Education, Illusion and Reality: A New Ideological Foundation Stone to Firm up an Election

By all accounts, the campaign for the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections threatens to be no-holds-barred.

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In yet another instructively detailed episode of Prime Time, Ravish Kumar of NDTV India on September 15 surveyed the state of colleges and universities, especially in Uttar Pradesh.

Skeletons of buildings meant to be colleges came to the fore, with neither a student nor a teacher, but masses of bramble and grass growing within and without.

Those for whom these scaffoldings were laid are obliged to travel miles to access a college where they may enrol, often not being able to find a bus to carry them to those locations.

Teacher strength in most institutions that manage to carry on, the survey shows, falls even below 30% of sanctioned posts.

A miserable dereliction matched by unconscionable pittance of funds against those once loudly proclaimed.

For anyone interested in the subject, it should be imperative to lend ear to the entire episode.

None of this has deterred the honourable prime minister from laying yet another foundation stone – this time of what is to be the Raja Mahendra Pratap University in Aligarh.

As Ravish puts it, this may be akin to ignoring the road in disrepair while launching another flyover nearby.

The ideological intent of the stone-laying ceremony may not escape the analytic acumen of nation-watchers, given that the assembly elections in that all-important state are due in a few months, and the fact that the Jat farmers of western Uttar Pradesh are severely disaffected with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, and, indeed, the Modi government (Pratap is a Jat hero).

Just to remind ourselves: only a few days ago, the hard-headed chief minister of that state was to claim that prior to 2017, the bounties of food rations were available only to those who use the term “Abba jaan” (read Muslims).

And does it matter that such a claim bears no relation to facts.

But now, in his address at the foundation-stone laying ceremony, the prime minister made the telling observation that Aligarh is known, you guessed it, for its lock-making prowess.

Could anyone imagine a greater slight to the historic and iconic Aligarh Muslim University, which not only holds pride of place in the history of India’s freedom movement (with which the Sangh parivar has had rather scant attachment), but, in our day, continues to be ranked among the top-most institutions of higher learning in the country?

Thus, if the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh in 2017 were orchestrated around the binaries of shamshan and kabristan (burial grounds and crematoriums), this time around the intent seems to be to polarise the electorate around the “Abba jaan” epithet and the new intended university named after a Jat scion to the erasure of the existence and role of the Aligarh Muslim University.

Other epithets, no doubt, may be expected to follow, given the right-wing’s ingenious propaganda apparatus.

What may eventually become of the new foundation stone is copiously suggested in Ravish’s wide-ranging and in-depth survey mentioned above.

Whether this strategy of attempting to abolish from public memory the dismal record of governance in Uttar Pradesh over the last five years will yield for the ruling party the desired fruit of another electoral victory or not remains to be seen.

And a great deal of that will no doubt depend upon how parties opposed to the BJP get their acts together on the ground, both in terms of the content and rigour of campaigning among the destitute of the state, and in terms of achieving opposition electoral unity around a credible common programme.

Presumably, these parties realise that such a programme must be structured around a renewed commitment to the secular-egalitarian ideals of the constitution rather than to any cleverly thought-up clone of the ruling BJPs predilections.

It should be clear that after the humiliating defeat in West Bengal, the ruling BJP will leave no stratagem untried to win back Uttar Pradesh, even as the objective odds against such an eventuality seem formidable for the party as never before.

One crucial question that confronts the beleaguered Muslim minority: how may they utilise the clout of their franchise best among the plethora of contending choices? How may they come to assess those contending claims to their welfare? And how staunchly may they resist the temptation to band with political forces whose politics wares rather exclusively around identity?

That they find themselves caught unenviably between a doggedly exclusionary Hindutva and the all-important need to avoid being sucked into a likely campaign that may seek to link them to the resurgence of the Taliban (a circumstance that the overwhelming majority of Indian Muslims view with deep disfavour) should be obvious.

By all accounts, the campaign for the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections threatens to be no-holds-barred.

Already, it must be understood, the 20-day-long celebration of the prime minister’s birthday is an inaugural pointer to how far the establishment may go to build the notion of an infallible and invincible cult.

Hardly a salutary thing for a democratic state.

There is little hope that the captive media outlets will see better than to drum-beat the nationalism of the establishment that now revolves around such a cult – a reality that multiplies the onus on the few who still retain a forthright allegiance to the democratic vision of the constitution.

A watershed moment awaits India.

Let us wish ourselves well.

Badri Raina taught at Delhi University.