Jaipur: To celebrate four years of being in power, Rajasthan’s Vasundhara Raje government on December 18 organised a three-day exhibition at Ramlila Maidan in Jaipur. Apart from displaying its development work and achievements in about 50 stalls, the event mandated the presence of about 400 students from 11 private schools of the city to participate in painting, jingle writing and extempore speech competitions based on government schemes including ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’, ‘water conservation’ and ‘beti bachao, beti padhao’.
“We had orders from the district education office to bring 35 students from our school for three days to participate in the painting, jingle writing and extempore event at the government exhibition,” said Shraddha, a teacher from a private school present at the exhibition.
The order by the district education office was sent as per the directions of the collector.
“Normally, students of government schools are called to participate in such events but since they are having their half-yearly examinations now, we decided to call private schools of the city to take part,” Ratan Singh Yadav, district education officer, told The Wire.
“Participation in competitions will make the students bold. Why see it in connection with any government?” he added.
The whole Rajasthan council of secondary education team was present at the event.
“[The] Order was made compulsory so that we have a required number of strength at the event, nothing else. See, the topics are based on environment and social evils which has got nothing to do with politics,” said Deepak Shukla, assistant district education officer.
In the painting competition based on the theme of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, students restricted their creativity to drawing Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party logo and popular slogans of the government which they thought were essential for representing the mission.
“Lotus is Bhartiya Janta Party’s logo and it is used at every stall here in the exhibition. That’s why I’ve used it in my drawing to match it with the theme,” said Anhad, a class IX student from Maheshwari Public School who took part in the painting competition.
Asked about the presence of a cow in his poster, he replied, “Cow is an essential part of our society these days. How can it be missed?”
“Our prime minister is the man behind the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. It was his mission to clean India after Mahatma Gandhi. I especially practiced his caricature to draw in this competition,” said Komal, a class XI humanities student from Sanskar School.
Even the jury panel for the competition believed that students should present prime minister’s contribution to the issue.
“We will see whether the students have in their minds what the prime minister says about Swachh Bharat Abhiyan or not,” Rajni Balasharma, jury member for the painting competition told The Wire.
In the jingle writing competition, pet keywords like ‘vikas’, ‘naya hindustan’ and ‘Bharat mata’ were extensively used by the students.
“My father helped me to make the jingle. He said we should choose words that are mostly used these days,” said Khushboo, a class IX student from Sanskar School.
“This is just about awareness of the government schemes. Whatever is taken up by the central government is meant to be followed by the states too. ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ and ‘beti bachao, beti padhao’ are central government schemes. By participating in these events, the students will get to know what the government of their state is doing. They are the best carriers to pass this knowledge to their families and neighbours,” said Sudharshan Khullar, one of the jury members of the competition.
For the extempore speech competition, students were given the topic of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in advance which was later altered to ‘specific aspects of the mission’ to add an ‘impromptu speech’ twist to the competition. Students were then asked to speak for three minutes on ‘Clean India is happy India’, ‘importance of the mission’, ‘its relevance’ and ‘students’ contribution in the mission.’
In their speeches, the students spoke about how the prime minister launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, why his involvement in the mission appeals to them and makes them want to take up the issue.
“Bharat ke pradhan mantri jhadoo laga rahe hai, yeh kitni badi baat hai. Yeh hum sab ko prerit karti hai ki hum bhi desh ko saaf karein (It is a big deal that the prime minister of India has picked up a broom to sweep. It inspires us to clean our country),” Lakshmi, the winner of the extempore competition said in her speech.
“Dukh hota hai ki hamari maa-behno ko khule mein shauch jana padta hai (It pains me that our mother-sisters have to defecate in the open),” said Kunal, a student from Ambassy Millennium School.
Attributing clean India to the Modi government, the students said that cleanliness was never talked about by any government before.
“Before the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan came, people were not aware what dirt is, why open defecation is bad and how we can keep the nation clean. It was only after our prime minister launched the clean India mission that the masses became aware. Today, our city is clean and we wish to keep it so,” said Jayshree, a class XI student from Chaura Rasta government school.
“Swachh Bharat came up only after 2014. The government got changed and we could feel the difference in the cleanliness of the nation. No other government has raised this issue before. Soon, we will compete with USA and China,” said Anushkrat Sharma, a student from Jayshree Periwal International School.
In November, the Raje-led BJP government in Rajasthan had organised similar essay and extempore competitions at block and district levels on its flagship schemes – Bhamashah Yojana and Mukhya Mantra Jal Swavlamban Abhiyan in all government schools and repeated it in government colleges in December to mark its four years in office.
Speaking to The Wire, Rajiv Gupta, former professor of sociology at the Rajasthan University said, “This has never happened in the past. No programme relating to any government has been discussed. You can have an academic seminar relating to certain issues or policies but no programme has ever been discussed at this scale.”
“The BJP government is trying to create popularity of certain programs among the student community and gain from diverting the attention of the students. They cannot provide employment, give adequate learning, create new content structure, new degree programmes. So, the alternative left with them is to involve the students in those areas which are not of their interest but of the interest to the government. It is the intervention of the government in secondary and higher education and it is an effort to dismantling autonomous character of higher education in India.”
Shruti Jain is a freelance journalist.