Can Modi sarkar give DU a vice-chancellor without controversy?

Delhi University should not be content with the tag of the best in the country. It should aspire to become the best in the world. (Image: Wikipedia)

Delhi University should not be content with the tag of the best in the country. It should aspire to become the best in the world. (Image: Wikipedia)

In 2014, when the Indian electorate handed Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party a simple majority in the Lok Sabha, one expected the new government to act with a sense of independence which was clearly lacking in the case of Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) as it suffered from political fragility due to opposition from coalition partners. But so far instead of independence the Indian public has only seen this government act with brazenness. And in no sector has Modi sarkar been as brazen as it has been in the sector of education.

It all began with the appointment of a political lightweight like Smriti Irani as the Union education minister. During the wave elections in 2014, Irani contested against Rahul Gandhi and finished a strong second in the intense electoral fight that ensued at battlefield Amethi which also saw Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)’s Kumar Vishwas woo the voters on account of his shayari and promise for clean governance. Like a large hearted boss, Modi appointed trusted aide Irani (who formerly opposed him on account of his alleged role in 2002 Gujarat riots) despite the fact that she failed to get the job done in Amethi by dethroning Shehzaada Rahul.

But the problem is not that Irani lost the elections. Arun Jaitley too lost the Lok Sabha elections but has been handsomely rewarded as he lords over Union finance, corporate affairs and information and broadcasting ministry. The issue is that Irani might have faked her educational qualification under sworn affidavit. The matter is now before the judiciary and there can be no bigger embarrassment for an education minister if she is found guilty of having lied about her educational qualification.

Secondly, Irani’s appointment as HRD minister was opposed by Modi bhakts like Madhu Kishwar who comes from an academic background. A ministry as significant as human resources development required a visionary who has proven excellence in academia or academic administration. Irani was none and neither is she someone with exemplary electoral records to her name. Her appointment was a farce and so far her term has also been nothing short of being farcical as no concrete steps have been taken to overhaul the nation’s much criticized education sector.

Following the HRD debacle, Modi government went in for a confrontation with Nobel laureate Amartya Sen. Harvard economist Sen not only quit as the chancellor of Nalanda University citing political interference but has also spoken out extensively in the media regarding the imposition of certain political thoughts by Modi government. That political thought is none other than Hindutva. That’s the reason why academics like YS Rao have been appointed to head the Indian Council of Historical Research. Such appointments are aimed towards the “fictionalisation” of history as termed by noted historian Irfan Habib.

There is a great desire among Hindutva ideologues to rewrite history from a supposedly Indian perspective. Prime Minister Modi himself appears to be a part of the plot as he has mentioned how Lord Ganesha underwent plastic surgery to get an elephant head. Lokesh Chandra, a new recruit at the Indian Council of Cultural Relations, has gone one step further and called Modi a “reincarnation of God”. Such sycophancy coupled with tales of mythology concerning flying machines in ancient India has turned us all into a laughing stock infront of the whole world.

The appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as the Chairman of Film & Television Institute of India (FTII) has made matters worse. Academic activity has been crippled at the Pune-based institute and the students are undertaking nationwide protests. These agitations should serve as a lesson for Modi sarkaar. In academia, merit matters and it cannot be replaced with right wing political affiliation or overt Hindutva leanings. The mess at FTII needs to be done away with the revocation of Chauhan’s appointment as chairman and the government should simultaneously ensure that transparency is maintained during the appointment of Vice Chancellor of University of Delhi during the coming months.

Delhi University happens to be the numero-uno university in the country, an accolade which was bestowed on it for the third consecutive year by India Today Group-Nielsen Best Universities Survey 2015. The affiliate colleges of Delhi University attract the best and most aspirational students from across the country. But DU has its own set of challenges. There is a need to develop parity between on-campus and off-campus colleges. Every constituent college of the university should be the flagship college of the varsity in its own way and that will require dogged development efforts on the part of the new vice chancellor.

The V-C will also be responsible for taking Delhi University to the next level. The university should not be content with the tag of the best in the country. It should aspire to become the best in the world. It sounds like an impossible feat but a step in this direction has to be initiated at the earliest so that Delhi University at least breaks into the top 100 universities of the world. Very importantly, the new vice-chancellor should be a consensus builder. Outgoing V-C Dinesh Singh’s several initiatives failed to leave behind a mark (including his trademark Four Year Under-Graduate Program (FYUP)) simply because the consensus was lacking. It would be unwise to expect unanimity in terms of decision making but it is incumbent upon the vice chancellor to take academics and students along by devising a consultative proves that gives everyone a chance to be heard and express their opinion. Decision making should be democratic carrying the sanctions of the academic and executive councils. It should not be bulldozed with a sense of aggression and put into effect via usage of emergency powers.

Lastly, it goes without saying, the new vice chancellor should be an academic of international repute. He should necessarily command a praiseworthy academic background and other essential requirements pertaining to research publications in international and national journals. His profile has to be impeccable and complete with years of academic experience in the realm of higher education. The advertisement for the post is out but if Modi sarkaar’s track record is to be believed, the new vice chancellor might not possess any of the qualities listed above. He/she will be appointed through a non-transparent process full of political interference and will follow the government’s diktats instead of maintaining the university’s autonomy. The new vice chancellor might not have many research publications to his credit but he will certainly be an unflinching advocate of Hindutva and a sincere BJP bhakt.

The capital city might just witness a new round of protests. I hope not!

(This article was originally published in DailyO.) 


Swachhta-fever grips Delhi University

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Representational Image via University Express

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s much touted Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan is making headlines across the nation. The country’s premier varsity, Delhi University, is too smitten by the “Swachhata-fever”.

