The Centre overruled objections from an autonomous institute, that is supposed to oversee Vedic education, to clear decks for a bid moved by yoga guru Ramdev’s Patanjali Yogpeeth Trust to set up a national school board, The Indian Express reported on Monday.

The process for setting up the Bharatiya Shiksha Board was rushed through in two months and Patanjali got the required approval hours before the Model Code of Conduct for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections kicked in, the newspaper reported, citing official records of the education ministry.

The clearance was given despite objections from the Ujjain-based Maharshi Sandipani Rashtriya Veda Vidya Pratishthan, or MSRVVP an autonomous organisation under the education ministry working on encouraging and preserving Vedic education.

The Bharatiya Shiksha Board was conceived to be the country’s first national school board that would standardise “Indian traditional knowledge” and “blend it with modern education” by way of drafting curriculum, affiliating schools, conducting examinations and issuing certificates.

The Maharshi Sandipani Rashtriya Veda Vidya Pratishthan had wanted to set up its own board for the purpose. Instead, the then Education Minister Prakash Javadekar asked it to appoint a private sponsoring body for putting the Bharatiya Shiksha Board in place, paving way for Patanjali to enter the scene, according to The Indian Express.

The chain of events

January 2019: At a meeting of its governing council on January 11, 2019, the Ujjain-based autonomous organisation proposed setting up its own Vedic Education Board. The organisation said that the board was necessary as degrees received by students who take its Class 10 (Veda Bhushan) and Class 12 (Veda Vibhushan) exams are not recognised.

Javadekar, being the ex-officio chairperson of the organisation, was heading the meeting.

However, the meeting digressed from the original agenda item listed by the Maharshi Sandipani Rashtriya Veda Vidya Pratishthan and decided to set up the Bharatiya Shiksha Board through open bidding for blending Vedic with modern education. The Ujjain-based organisation was asked to draft model by-laws for the board and an Expression of Interest to invite applications from private players.

February 2019: On February 11, Viroopaksha V Jaddipal, the secretary of the aotonomous body, wrote to the education ministry objecting against the change of agenda item in final minutes of the governing council meeting. He said the digression from Vedic Education Board to Bharatiya Shiksha Board was am “incorrect reflection of the agenda”.

However, the education ministry backed its move and replied that the name of the proposed board was changed to “provide a broader base for propagation of Vedas and also to make it more popular to the younger generations”. It did not, however, mention that the agenda item was tweaked in retrospect.

Two days later, the Maharshi Sandipani Rashtriya Veda Vidya Pratishthan released an Expression of Interest inviting bids from private firms to set up the Bharatiya Siksha Board. The invitation for bids gave only a week’s time for accepting the request, while usually a period of two weeks is given in such cases, according to The Indian Express.

By February 23, a five-member expert committee of the autonomous body received three bids all of whom had a “feasible plan” to set up the education board. However, a development fund of Rs 21 crore promised by Patanjali clinched the deal in favour of the Ramdev-owned firm. The two other bidders had promised Rs 1 crore and Rs 2 crore for the purpose.

On February 27, the governing council, under Javadekar’s chairmanship, approved the expert committee’s recommendation for Patanjali to set up the the Bharatiya Siksha Board. It also gave an in-principle approval to the autonomous body to set up its own Rashtriya Ved Sanskrit Shiksha Board, exclusively for Vedic studies.

March 2019: On March 5, Jaddipal once again wrote to the education ministry seeking a written order to issue a formal letter to Patanjali Yogpeeth on its selection for setting up of the education board.

He said that the assistant solicitor general of the Indore bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court had told him that minutes of the governing council meeting cannot be regarded as approval from the government on the matter.

Jaddipal added that the additional solictor general also advised that Bharatiya Siksha Board must obtain “due approval of all concerned agencies/authorities before it is allowed to function/ registration and create any public interest by way of collection of fees, affiliation, registration, admission, certification to protect the interest of the students”.

In reply, the education ministry told Jaddipal that setting up of the board was within mandate of the autonmous body and gave him permission to issue a letter to Patanjali Yogpeeth Trust.

In a third letter on March 8, Jaddipal wrote to Javadekar saying he had only received “oral instructions” from the education ministry to issue orders to Patanjali. He also said that the objective of blending modern education with Vedic education was outside the mandate of the Maharshi Sandipani Rashtriya Veda Vidya Pratishtha. Therefore, he said, that the government needed to formulate a new policy.

In a separate letter to the education ministry, he said that the permission given to him to issue a letter to Patanjali cannot be considered as a government approval. He said the rule cited by the ministry, in its letter, empowered the autonomous body to set up a board to fulfil its own objectives and not for outsourcing it to a private agency.

At 4.39 pm on March 9, the ministry emailed Jaddipal a copy of the final approval letter and asked him to issue it to Patanjali Yogpeeth Trust “immediately”, The Indian Express reported. The date and time are significant as the Model Code of Conduct for 2019 Lok Sabha elections kicked in at 5.30 pm on the same day.

An email exchange between the government and the autonomous body suggest that Jaddipal did not respond to the instructions and his phone was switched off as well. Around 7.30 pm, Javadekar authorised vice chairperson of the autonomous body, Ravindra Ambadas Muley, to issue the letter to Patanjali. It was finally sent at 8.36 pm.