NEW DELHI: The two- day ‘Idea of India’ conclave organized at New Delhi’s India International Centre on marked two years of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. The ‘Idea of India Conclave 2016’ brought in notable policy makers and public intellectuals from myriad disciplines and places. Over 350 intellectuals including government leaders, professionals, scholars, journalists, politicians and social activists participated in this conclave where ideas and opinions were shared in a candid and scholarly manner.

The conclave was led by prominent public intellectuals, professors, artistes, human rights and other activists. To name a few big gun speakers were: Amar Farooqi, Prabhat Patnaik, Dr. Sathyajit Rath, Ashok Vajpayi, Deepak Nayyar, Zoya Hasan among several others. There were separate sessions on history, law and justice, media, agriculture distress, economy, foreign policy, science and reasons, education, gender and caste, culture and heritage, civil discontent.

This conclave aimed to examine the track record of the current government at various levels, including how it has performed against the standards laid out as representing the Idea of India, and the intimations of the government itself. Speakers said that the signs are not very positive, particularly in the socio-cultural, scientific and educational front.

Hindi professor at the University of Delhi, Apoorvanand Jha, who has also been a contributor to newspapers and magazines on the issues of education, culture, communalism, violence and human rights was one of the eminent speakers at the conference. He stated that he recently examined the revised textbooks of Rajasthan state board and said that he was ‘dejected’ by the glitches and bars of content in the revised school textbooks. He pointed out that these textbooks are an edited variant of the 2015 textbooks, framed in just 45 days.

Apoorvanand also delivered that the books adopted by the BJP government in 2016 are actually edited in the shell of Hindutva fundamentals. For instance, 9th grade Social Studies book Sindhu Ghati Culture (Indus Valley Civilization) has been called the Sindhu Saraswati Culture, which is in tandem with the RSS construct of history. Barring any authentic gospel, they have proclaimed that Indus Valley Civilization is an element of the Vedic culture.

Apoorvanand sensed that this assimilation of history and mythology seems to foster a blind perception of history. Jha also stated that, Class IX textbooks state that Aryans were natives of India and Vrana Pratha (Caste System). The Professor also pointed out this would not in any way enhance the student's store of knowledge or trigger their analysis. These books are also not providing sufficient knowledge about marginalized communities like the Dalits, Adivasis etc. Buddhism as a religion has also been mentioned as marginalized in the Social Science textbook of Class VI. The books have considered the sex ratio in the state but have neglected the child sex ratio which is a very grave issue in Rajasthan. Precisely, the new curriculum is does not serve the purpose of fostering a critical and questioning outlook.

Dr. Satyajit Rath, a natural scientist stated that such myths tend to dwell on a false authority for Hinduism and Sanatana Dharma and are central to Hindutva. He said that these ideologies take us away from, rather than bring us closer to, the contemporary issues and potentials of scientific research. Rath said that Hindutva considers science and technology purely as business and with a profit-making approach, and not as a collective asset to boost the lives of the bulk of the people.

Rath spoke about the concept of academic scholarship and the comprehension of the natural and the social world encompassing an apparatus of citizenship empowerment. Further, he examined the theory of innovation that would impact the lives of the underprivileged and the deprived, without the mediation of market based economies which are forging profit.

India’s education domain is under continual threat from the NDA government, which endeavors to alter the centers of learning to a saffron mainstay. Moreover, the present government is also pushing the same neo-liberal motives of the UPA in the education zone. The government is also accelerating to corporatize India’s education zone and is also emphasizing foreign direct investment in education which would result at limiting the learning avenues of the marginalized sections of the society.

The speakers at the summit also agreed that the amendments in the modules, such as glossing over important figures like Jawaharlal Nehru, from educational institutions has been done to eradicate intellectual rationality. The current regime wants to deliver its perspective of homogenization with the sovereignty of the upper-class. The removal of the freedom struggle from the curriculum has been done because they themselves have a very dubious role in the struggle for independence.

Ashok Vajpeyi is a reputed Hindi Poet, essayist, literary-cultural critic, apart from being an eminent cultural and arts administrator, and a former civil servant, He was chairman at Lalit Kala Akademi, India's National Academy of Arts, Ministry of Culture, Government of India. According to Vajpeyi these are very difficult times for literature, the arts, tradition and culture. The plurality, accommodation and inclusion, openness, multi-linguality and multi-religiosity which have sustained and energized us, are all under assault constantly. He stated that the BJP’s sole aim is the preparation of the ground for Hindu raj, which our nation has repeatedly buckled over for close to seven decades of independence, to expect them to become sincere adherents of the liberty-loving, secular, pluralistic ethos of the Indian Constitution is nothing but a pipe dream.

Vajpayi said the only cultural institute which runs actively and successfully under the BJP is the Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh (RSS), the sole intention of which is to convert India into a Hindu centric nation and which has nothing to do with contemporary creativity, public discourse, trivial matters, enhancing and promoting organizations like ICCR, National Book Trust, Sangeet Natak Academy, Indira Gandhi National Centre of Arts, etc.

He stated that all these prominent organizations which represent Indian cultures at an international level have been given no importance, and are under staffed. He strongly asserted that, ‘if we cannot dialogue, debate, create, imagine then the “Idea of India” is under assault, we must not cease our voice, we need large campaigns for freedom, equality and render our support to these educational and cultural institutions which are being marginalized.’