General Election 2019 has been over-analysed to explain the future of Indian politics. But a clear-cut analysis of what the massive majority awarded to the BJP by the electorate means for Indian education hasn’t been made. Simply put, one has to bluntly ask what is the future of knowledge and learning in Indian society ruled by the Hindu majoritarian BJP? Bleak, I am afraid.
The BJP’s education outlook confuses part for whole and creates false dualisms and questionable priorities revealing limited understanding of a knowledge society. Politically it confuses information with knowledge and as a result, there’s little philosophical or epistemic understanding of knowledge systems. By also confusing science with technology, it transforms research into a form of plumbing rather than intellectual adventure. As a result of these two confusions, what we have is an India which is becoming imitative rather than original in knowledge creation. We are becoming a mimic society and even our imitation of the West focuses on the second rate.
Part of the reason for this epidemic is glorification of mediocrity. Five years of BJP rule at the Centre indicates that the party views education through the instrumental lenses of a small town mentality and is shaping an education system that makes minimal distinction between a tutorial college and a research institute of eminence. Its populist education philosophy focuses on access rather than excellence, certification rather than content. As a result, the gap between academics and events management is narrowing. Basic research in the sciences has been replaced by a cottage industry of minor research initiatives and big science has become an act of conspicuous consumption.
The BJP leadership has little sense of policy but loves populist science initiatives such as sending an Indian to the moon. It regards science as an extension of a populist electoral world rather than creative venture into new forms of enquiry. In the coming years Indian science is unlikely to produce much that is creative, original or inventive. An obsession with rankings rather than search for originality will be the driving force of the new BJP/NDA establishment.
The regime’s contempt for the university evidenced by its hostility to JNU, Delhi and Hyderabad University, is already a part of folklore. It seems to believe education is a process that has to be tempered by the ideology of the RSS shakha. A cadre-determined education system will become a nightmare even George Orwell did not imagine. For the academy, the outcome of General Election 2019 may prove to be a bigger nightmare than it was in Orwell’s 1984.
The BJP leadership’s sense of instrumentalism is also short-term. It has little sense of the composite research system rural India needs. It emphasises upstream access but has no idea of downstream employment. It has to realise that certification is no guarantee for employment and that its ideas of skilling are not anchored in technological innovation. Its enthusiasm for startups has been shortlived and shortsighted. The connectivities between different parts of the innovation chain are completely lost to it. The tragedy is there is little critique of its enthusiasm for pockets of knowledge. The scientific establishment is almost supine as ill-educated RSS-BJP intellectuals roughshod its ideologies over science congresses creating a new tragic-comic science which invites global contempt. Education is one field where populism is no substitute for a critical understanding of the connectivities between knowledge, research, creativity, technology and meaningful employment.
After the past five years of BJP rule, the social sciences are in a deeper state of distress than physical and biological sciences. The sangh parivar’s confusion of history and myth, ideology and knowledge has been devastating for the social sciences. Any critique of obsolete concepts of development, security, nation, state, indeed dissenting imagination which is the core of the university, is regarded as anti-national. Confusion between patriotism and critical reasoning is an illiteracy for which generations will pay.
The BJP/NDA government’s record of the past five years indicates that it lacks the understanding that quality education needs an autonomous intellectual community and commitment to institution building. Congress governments for all their limitations did produce the Radhakrishnan (1949) and Kothari (1966) committee reports. This regime hasn’t commissioned equivalent educational manifestos. As a result, it doesn’t understand the creative power of diversity, the need for a new social contract between the oral, textual and digital imaginations. It seeks to create a univocal, uniform culture on grounds of efficiency and the pragmatism of law and order. Such a reductionist cost-benefit model of education does not understand its cultural role of creating an inventive democracy and a futuristic citizenship.
Illiterate about cultural diversity, blinkered about research, confounding ideology with critical thinking, confusing science with imitative technology and replacing excellence with populism, the educational dystopia the new government is likely to create will limit the future. It is a tragedy that the academy and intelligentsia is unlikely to redress.
(Shiv Visvanathan is director of the Centre for the Study of Knowledge Systems at O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat)