Congratulations to Mamata Banerjee for bringing back her party, Trinamool Congress, to power in West Bengal for the third term, although she herself lost her seat to her former lieutenant, Suvendu Adhikari, who is now with the Bharatiya Janata Party. But that will not stop her from being sworn in as Chief Minister, as she has six months to fight another election from a safe seat where she gets a sure-shot victory. As for BJP, let it not be under the illusion that just because it got nearly 80 seats from a mere three seats in 2016, its performance has been fantastic. In fact, compared to the Lok Sabha elections, its performance has been dismal. From around 120 seats—if the 18 Lok Sabha seats it won are converted to Assembly seats—it has gone down to the range of 80. So there has been a loss of around 40 seats. Of course, people vote differently in Lok Sabha and Assembly elections, but even then, in the 2021 elections the BJP actually had the opportunity to pose a much better challenge to Mamata Banerjee if it had got a proper strategy in place. Getting defectors from the TMC has not worked, with most of the defectors losing, as people refused to vote for the “turncoats”. Even Suvendu Adhikari, BJP’s biggest catch from the TMC, had limited influence, although he managed to defeat the Chief Minister in a very close fight. But then not everyone is a Suvendu Adhikari who can pull off a win against a sitting Chief Minister in a 50:50 fight.
Let’s make no mistake, there was enough unhappiness on the ground against the Mamata Banerjee government—may not be against the Chief Minister personally, but against her MLAs. But aided by Prashant Kishor, the TMC had a better strategy in place and had a far superior ground connect than the BJP, which helped the ruling party overcome the hurdle of anti-incumbency. Also, it was able to mobilise voters better than the BJP on election day. It looks like the BJP took for granted that people were in the mood for change and hence would vote for them automatically. They also took for granted counter-consolidation by the majority community in response to the polarization among the minority community. But neither happened. Moreover, the message of a “double engine” government, with the same party’s government at the state and at the Centre did not reach the masses. Perhaps the BJP did not realise that Bengal, having been out of the national mainstream for over 45 years (34 years of the CPM, which is more like a regional party than national, and 10 years of TMC), has forgotten what it means to be ruled by a party which can ensure a steady flow of funds and investment to the state. A sort of ennui has set in where most people adjust to the reality of Bengal being an industrially barren, jobless, opportunity-less landscape, while those who have aspirations leave the state. Additionally, the local parties, both CPM and TMC have made “bonchona”—discrimination—by the Central government one of their main talking points as a diversionary tactic for their failure to deliver. People are used to “being discriminated” against by the Centre, so it does not matter to a large section if funds from the Centre come or do not come. Moreover, the population of the state has been fed a steady diet of Bengali exceptionalism because of which a large section actually believes that what they have is better than what most other states have. Awareness about development activities in other states is very low, hence some municipal level work done by the state government is taken as a sign of huge development—and there is no denying that a lot of municipal level work has happened during Mamata Banerjee’s tenure. There are people who actually believe that Kolkata is the best city to live in, in India. Also, the TMC-CPM promoted narrative of BJP being a “communal” party and riots will start if it comes to power has takers among a large section of the population.
In spite of all these factors, BJP had a chance because of criminality and corruption on the ground and a limited degree of communal polarization that has taken place. But BJP’s problem was in the communication. Its message did not reach the ground in the language that the local people understand—Bengali. The focus was on big rallies and rathyatras, when focus should have been on door-to-door campaigning and street-corner meetings. The RSS cadre that flocked to the state during the polls from other states did not speak the language, hence the message was lost in translation. Candidate selection was a major problem, with TMC defectors being given more importance than hard-working local BJP workers and leaders. Hence, a large section of the local BJP either did not take the party’s message to the ground, or simply did not work for their candidates. Also, the lack of a CM face really hurt the BJP, when the competition was someone as popular as Mamata Banerjee. The bottom line is, it was an election for the BJP to lose and it lost it.
As for Mamata Banerjee and her party, it is time she sent out the message to TMC workers that the party’s victory is not an endorsement of their hooliganism. The kind of violence that is taking place in Bengal primarily against BJP workers and sympathisers cannot be allowed to continue in a civilized state. It’s time to be magnanimous in victory, not vengeful.
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THE SOPS FOR GOVERNMENT ADVERTISING NEED TO CHANGE
The affinity of public sector entities including governmental departments, nodal agencies and regulators for print advertisements is unmatchable. It is probably part of an ancient SOP which is yet to be updated.
