New Delhi: Those who accuse the Narendra Modi government of harbouring antipathy towards democratic and popular movements will have fresh ammunition, this time from the world of pedagogy. The government-run National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) has dropped a full chapter – ‘Democracy In the Contemporary World’ – from the political science textbook for class IX.
The second chapter of the old textbook has now become chapter one with necessary modifications at places where there was a reference to the now excised chapter. But the new textbook does not even mention why one chapter has been removed. To make things worse, the decision was taken by a committee within NCERT that had no expert.
No one involved with the finalisation of the textbook in 2005 was consulted. Historian Hari Vasudevan, who headed the advisory committee for NCERT textbooks in 2005 said, “The arbitrariness and willfulness do not send a right message at the time of elections. Moreover, it is about removing the chapter on democracy.”
Vasudevan said changes in these textbooks were carried out even during the UPA. There was uproar about some cartoons but a proper review committee was set up that consulted all the advisors and experts involved with the textbook. “It is rather strange that no one was informed now. The NCERT could have called us on Skype or various other means available these days. It would have taken half-an-hour,” Vasudevan said.
Vasudevan also does not understand why the NCERT is not keen to present material – in this case on democracy – to students. He said schools were permitted to choose chapters they want to teach. “What was the emergency now?” he asked, calling the entire process ‘unfortunate.’
Asked for his comment, NCERT director Hrushikesh Senapathy told The Wire, “Changes have been made in a democratic way. We had asked for public opinion and received one lakh suggestions from 27,000 people. A curriculum committee within the NCERT then analysed it and carried out the changes.” But he did not answer why the authors of the book were not consulted.
What has been deleted
The excised chapter talked of the 1973 military coup against Salvador Allende in Chile by General Augusto Pinochet who was helped by the US government. In brief, the chapter gave a peek into Pinochet’s 17-year regime that tortured and killed Allende supporters. Thousands went missing. But slowly a democratic resistance led to Pinochet first losing the referendum of 1988 and eventually his control over the state itself.
The chapter talked of the success of Michelle Bachelet, daughter of General Alberto Bachelet of the Chilean Air Force and a close aide of Allende, who was imprisoned during the Pinochet era but who won the election through democratic means in 2006.
The second excision dealt with the historic strike by workers of the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk, Poland who were demanding that a woman crane operator be taken back. A former electrician of the shipyard, Lech Walesa, who was dismissed for demanding higher wages, led the strike that spread across the country. Eventually, the government had to give in. It had to recognise independent trade unions and the right to strike.
This led to the birth of Solidarity, the first independent trade union in the Soviet bloc. However, the new union had to face widespread repression from the government of General Jaruzelski. A second wave of strikes took place in 1988 and the government had to yield in 1989, this time agreeing to conduct a free election.
The chapter mapped the progress of democracy throughout the world since the 1950s and talked of different phases in the expansion of democracy, the end of colonialism and universal adult franchise. Democracy in India’s neighbourhood – Pakistan, Myanmar and Nepal – was also discussed.
The NCERT has already removed references to caste, cricket and clothing from its history textbooks.
Akshaya Mukul is a Delhi-based journalist and author of Gita Press and the Making of Hindu India.