For decades, school curricula, especially textbooks produced by the National Council of Educational Research and Training, have been a political battleground for conflicting ideas of India. But in the latest round of revisions, parts of the political science curriculum for Class 12 students under the Central Board of Secondary Education have been burnished into an ode to the Bharatiya Janata Party.
In the new NCERT textbooks, the decision to strip Jammu and Kashmir of special status on August 5, 2019, is cast as an achievement of the current government. It followed years of unstable coalition governments, “major acts of terrorism” as well as “mounting internal and external tensions”, students will read. It was made possible after the Bharatiya Janata Party walked out of the coalition government presided over by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti – the text spells her name wrong. The partition of Jammu and Kashmir into two separate Union Territories, the textbook says, fulfilled the “divergent political and developmental aspirations” of the region. Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh are described as “living examples of society in India”. A section on different kinds of separatist politics in Jammu and Kashmir has been excised from the new edition of the NCERT textbooks.
The Central Board of Secondary Education also recommends supplementary reading which features most of the BJP’s favoured slogans. Students will be told there was a “clarion call among political circles” to remove special status, which stood against “the principle of ‘Ek Vidhan, Ek Nishan, Ek Pradhan’ referring to one Constitution, one Flag and one Head of the State/Government respectively”. They will be told that after 2014, there was a “shift from caste and religion based politics to development and governance oriented politics” under the slogan of “Sab ka saath, sab ka vikaas”, everyone’s support, everyone’s development. After five years of stellar performance, the material reportedly suggests, this has graduated to “sabka saath, sabka vikaas, sabka vishwaas”, everyone’s support, everyone’s development, everyone’s trust.
The 2014 elections certainly meant a decisive shift away from the Nehruvian era of textbooks. Since its inception in 1961, the NCERT has been seen as an institution that reflected the establishment worldview, even though it was meant to be an autonomous body. Generations were shaped by its textbooks, which came with a Nehruvian wash, speaking of secularism, rationalism, scientific inquiry. This was challenged every time there was a change in government at the Centre. From the Janata Party in the 1970s to the first National Democratic Alliance government in the early 2000s, the Hindu Right used the texts to address its historical sense of wrong, emphasising cultural nationalism and Hindu traditions. Much has been written about former Human Resources Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi’s “saffronisation” of textbooks under the first BJP government.
But the last six years have seen an unprecedented onslaught on the social sciences as they have been taught for so long. Chapters on clothing and caste conflict were dropped. So was material on peasants and farmers. Historic battles were to be rewritten and Hindu nationalist icons introduced into the curriculum. A few weeks ago, chapters on secularism were dropped, apparently to lighten the load for students. These incremental changes have culminated in the ringing endorsement of the ruling party evident in the new curriculum.
The political tussles over the social sciences have resulted in a larger loss – the loss in real knowledge about our past and our present. Much has been excised from record in the current curriculum, for instance. Deleted: the mass arrests and the communications blockade that was imposed on Kashmiris before the August 5 decision was sprung on them. Deleted: the objections raised by several Opposition parties and the complete gag on political activity in Kashmir. Deleted: the widespread support for separatism, the persistence of militancy and a year of bloodshed in Kashmir. Deleted: the BJP’s hate-filled campaign speeches, deployed judiciously when “vikaas” was not enough to win votes. Deleted: the lynchings and violence directed at minorities, the attempt to recast citizenship so that it reflected the BJP’s worldview of India as a natural home for Hindus, not a secular country.
Perhaps the BJP hopes that, once these facts are lost, it will have won the battle against history itself.