The ad category that catches the eye the most is the one for the recruitment of people and empanelment of agencies. The print media industry must be thankful for such a customer segment, but this is the age of ads on online platforms like LinkedIn and others, even for hiring non-tech roles and senior positions. It is probably a sheer waste of paper, money and time when public entity advertisers take their SOPs too seriously and publish print ads calling for professionals to work with digital tools and technology! That’s using ink to promote digital!
One wonders whether these ads mean to showcase that the entity did indeed advertise as part of a process and to tick something off a list or if it really seeks to bring in the servicemen or knowledge providers that the ads call for. Assuming that the target audience for the advertisements actually reads those newspapers, one should take a look at the size and location of the ads and more importantly the “stern” messaging of them that actually replicate official documents with many reference numbers and bureaucratic lingo. But it is in these semantics that the optics often lie hidden!
And it doesn’t end there. The tardiness in asking “those interested” to visit the recruiting department’s website is worse than searching for a needle in the haystack. You can even search for the needle using a high powered magnet, but try searching for the said advertisement on those websites! (On a lighter note, one also wonders if even the individuals mentioned as the “undersigned” in those ads can locate the specific ads in their maze of a website.) I am sure most of us have seen QR codes which can be published in a print ad and take the user directly to the specific section on the advertiser’s website upon scanning them, which can be done using any of the many affordable camera-phones used in India today.
It is indeed time for public offices to assess the effectiveness of their advertising and to ensure that the outcomes are measured to showcase the cost of effective reach. That would be a way to account for such public spending.
It is also time to correct anomalies in the way public offices advertise and redraw the rulebook to stay relevant in the 21st century, but without reducing or missing out on any stakeholder’s access to complete information.
ASPIRING FOR WORLD-CLASS VARSITIES
To establish world-class universities in India, we have to identify and avoid the weaknesses of the current system, allow institutions greater freedom and incentive to innovate, provide liberal grants and other required resources and encourage a futuristic orientation in every aspect of their operations.
Universities have made unparalleled contributions in bringing different civilizations together and nurturing them towards social and scientific advancements. University of Bologna which was founded in Italy in the year 1088 is considered to be the oldest university in continuous operation. It is believed that by the end of the 15th century there were about fifty universities, and all were in Europe. All modern universities of the world have evolved on the pattern of the 11th century European model of universities. According to an estimate, there are about 25,000 universities in the world. India is known to have the largest system of higher education in terms of the number of institutions, with 982 degree awarding institutions and about 40,000 colleges.
The western system of higher education has substantially influenced the system of the rest of the world, primarily because of its futuristic orientation and significant research contribution in frontier areas of knowledge. They have brought out critical understanding of social dynamics and invented modern technology which has permeated in all dimensions of human development. One unique feature of western universities is that they are continually moving ahead of time. There are universities which have a common practice of establishing curriculum and research groups that invest a considerable amount of time on a continual basis in planning and designing of futuristic curricula and determining research priorities for the present as well as for the unknown boundaries of the future. These are some of the unique characteristics, among others, that make them the leading universities of the world. These universities have been role models for a long time for most parts of the world. A large number of them have been continually capturing ace positions in global rankings that are carried out by different agencies. That has started mounting enormous pressure on universities in other parts of the world.
Ranking system in higher education is not a recent phenomenon. It has been there right from early times, but in different forms. It is said that even after the establishment of the University of Oxford in 1096, Londoners preferred to go for higher studies to other places of Europe, and that continued until the imposition of a formal embargo by the king. This perception-based ranking remained part of the system until the mid-eighties when American universities started domestic rankings based on limited parameters. It was followed by some other countries in different forms where it began in the form of program accreditation and institutional accreditation. This trend ultimately took the shape of global ranking of universities. Soon, the ranking system caught the imagination of some commercial organisations which saw great potential in it. They evolved their own instruments in consultation with experts and launched a global ranking exercise in the beginning of the 21st century which eventually gave rise to competition amongst universities as also among nation states. Soon, it generated a newer kind of enthusiasm amongst some countries which started aspiring for ‘world-class’ universities.
On the concept of the ‘world-class’ university, Phillip Altbach in 2004 said, “Every country wants a world-class university. No country feels it can do without one. The problem is that no one knows what a world-class university is, and no one has figured out how to get one. Everyone, however, refers to the concept.” Since then, the debate on world-class universities is on but no one has been able to articulate yet what it really means. A very big conference on world-class universities was held as late as October 2019 at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University where no one agreed on any one definition of the ‘world-class university’.
