news Tuesday, July 07, 2015 - 05:30
There are no two ways about this. Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has never been a fan of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “As an Indian citizen I don’t want Modi as my PM,” he said in 2013, and has not taken that back since. The 81-year-old has hit headlines on Tuesday morning for saying that he has been ousted from the chancellorship of Nalanda University and more importantly, that the Modi government is trying to take over academic institutions. His interview with The Times of India has made emotions flutter on social media, but Sen is not the only academic who has hit out at the dispensation in the past few days. Speaking to the Caravan magazine in a recent interview, Gopinath Ravindran, former member secretary of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) raised concerns over the “dumbing down of history” by the current academia. Ravindran had resigned from his post, unlike Sen, but both have pointed fingers at the current establishment. “I have never been anti industry but no country can become an industrial giant with an uneducated and unhealthy labour force,” Sen said, seemingly taking a jibe at Modi’s “Make in India” initiative. Sen was quite direct in his comments, saying that there was an “extraordinarily large” interest by the government in academia. “Nalanda not a one off incident. Nothing in this scale of interference has happened before. Every institution where the government has a formal role is being converted into where the government has a substantive role,” he told the TOI. While Sen’s statements would shed light on his ouster being a part of a government ploy to take over academic institutions, Ravindran delved into finer details that have started hampering institutions in his interview. Ravindran’s resignation came in the wake of a disagreement with the chairman of the ICHR, Y Sudershan Rao, who was appointed in July last year, a month after the current government came into power. “A person who was not very well known among historians,” is what the former has to say about Rao. Ravindran says that he had expected a change in how institutions functioned after an overhaul in the government. “I knew, very well, that institutions such as the ICHR would be undergoing changes with the change in the central government,” but he says that his inability to record his “dissent” led him to resigning. The historian says that while he did expect a “saffronisation” of education, what is more worrying that the standards of academic research have suffered. “Earlier, the ICHR used to have professional historians, but most of the new members—apart from a few exceptions—do not live up to those standards,” he says. While he says that the “saffronisation” of material does not bother him as “I do not think that these people have the intellectual and disciplinary wherewithal to question and debunk all that has been written,” the simplification of history which is devoid of nuance bothers him. “What does concern me, however, is the changing of textbooks. The simplification and dumbing down of history in order to support many of the unfortunate stereotypes that circulate in society is something to be worried about.” Before the current BJP-led-government came into power, there had been widespread debate on whether it brings a change in textbooks and the like as done earlier during the Murli Manohar Joshi era. The recent concerns echoed by scholars may be indicative of it happening.
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