The privatisation of Sainik Schools by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre is a “blatant step to politicise” the independent institutions, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said in a letter to President Droupadi Murmu, the supreme commander of the Indian Armed Forces, on Wednesday.

Kharge’s letter cited a report by The Reporters’ Collective that found that the Centre had awarded 40 Sainik School agreements to educational institutes linked with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, other Hindutva organisations and leaders of the BJP or its allies, between 2022 and 2023.

The report was based on an analysis of Right to Information replies.

Sainik Schools are managed by the Sainik Schools Society, an autonomous body under the Ministry of Defence. They provide nearly 20% of cadets who enroll in the National Defence Academy and the Indian Naval Academy.

Before 2022, the Centre and the state governments had been jointly running 33 Sainik Schools. In October 2021, the BJP-led government at the Centre allowed private players to operate their own branches.

In his letter to Murmu, Kharge said that out of the 40 agreements that were signed, 62% were with individuals and organisations linked to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Bharatiya Janata Party or Sangh Parivar and demanded that scheme be rolled back so that “children studying at Armed Forces Schools retain desired character, vision and honour required for the service of the nation”.

“I ask if this has been effected to ideologically indoctrinate Armed Forces at the entry level,” Kharge also said. “No political party has ever done this, as there is general national consensus to keep the valour and courage of our Armed Forces away from partisan politics.”

What did the report say?

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, according to the report. 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.

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.