The university campus is witnessing green campaigns by the student wings of political parties. BJP’s Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) had distributed cartons to be used as dustbins near the momos-stands inside the campus. They also requested the students to avoid littering on roads. On the other hand, volunteers from the National Students Union of India (NSUI) initiated cleaning drives at several places including Faculty of Law and Ramjas College wherein the volunteers went around collecting waste material which was later on disposed at an appropriate place.

“It’s a good idea in terms of reinforcing the fact that citizens should be responsible for the cleanliness of the environment in which they dwell,” says Aditya Mishra, 2nd year student of the prestigious Hindu College. Aditya is principally in agreement with the essence of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan. When questioned as to whether the campaign is an attempt by Modi to develop a personality cult, Aditya responds by stating that “it is the outcome which matters, not the intent.”

Despite of not being aware of the committee constituted by Delhi University in regards to Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, Philosophy student Sadaf supports the initiative. She incorrectly mentions that the cleanliness drive in her college took place on Teachers Day ie 5th September, almost a month prior to the launch of Swachhata Abhiyan on Gandhi Jayanti. Talking about whether the campaign would lead to blurring of caste distinctions, Sadaf says, “I don’t think that one measure can wipe out the institution of caste which has plagued our society since a thousand years.”

Undeterred by Modi’s image of being a Hindu Hriday Samrat, Sadaf stresses on the inclusivity of the PM’s endeavour. “A clean India would not be solely for Hindus but for Muslims too,” she says.

Amal David of St. Stephen’s College is unsure of Narendra Modi’s “commitment to Gandhian principles.” He however mentions that the need for a nationwide cleanliness movement was long due. Currently a student of mathematics and an aspiring social worker, Amal was part of the activities which took place in his college during the launch of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan on 2nd October.

In his speeches, Modi has often stressed on the need to convert the campaign for cleanliness into a mass movement. He wants the Swachhata Abhiyaan to command the same amount of importance for 21st century Indians as the freedom movement did for the countrymen from the previous generation. Considering the fact that “well begun is half done”, Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan has already made a promising start by taking into confidence India’s youngsters.

(This article was originally published in University Express.)

Confusion prevails among DU students in post-FYUP era

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Despite the fact that Delhi University set out guidelines for the restructuring of FYUP five days prior to the commencement of the new academic session on July 21, the existing academic situation at DU remains far from satisfactory. (Image: The Hindu)

It has been nearly two months since DU Vice Chancellor Prof. Dinesh Singh scrapped the contentious Four Year Under Graduate Programme (FYUP) on June 27 following a bitter standoff between Delhi University and University Grants Commission. The Vice Chancellor’s press statement which declared the rollback of FYUP opined that the varsity considered protecting the “interests of the students” as “of paramount importance”. However, the post FYUP era has yielded several dilemmas for the students of DU with the university failing to allay their apprehensions.

Despite the fact that Delhi University set out guidelines for the restructuring of FYUP five days prior to the commencement of the new academic session on July 21, the existing academic situation at DU remains far from satisfactory. Students at the varsity still remain sceptical of their course curriculum and are raising questions in regards to the arbitrary removal of the programme.

Inter-disciplinary learning and the opportunity to graduate in more than one subject had encouraged Amit Jha to enrol for pursuing his higher education in Hindi at Delhi University. Under the FYUP, he studied subjects like Business, Entrepreneurship & Management and Science & Life as part of Foundation Courses (FCs) which gave him the confidence that he would be able to pursue his post-graduation in Commerce. However, the sudden rollback of FYUP has crushed Amit’s hopes of inter-disciplinary education which he believed would open up multiple areas of study for him in the future. Amit says, “The rollback of FYUP has substantially diluted career prospects for those students who were heavily dependent on Foundation Courses for their overall development.”

Aditya Nair, a student of BCOM (Hons) at Delhi University, who although satisfied with the shift in focus towards core papers in his course, says, “The students are confused as the books concerning the revised syllabus are not yet available in the market.” He drives home his point by citing the example of books on Corporate Law which do not contain information about Companies Act, 2013. He adds that “rules and regulations in regards to awarding of marks and credits for attendance and NSS-based activities have not yet been clarified.”

One of the main selling points of FYUP was that it sought to technologically equip the students to carry out research and other academic activities. Journalism student Parikshit Joshi is one among many who have had to face great difficulty because of colleges asking for return of laptops which the students were provided with in the first year. Parikshit also complains about the hasty manner in which the course has been redesigned by saying, “In journalism, advertising has so far constituted an independent paper but under the new course structure, it is being taught as part of a paper named Integrated Marketing Communications.” He adds that the vastness of the course has even left the teachers bewildered with them using Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s words “Kya bholun, kya yaad rakhun” to describe the scenario.

Ansh Goyal who played a prominent role in the Save FYUP campaign is utterly dissatisfied with the prevailing academic environment at DU. While his efforts helped in saving the interests of many as the university decided to continue BTECH courses for the batch of 2013-17 in which several students like Goyal had taken admission, Goyal himself labels these students as “guinea pigs” who had been “subjected to a crude year long experiment” as DU has scrapped BTECH courses from the ongoing academic session and has reverted to offering three-year long BSc degrees.

Much like the students of Delhi University, the faculty too seems to be far from being satisfied with the newly structured three year under-graduate programme. Sudhir Kumar Rinten, Assistant Professor of Journalism at DU, states that while the cornerstone of FYUP’s syllabus was issue-based learning, the revamped syllabi lacks in practicality and hands on learning though it provides ample theoretical exposure to the students. With Delhi University having announced the datesheet for the forthcoming semester examinations, the confused students at the nation’s premier varsity are left with no option except for coming to terms with the revamped course structure.

(This article was originally published in The Indian Economist.)