Between 2022 and 2023 the Centre awarded 40 Sainik School agreements to educational institutes linked with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Hindutva organisations and leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party or its allies, analysis of Right to Information replies by The Reporters’ Collective has shown.

The move did not extend to any private schools run by Christian, Muslim or other religious minority organisations in India.

Sainik Schools are managed by the Sainik Schools Society, an autonomous body under the Ministry of Defence. According to a report published by the Parliament’s Standing Committee in 2013-’14, nearly 20% of cadets who enrolled in the National Defence Academy and the Indian Naval Academy were students of Sainik Schools.

Before 2022, the Centre and the state governments had been jointly running 33 Sainik Schools. However, in October 2021, the BJP-led government at the Centre allowed private players to partner with the Sainik Schools Society and operate their own branches of Sainik Schools with partial financial support.

It said that the objective behind setting up 100 new Sainik Schools was to provide quality education in line with the National Education Policy.

According to The Reporters’ Collective, at least 40 private schools signed memoranda of agreement with the Sainik Schools Society between May 05, 2022 and December 27, 2023, of which 11 are owned by BJP leaders, managed by trusts that they chair, or belong to friends and political allies of the Hindutva party.

Eight schools are managed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the parent body of the BJP, and its allied organisations. Six schools have close ties to Hindutva organisations or far-right leaders and other Hindu religious organisations, according to The Reporters’ Collective.

The BJP government awarded Sainik School agreements to Hindu nationalist ideologue Ritambhara’s Samvid Gurukulam Girls Sainik School in Vrindavan and Raj Luxmi Samvid Gurukulam in Solan, the report said. They are being touted as India’s first military schools for girls.

Ritambhara is the founder of the Durga Vahini, the women’s wing of the Hindutva group Vishwa Hindu Parishad, and was a key figure in the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.

At the inauguration of the school on January 2, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh highlighted the “significant contribution” of Ritambhara to the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, reported The Indian Express.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s educational wing, the Vidya Bharati Akhil Bharatiya Shiksha Sansthan, has been awarded seven Sainik School agreements. The Vidya Bharati Akhil Bharatiya Shiksha Sansthan’s website says that it wants to “build a younger generation which is committed to Hindutva and infused with patriotic fervour.”

Nasik’s Bhonsala Military School, which was established in 1937 by the Hindu right-wing ideologue BS Moonje and is now run by the Central Hindu Military Education Society, was also approved to operate as a Sainik School, The Reporters’ Collective found.

It has been alleged by the Maharashtra Anti-Terror Squad that persons accused in the 2006 Nanded Bomb Blast and the 2008 Malegaon blasts trained at Bhonsala Military School.

Withdraw the policy, says Opposition

“It is obvious, ‘catch them young’ is the concept,” former Lieutenant General Prakash Menon told The Reporters’ Collective. “Not good for the armed forces.”

Menon said that awarding contracts to such organisations would impact the character and ethos of the armed forces.

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor on Wednesday urged the defence minister to withdraw the policy.

“How on earth can this shameless government compromise India’s national security and its education system in this manner,” Tharoor said in a post on X. “The Agniveer scheme is already an assault on the professionalism of our armed forces. Now this compounds the shocking disregard for the standards that have made our sainiks among the most respected in the world.”