The state-sponsored celebration on April 14, 2016, the 125th birth anniversary of Dr BR Ambedkar, was a relentless negation of what Babasaheb stood for all his life by the current political class who are hell-bent on invoking him and distorting his ideas.
One such striking display was the foundation laying ceremony for his 125-feet statue by K Chandrasekhar Rao, the chief minister of Telangana. The foundation laying was done to the rituals and chants of mantras recited by court Brahmins in the true feudal tradition that the chief minister is known for. There could not have been a more perverse ceremony in Babasaheb’s honour than this.
First, the idea of the 125-feet statue itself, for someone who abhorred deification; secondly, the Brahminical ceremony of consecration, for someone who fought all his life against this culture and left Hinduism when he saw how intransigent a religion it can be in its persistence with discriminatory practices.
But KCR is not known for his sensitivities in such matters. He is deeply entrenched in the ritualistic Hindu tradition and is also deeply superstitious and unscientific in his worldview, evidenced by vaastu–based decisions to shift office spaces.
After coming to power in Telangana, appeasement of the three crore Hindu gods and goddesses has been the priority of his government. He believes that it is the gods and goddesses who have brought him to power, not the years of sacrifices and struggles of the people of Telangana.
The chief minister has never felt the need to lead from the front the development of education and health sectors in the state. The people of the state witnessed how he personally supervised the preparation and conduct of ayutha chandiyagam or pushkarams. While we are yet to discover how the two rituals benefited the ordinary people of Telangana, farmers continue to commit suicides, women are seen walking miles to get a pail of water even as the central funds for providing potable water in villages remain unspent, and hundreds of government schools remain without enrolment as they completely lack any basic facilities and do not have teachers.
Any politician who wants to honour Babasaheb will first show commitment to taking the best education to the remotest villages, open new well-equipped schools, employ enough number of teachers, and provide a healthy environment for children to get educated. For Dr Ambedkar believed that education is the key to emancipation and that singular intervention can transform and empower lives. He would not be pleased with the installation of a 125-foot statue to celebrate his greatness. That is a mere wink to the Dalit/deprived voters, even as the system removes education far out of their reach.
The literacy record of combined Andhra Pradesh has been abysmal for a long time, ranking 31 among 28 states and 7 union territories. We were told during the Telangana agitation that it was the Seemandhra capitalists and their commercial educational institutions were the reason for the educational backwardness of TeIangana; that once we have our own state, there would be a golden age for Telangana children and the best free education from KG to PG will be provided by the government.
Two years after assuming power in the state, we have seen many a temple being generously showered with unasked for donations; mega religious rituals being performed in great public pomp and spectacle.
The school education system has been left in shambles without any sign of proactive intervention. The High Court has pulled up the government about its apathy in ensuring that schools have facilities and teachers. The court had to appoint an amicus curiae to monitor the state’s implementation of the court orders. The court had to pull up the state about non-implementation of the Right to Education Act. The parents of children going to private schools have been protesting since last year about rampant fee increases.
While this is the state of school education, the Telangana government has been playing an unfathomable game with regard to higher education institutions like the universities.
Osmania University, a university that was ranked 5th a couple of years ago, which was accorded the status of “University with Potential for Excellence” (UPE) by the University Grants commission (UGC), has no vice-chancellor for the last two years and the regular block grant (sanctioned just Rs 170 crore against the amount required of Rs 320 crore) is not being released by the government for routine university administration. In the face of profligate spending on religious events and vaastu-driven relocations of offices and homes, the state wants us to believe that there is no money to strengthen school and university education.
Many teaching positions are lying unfilled in Osmania university and the Executive Council of the university is yet to be constituted. With no regular Vice-chancellor and no decision-making structure in place, the university cannot make major administrative decisions to implement the projects underway. Nor is it able to get its National Accreditation renewed, without which UGC will stop further funding to the university. This appears to be a deliberate attempt to collapse the system, making way for the private universities bill.
Universities like Osmania and Kakatiya were in the forefront of Telangana movement and it was on the shoulders of the student community that this government has come to power. These universities are also the main source of quality education for a large number of first-generation dalit, bahujan students who have been entering the higher education system in large numbers. These students have been promised free, quality education and employment during the agitation, none of which has materialised so far in the two years of this government.
To add insult to injury, by the way the Telangana police has been used to persecute and incarcerate teachers and students to keep the central government happy during the University of Hyderabad events clearly shows how the class/caste alliances, and an eye on personal power and positions can trump public interest. The primary target of attack in UoH was the Ambedkar Students’ Association. The victims are bright Dalit students who came up to the university education after intense struggles against poverty and discrimination. Ensuring their marginalisation and then going on to erect a 125-foot statue to Dr Ambedkar orchestrated by Brahminical ceremonies is a mockery of the very spirit of Ambedkarism.