A world-class university is perceived to be a multidimensional concept. The most significant aspect of a world-class university lies in its capacity to lead the world through its academic rigour in frontier domains of knowledge besides churning out the most talented workforce needed by the modern world. People have been aspiring to have world-class universities for a long time. There is a famous anecdote about the University of Chicago. It is said that when John D. Rockefeller wanted to establish the University of Chicago in 1890, he contacted the then President of Harvard University, Charles William Eliot, and asked him as to what is required to build a great university? Eliot replied that it required USD 50 million and 200 years. On hearing that, Rockefeller said that he got the message loud and clear but he would not wait for that long, for he would like to invest much more than USD 50 million and establish a great university much earlier than usual.
Since it is difficult to turn a blind eye to the idea of having world-class universities in a highly competitive world, even less resilient economies came up with numerous innovative ideas to have world-class universities. India also realized the need to have a couple of world-class universities. The National Development Council (NDC), in its meeting held in November 2010, approved the setting up of as many as 14 world-class universities in the cities of Bhubaneswar, Kochi, Amritsar, Greater Noida, Patna, Guwahati, Kolkata, Bhopal, Gandhinagar, Coimbatore, Mysore, Pune, Visakhapatnam and Jaipur.
The idea was to have a two pronged approach to set up a few world-class universities. While some of them could be established under the de-novo category focusing on issues of national importance, others could be identified from amongst the existing universities and provided additional resources for attaining world-class standards. These universities would provide teaching and research facilities of the standard comparable to the best universities of the world and they would be under the category of institutions of national importance like the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs). Later on it was decided to change the nomenclature from world-class university to Universities for Research and Innovation. And accordingly a Bill was introduced in the Parliament on May 21, 2012, which somehow could not be passed.
Five years later, the government decided not to take the legislative route and instead opted to do it through the UGC (Institutions of Eminence Deemed to be Universities) Regulations, 2017. Hence the government constituted an Empowered Expert Committee (EEC) and entrusted it with the mandate of identifying ten public and ten private institutions of higher learning based on their academic standings that could be granted the status of Institution of Eminence (IoE). Ten public institutions that were shortlisted by the EEC are IISc, Bangalore, four IITs—Delhi, Bombay, Madras and Kharagpur—BHU, Universities of Delhi, Hyderabad, Jadavpur and Anna. The ten private institutions are MAHE-Manipal, BITS-Pilani, O P Jindal, Shiv Nadar, KIIT-Bhubaneswar, VIT-Vellore, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapitham, Jamia Hamdard, Satya Bharti Foundation and JIO Institute. Up till now only among the public institutions and four from the private ones have signed MoUs with the government. It looks like a work in progress but at a very slow pace despite claims to the contrary.
There are different dimensions towards establishing world-class universities. While some of them are related to frameworks, others are related to quality, governance and sustainability. One can understand the necessity of having world-class universities in the country because none of our universities is ranked among the top hundred in global rankings. Another reason could be that India’s innovation in higher education has generally side-stepped universities either in preference to premier institutions or to establishing new institutions. We also need world-class universities because most of our institutions are churning out graduates without skills required in the real world.
But establishing new universities especially those intended to be innovative require careful planning and understanding of the weakness of the current system. If we aspire to have universities with world-class standards then we have to consciously avoid the weakness of the current system like overwhelming bureaucratic burden, degree of severity of the toughness of decision making, little incentive to innovate, eliminating fragmentation of knowledge, freeing the universities from external control, substantial resources, etc. In addition, they have to have futuristic orientation in every aspect of their operation. It hardly needs any mention that they will have to provide an inspiring learning and living environment to their students.
Since such universities are expensive institutions, they require liberal grants over a protracted period of time and freedom to mobilize resources from other sources in a transparent manner. Enabling some of our existing universities to emerge as world-class centres of academic excellence, as envisaged under the scheme of Institutions of Eminence, can be most successfully achieved over a period of time provided honesty in honouring the commitments takes precedence over everything else from both the sides.
The author is former Chairman, UGC. The views expressed are personal.
AMARINDER MAY GO FOR RE-ALLOCATION OF PORTFOLIOS IN PUNJAB
Intense speculation over the possibility of either a major reshuffle in the Punjab Cabinet or re-allocation of portfolios to ministers has begun following the widespread meetings that Captain Amarinder Singh has been having with party MLAs.
In fact, this could be the first step to prepare the Congress for next year’s assembly polls and the exercise may be held either simultaneously or prior to the High Command’s efforts to reorganise the organizational set up. The PCC had been dissolved some time ago and no decision has yet been taken on who shall be replacing the State Chief, Sunil Jakhar, who too has been continuing in the caretaker capacity. The central leadership of the party had been keen to appoint Navjot Singh Sidhu in place of Jakhar but this appears to be most unlikely with the Captain now coming out openly against the former cricketer.
Although Amarinder has always extended all courtesies to the High Command, it appears that he may go in for the reshuffling operation to both assert his authority as well as to send a clear signal to New Delhi, that he should be given a free hand to run the affairs of the government in order to win next year’s polls. Unable to get his nominee, Manish Tewari, named as the PCC Chief, the Captain wants the High Command to also play a role in selecting the organization Head. With Harish Rawat, general secretary, in-charge of the Congress in the state still recovering from Covid-19, the Chief Minister may not settle for anyone who may be at variance with his thinking. A seasoned politician, he realizes the importance of the party president, especially during ticket distribution, and thus wants someone who is compatible with him to hold that position. On its part, the High Command would still make a last minute bid for Sidhu and by withdrawing his name at the last moment to gain leaverage, may opt for a nominee, who“ is equidistant’’ from the Captain.
Nervous MLAs have been presenting their views to Central leaders even as none of them has the courage to openly challenge the Chief Minister in Chandigarh. Their concern is largely regarding certain policy measures that have been announced recently. Punjab’s financial condition is dismal and any step that would be a burden on the diminishing finances would have to be viewed through a pragmatic prism. The announcement regarding the implementation of the pay commission would certainly, on the face of it, endear the government to its employees. However, if the money remains unpaid, the matter could boomerang.
The Congress party in the state has to also address the sacrilege issue which would be a factor in the assembly polls. Rajya Sabha MP Pratap Singh Bajwa has, in a letter to the Chief Minister, asked him, why no meeting of state MPs to discuss the burning political matter had been called. He has also appealed to him to arrange the meeting at the earliest and ensure that those connected with the probe as well as the DGP police were also present. Political activity in the state is warming up. It is now for the High Command and the Chief Minister to tread the path carefully to maintain complete harmony within the party and the government.
BENGAL VIOLENCE: WHY MAMATA IS A PUNY LEADER, UNFIT FOR NATIONAL POLITICS DESPITE THE WIN
Mamata Banerjee, prone to supporting lawlessness and tolerating corruption, is a leader of a party which does not boast of a presence anywhere outside her state. To even try to equate her to the indefatigable Narendra Modi is to do a great disservice to Indian polity.
A lot has been written about the BJP not being able to dismantle and prevent the Trinamool from romping home to victory in the recently conducted West Bengal assembly polls. First things first, going from 3 seats in 2016 to 77 seats in 2021 is a massive achievement, translating into an over 2400% rise in seat share. Don’t forget that the TMC was set up in 1998 and has no impact or presence outside Bengal whatsoever. Despite focussing only on Bengal, it took Mamata Banerjee 14 long years to dislodge an inept and corrupt CPI(M) from power in Bengal, before Trinamool struck gold in 2011. In the 2001 Bengal assembly elections, TMC won 60 seats. In 2006, that number halved to 30 seats. In 2011, the TMC won 184 seats, and in 2016, 211 seats. In 2021, the TMC’s tally was 213 seats. Jaded, hapless and largely irrelevant journalists like Pritish Nandy, for instance, who have been frothing in excitement at how Bengal managed to stave off the BJP juggernaut, fail to realise that what the BJP has achieved in just the last five years is incredible and exceptional. From a vote share of just 10.2% in 2016 to 38.1% in 2021 is not a mean achievement. The Lutyens’ cabal, driven by its visceral hatred for Narendra Modi, has always applauded Mamata Banerjee for managing to uproot Red terror from Bengal in a short span of 14 years, but is not willing to credit the Shah-Nadda duo for becoming the principal challengers to the TMC in a matter of just five years! Is that not rabid hypocrisy?
The BJP has made the Bengal electoral scenario from a four-party to a two-party affair. The BJP has also completely demolished the Congress and the Left to an embarrassing zero seats in the just concluded assembly polls. That most of the Congress-Left votes were transferred to the TMC this time is a different matter altogether that needs introspection. But to the BJP’s credit, it is the largest party in the world today, because it celebrates its victories but more importantly it learns from its defeats, dusts off the inadequacies, brainstorms, thinks hard, works harder and eventually wins the war! That Amit Shah and J.P. Nadda put in an incredible amount of effort, toiling day and night, is something that makes the BJP the disciplined, organisationally strong party that it has turned out to be, where not only is winning important, but playing by the rules is even more important.
The moot question then is: what about the “Modi factor”? The charisma, respect, ground-connect with the electorate, popularity and indomitable capacity for relentless hard work are all factors that make Prime Minister Narendra Modi a leader who is in a league of his own. PM Modi, the tallest leader in post-Independence India, has no competition. To even try and create a false equivalence between the indefatigable Narendra Modi and Mamata Banerjee, a fascist, rabble rouser, limited to Bengal, is doing a great disservice to even the basic understanding of Indian polity.
The Congress has ceased to matter after a string of debilitating defeats, with Rahul Gandhi turning into a vacuous paper tiger on Twitter whom no one takes seriously. The Left, barring in Kerala, has been wiped out. Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav never had any national stature to start with and both their parties were almost reduced to nothingness in the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls in 2017, with SP winning only 47 seats, compared to the massive 312 that the BJP won. Even in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, while the BJP secured 62 seats in UP, Congress was reduced to 1 seat, Samajwadi Party merely 5 seats and Mayawati’s BSP to 10 seats. The “Khan Market Gang” has tried to resurrect the political fortunes of many failed regional satraps in a bid to checkmate the Modi aura, but these efforts repeatedly came to nought.
The recent efforts to portray West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee as a challenger to PM Modi in 2024 is therefore both laughable and ridiculous. Outside Bengal, Mamata has no impact or credibility. At the Ramlila Ground in 2014, where Anna Hazare was supposed to speak but did not turn up, Mamata Banerjee had held the fort for Hazare by filling in for him, but no one turned up to hear her. She was greeted with an empty ground with rows and rows of empty chairs. Also, to be a national-level leader, a certain amount of empathy and compassion is a must and Mamata Banerjee, unfortunately, has neither. Mamata is the same lady who had mocked the rape of Suzette Jordan in Kolkata in 2012, saying that Jordan was a disco-going, alcohol-loving, club-hopping, partygoer, who probably deserved the ignominy of rape. Yes, womenfolk have been voting for Mamata in good numbers, despite her pathetic record in stalling crimes against women in Bengal. To that, let people be reminded that Rome was not built in a day. Womenfolk voted even this time for Mamata, more out of a fear of retribution, rather than any admiration for her brand of politics. The grim truth is that in the last ten years, the track record of Mamata’s governance has been shoddy: no new industries have come up in Bengal in the last decade, Central government schemes were stalled by Didi, driven by her hubris, and Hindus have been systematically marginalised at the expense of the Rohingyas and illegal migrants who have wreaked havoc in the state in terms of festering rampant lawlessness.
There are those who ask, if lawlessness prevailed in Bengal, why did womenfolk vote for her in 2021? To that, the simple answer is, “voter inertia”. The Sainbari massacre happened in 1970, followed by the ghastly Marichjhapi massacre in 1979. The brutal murder of Ananda Margi monks at Bijon Setu near Ballygunge in 1982 was followed by the heinous Nandigram massacre in 2007. Yet, CPI(M) ruled Bengal with an iron fist for 34 long years. From being invincible in 2001 to being reduced to zero seats in 2021, the Left has been completely routed. Hence, those who use Mamata’s 2021 victory to sideline her gross incompetence as a failed leader would do well to know that the TMC’s decline has started, and rather rapidly. It will take the BJP far less time to dislodge the TMC than it took the TMC to dislodge the Left.
The Left parties and the Congress have failed to win a single seat in the 2021 Bengal polls. This will be the first time since 1962 that the Left parties will have no representation in the legislative assembly. The CPI(M) registered an all-time low vote share of 4.73%. The other major partners of the Left alliance like the All India Forward Bloc registered 0.53 % votes and the CPI 0.20% votes. The Congress registered an all-time voting percentage of 2.93% in Bengal and lost its political clout over Malda and Murshidabad districts. In effect, the Congress is not a national party of any standing anymore.
The fact that the BJP in 2021 has made huge in-roads into a non-Hindi-speaking, non-Western, non-Central Indian state like West Bengal speaks volumes about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invincibility and credibility. Don’t forget, the BJP won Tripura in 2018 after 25 years of inept, Leftist misrule. The BJP increased its vote share in Assam in the 2021 polls from 29.5% to 31.5% with a thumping majority, for the second time in a row. The BJP raised its tally from zero to four in Tamil Nadu and from zero to six in Puducherry. In Puducherry, the BJP’s vote share went up from 2.4% to 11% while the Congress saw a decline in its vote share from 50% to a measly 6.7%. While the local leadership in Assam played a pivotal role, the fact remains that it is the overarching and indefatigable “Modi factor” that should be given credit for the spate of electoral successes that the BJP/NDA has witnessed in the last seven years, over and over again.
