, which is of inclusiveness.
Parul Kumar, an ad hoc assistant professor in Delhi University, said the ad hoc system must go. “Our appointment is for four months and is renewed after that like they are recharging phones. Ad hoc teachers do all the work, we organise events, we take care of extra-academic duties, but our future is dark,” she said.
Gandhi promised the teaching community that the Congress would prioritise their issues and put them on their election manifesto in writing. He also said the one of the first things Congress would do if it returned to power at the Centre would be to restore the autonomy of institutions of higher learning. “You form a delegation and talk to the people who are making our manifesto. We will put your concerns in it. We will also mention how the education budget can be restored to a minimum of six per cent of the GDP. The education budget too needs to go up every year, systematically,” Gandhi said.
The Congress president also said he would direct governments in states where the Congress was in power to hold talks with the teaching community and resolve their concerns. “I know you feel threatened now. You feel an ideology is being imposed on you. But you are not alone. Our farmers, labourers, small and medium business owners feel the same way. But this country can’t be run on a single idea. Look at the history of our nation. It is proof that we will win,” Gandhi said.