The education sector has been in a state of constant controversy ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi made ‘television bahu’ turned politician Smriti Irani as Union HRD Minister. This move of the Modi government was first criticized by Madhu Kishtwar who raised certain objections in regards to Irani’s educational qualification. Defending herself, Irani maintained that she should be judged solely on the basis of her performance. But Irani’s tenure as HRD Minister has been marked by several controversies ranging from the Sanskrit-German language row to the celebration of “Good Governance Day” in schools on Christmas.
Tale of two universities
However, the most recent controversies emanating due to the actions of the HRD Ministry concern two famous minority institutions in the country. The first was the appointment of Modi aide and businessman Zafar Sareshwala as the Chancellor of Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU). This was followed shortly by the election of Muzaffarnagar riot accused MP Kunwar Bharatendra Singh to the court of the Aligarh Muslim University. Another MP who was elected to the AMU court was Satish Kumar Gautam who had earlier threatened to celebrate the birth anniversary of Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh inside the varsity’s campus in Aligarh.
There is no denying of the fact that over the past few months there has been a surge in anti-minority rhetoric across the nation. Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti hogged the limelight courtesy her “Ramzaade” remark while BJP Uttar Pradesh Chief Lakshmikant Bajpayee stated that the Taj Mahal was originally a temple. Simultaneously Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh Sarsangchalak Mohan Bhagwat kept reiterating that India was a Hindu Rashtra while Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj pitched for the designation of Gita as the country’s national scripture.
At such a critical juncture, the union government has scored an own goal by means of the appointments it has done in AMU and MANUU. How can the reins of a Central University be given in the hands of a lifelong businessman? The most obvious qualification which Zafar Sareshwala, CEO & MD of Parsoli Corporation Ltd., has in his kitty is that of being Prime Minister Modi’s most trusted Muslim ally. If we remove that, he would have been the last person on the list to be appointed as chancellor of a central university because he has no credible record of administering any education institution. Moreover, what should we expect from a riot accused MP? The ideological opposition of the Sangh Parivar to minority institutions is well known and appointment of such elements is bound to cause communal rift in the varsity.
Narendra Modi’s own track record
In an interview given to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria prior to his US visit, Modi had tried to reach out to the Muslim community by stating that “Indian Muslim will live for India. They will die for India. They will never do anything against India.” But the repeated actions of his government are merely alienating the minorities, specifically Muslims. In his erstwhile avatar of Gujarat Chief Minister Modi had opposed the implementation of the Central Government’s pre-matriculation minority scholarship scheme in the state. However, Gujarat High Court upheld the constitutional validity of the scheme and the Supreme Court too refused to accept the state government’s plea of not complying with the high court’s order.
The way forward
The Modi government has to realize that minority rights are sacrosanct in a democracy. It is the Prime Minister’s duty to not only clampdown on his own ministers and Sangh Parivar leaders who are making vitriolic statements against minorities but also to ensure that the autonomy of minority institutions is not crucified by means of dubious appointments. The challenge would not be an easy one for Narendra Modi as he himself carries the burden of having criticized minority scholarship schemes in the past. If the Modi government fails to act then surely the perception of this government being “anti-minority” is bound to increase and minority institutions in line to be “modi-fied.”
(This article was originally published on Ummid.com)