Bengal has, over the decades, always held on to the status quo before a complete electoral shift. The CPI(M) was in power for 34 long years before Trinamool took over and the first time Trinamool tasted the scent of an impending victory, it managed only 60 seats. In sharp contrast, this time around, the BJP looking to displace the TMC did far better, with 77 seats. True, the BJP had set a target of 200 seats. But does that give out-of-work political pundits the right to mock the BJP? In the Bihar elections in 2020, the BJP upped its tally from 53 to 73 seats and got just two seats lower than the RJD. Tejashwi Yadav was stonewalled and despite a 15-year-old anti incumbency, the NDA, led by the “Modi factor”, won! Even in the DDC polls held last year in Kashmir, the BJP emerged as the single largest party with 75 seats, checkmating the combined bunch of six parties aka the “Gupkar Alliance”. In the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation elections, the BJP raised its tally by 1100% from 4 to 48 seats, while the TRS came hurtling down from 99 to 55 seats. In the Gujarat local body polls a few months back, after winning 483 of the 576 seats, the BJP, boasting of a success rate of 84%, trounced the Congress, which had a measly strike rate of just 9.5%. The very media which fails to give credit to the solid 77 seats won by the BJP in Bengal was pontificating at the 27 seats won by the AAP in the Surat local body polls, despite the fact that the AAP lost deposits in Rajkot, Bhavnagar, Jamnagar and Ahmedabad. The BJP-led NDA, under the fantastic leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has had a string of noteworthy successes, despite a highly critical media that has exacting standards for the BJP, but handles the Opposition with kid gloves. The talk of “Godi Media” is plain hogwash.
While the media has been writing reams and reams about the BJP’s performance in the Ayodhya and Varanasi panchayat polls, there has been stoic silence about the fact that the BJP won the hitherto impregnable Pandharpur seat, Rajsamand in Rajasthan and Belagavi in Karnataka in the recent bypolls. Last year, the BJP audaciously snatched away the Dubbaka seat in Telangana, an erstwhile TRS bastion. And it is precisely this audacity of ambition that pushes the BJP to do the unthinkable and achieve the unimaginable. As they say, if you aim for the summit, you get halfway there. Next time, the BJP would be well on its way to scaling the summit and winning Bengal, with no ifs and buts whatsoever.
Some allege that Mamata’s vast and regular cash transfers to the Dalits and OBCs swung the votes in her favour, while others say that the turncoats who entered the BJP from the TMC played spoilsport for the BJP. Yet there are others who believe that the insider versus outsider narrative propped up by Mamata worked to her advantage. With the Muslim percentage in West Bengal more than double the national average, the Muslim vote was always going to be a huge advantage for the Trinamool if the community consolidated behind it. And by corollary, this would be a huge disadvantage for the BJP.
In 2021, the Trinamool painted itself as a nativist force,saying the BJP was a party of bohiragotos (outsiders). “Joy Bangla” overtaking “Jai Shri Ram”, “Bengali Nationalism” superseding “Hindu Nationalism” and Hindu votes getting splintered were the other reasons advanced by political pundits for Mamata’s victory. The elections are done and dusted. The key question now that begs a response is, is Mamata Banerjee worthy of taking on a larger national role? Is Didi capable of becoming a fulcrum around which the disparate Opposition unites for 2024? The answer to both these questions is a vehement “No”!
Mamata Banerjee is absolutely unfit and unworthy of a larger national-level role. She has peaked out. 2021 was her best performance ever, which she will not be able to repeat. Her loss in Nandigram to BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari signifies the many chinks in her armour. Even in 2016, Mamata’s victory margin in Bhawanipore had come down from over 60,000 votes to barely 25,000 votes. Mamata’s personal credibility amidst charges of massive corruption against her nephew have dented her immeasurably and going forward, the TMC could even split into two. While turncoats who came into the BJP may not have won this time, the exodus from the TMC shows that all is not well within the party and, for all her false bravado, Mamata has been unable to contain internal fissures.
Also, Mamata has a wildly maverick, fascist side to her. Rather than accepting her Nandigram defeat gracefully, she trained her guns on the Election Commission (EC), blaming it for the debacle. How can a leader who has scant regard for the EC, the apex court, the judiciary and the armed forces, be entrusted with a responsible role beyond Bengal? So consumed was Didi by her desire to win that she did not even spare the CRPF and CISF, who were repeatedly targeted by TMC goons. What a pity that those who talk about FoE and lecture Prime Minister Modi on the sanctity of democratic institutions have not once blamed Mamata Banerjee for the untold misery and mayhem that she has been a mute spectator to, even as TMC vandals unleashed a macabre chain of arson, loot, gangrapes, political killings and brutalisation of BJP karyakartas and supporters, largely Hindus, post the TMC victory. A large-scale exodus of Hindus (over 80,000) from Arambagh, Durgapur, Sitalkuchi, Karimpur, Bishnupur, Bolpur, Hooghly and Midnapore to Assam is a deliberate and mala fide attempt by Mamata and her goons to delegitimise the 2.28 crore voters, also largely Hindus, who voted for the BJP.
The national media which raised a stink over Hathras has completely avoided coverage of the horrific Hindu exodus from Bengal, which started with the exodus of Hindus from Raniganj in 2018 during the Asansol riots. How can Mamata Banerjee, who refuses to take action against large-scale communal violence, be even considered by the so-called secularati for a serious national role? Mamata Banerjee is a puny leader and her barbaric justification of political killings of those from the right wing ideology do her no good. Even as Bengal burnt, Mamata and her party, the TMC, rather than assuaging the victims of the Bengal violence, kept suggesting that the gruesome mayhem was a figment of the BJP’s imagination. The likes of a forgotten for good and irrelevant Yashwant Sinha and the out-of-work clubhouse chatterati played along with Didi. Yes, Mamata won the Bengal elections, but she lost her credibility, just as she lost that wheelchair magically the moment election results were announced!
She launched a personal attack at Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah after a CBI team questioned her nephew’s wife in connection with a coal pilferage case. At a rally at Hooghly’s Dunlop Ground, Mamata took potshots at the duo without naming them.
“I don’t want to malign the post of the Prime Minister. But two men from Delhi are visiting Bengal and spreading misleading words. One is hodol-kutkut and the other is kimbhut-kimakar,” said Didi. “Two persons are running the country. One is Ravan and another is a danav (monster),” she added. Those who accuse Prime Minister Modi of leading a misogynist campaign against Mamata have completely missed the point. “Didi o Didi” is neither an abuse nor a catcall. ‘Didi’ is merely a colloquial term for fondly and respectfully addressing someone as “sister”.
I am a woman myself and I say this with complete responsibility that, if anything, it is Mamata Banerjee who needs to be castigated for repeatedly abusing the office of the Prime Minister in the most unworthy language and then having the nerve to play the victim. Modi has been viciously abused by Mamata and her goons but national and international media has conveniently chosen to be quiet. Why? Does being a woman give Mamata Banerjee the carte blanche to abuse the Prime Minister and the Home Minister of the largest democracy in the world repeatedly and then pretend to be sanctimonious under the garb of gender neutrality?
Last but not the least, the BJP has 77 MLAs and 18 MPs in West Bengal today, from virtually nothing a few years back. The growth trajectory of the BJP, thanks to the “Modi factor”, has been phenomenal and will only get better going forward. For Mamata Banerjee, the writing on the wall is clear. It is time for her to get her act together and behave like a Chief Minister and not a rabble rouser who gives in to bouts of bogey victimhood and criminal lethargy when dealing with lawlessness. And for all those who say that Mamata did not act against arsonists and marauders during the Bengal exodus due to the prevalence of the Model Code of Conduct need to know that the EC only oversees conduct of free and fair elections. The law and order and administrative machinery continue to be with the incumbent/outgoing CM till the new CM takes over. Since both the outgoing and incoming CM was Mamata in this case, she needs to take complete ownership of over 80,000 Hindus who were forced to flee Bengal in a gruesome reminder of why she can never aspire for a significant national role. The Bengal exodus will prove to be Mamata’s final nemesis politically, and rightfully so.
COUNTING CHINA’S LOSSES
We have been witness to some shocking turns of events in our lifetime which I doubt any generations near us would have ever seen. We have now also seen havoc unleashed by an unseen, possibly man-made virus, and the wheels of the economy coming to a halt by circuit breakers, which we also refer to as a lockdown. A vaccine was a way out and all like-minded people and countries trying to survive the storm got together, but some rogue regimes thought this as an opportunity for territorial expansionism.
Things get complex when you have a rogue duo to handle in the middle of a pandemic. We have seen heightened tensions on the LAC and a super hot LoC with 4,646 ceasefire violations from Pakistan, the highest so far in the history of the two nations, precisely 11 times more than last year. Meanwhile, Galwan has permanently changed the history and paradigm of relations between India and China. We salute our fallen brothers who defended every inch of our motherland fearlessly and made the rouge expansionist hide its tail between its legs and run away, of course with 135 of their army dead, as per inputs from intelligence agencies. It had been a well-planned attack in deceit and treachery and back-stabbing, and, if I may say, done without any reluctance. But the outcome was a shattering of the myth of the Great Wall, the sinking of the unsinkable Titanic, the invincible falling apart like a house of cards, along with its hard-cultivated perception, which is their most potent weapon.
The stand-off continues and war formations change. The dimensions now pertain to perception, information and psychological warfare. Military-wise, they have lost the count of their dead and live with a compulsion to hide the number of dead soldiers like the number of deaths caused by the virus. Perceptions are weakening further as the world starts to rally behind India. The US is moving its armada to the South China Sea which is their Achilles’ heel. It runs 3.5 trillion of their trade and 90% of energy supplies are routed through the Straits of Malacca. A naval blockade would mean no oxygen to an already suffocating Chinese economy which is looming under 45 trillion dollars of debt, the highest in the world and a whopping 320 percent of their GDP and approximately 60% of the global GDP. Let’s also remember the US’s stern message sent to Beijing by setting sail on the Straits of Taiwan, challenging its might and will to act.
President Trump had already chocked China’s cash flows, and rightly so. With a $600 billion trade deficit, this was another blow. Their 5G dreams started turning sour too when the world called out their bluff. PM Modi in his vision and intellect delivered the body blow by banning Chinese apps, which means revenue lost, valuations lost, lots of big VC from PRC in survival crises and losing access to the jackpot–all the metadata those apps were generating which could have been used to weaponize AI and propagate the CCP’s agenda. This also means that the PRC can never ever be an AI superpower. With 5G out of the door, they can now kiss goodbye to the IoT business as well. Incidentally, IoT-based businesses are going to control 25 percent of the global GDP in the next 20 years, as per reports from leading consulting companies around the world. Hence, the Chinese dream of becoming a technology superpower is now history.
Rising unemployment and ghost cities also mean lost currency and goodwill. With no takers for Chinese vaccines, General Secretary Xi Jinping has nothing to take home.
Meanwhile, India in a daring attempt takes care of the Kailash Range which dominates the Penso Lake, making the Chinese’s aggression as a badly conceived idea.
The Himalayan ranges are being dominated by India, Taiwan has been secured and the South China Sea chocked, coupled with a non-functional Gwadar Port with a lot of resistance and armed attacks by locals and Imran Khan Niazi on his toes because of a failing economy and complicated political issues. All this has put China in a “chakravyuh” with no economic targets announced for 2021, which has never happened since 1990. 85% of small businesses are on the risk of being shut down in the next three years. The PCAOB implemented by Trump also knocked down hundreds of Chinese companies from the US Stock Exchange for good.
It seems like China has been dealt with a trail of blows and hits from all sides, from military perception, information warfare, trust and goodwill, energy, exports, debts and technology acceptance, to, last but never the least, the economy overall.
This answers the question why the Chinese had to retreat 8 km on the LAC for the first time after 1999 and why the vessel state of Pakistan requested for a ceasefire along the LoC.
War is an expensive business and as there is nothing hidden. With a billion dollars in reserve, a country should better save it to feed hungry children and secure vaccines rather than use it for bullets and mortars. Geopolitics is never straightforward, as I always say, and macroeconomics always impacts global politics.
THE QUINTESSENCE OF TAGORE’S EDUCATIONAL VISION
Rabindranath Tagore’s educational philosophy focused on holistic learning—equal development of the artistic and affective senses as well as cognitive abilities, deeply rooting students in their immediate surroundings while exposing them to global cultures, and inculcating a love for nature along with fellow human beings.
A genius of unequalled fertility was born with a silver spoon in his mouth on the 7th of May 1861 in the city of Calcutta. He was the youngest of a family of fourteen siblings. He, who was called Rabi in his childhood, came to be known to the world as Rabindranath Tagore and later on Gurudev, a term of respect accorded to him by none other than Rashtrapita Mahatma Gandhi. And, interestingly, it was Gurudev who bestowed the epithet of Mahatma upon the Father of the Nation. For the first time in a long while, today we shall be celebrating his 161st birth anniversary indoors, without any public or private addresses due to one of the worst outbreaks of the coronavirus that has ravaged the whole world with heart-wrenching cruelty.
When we celebrate the birthday of an enlightened statesman like Gurudev, whose works have come down to us in the form of knowledge, wisdom, truth and beauty, it is entirely in the fitness of things to reflect on his thoughts on education and their relevance in the present context.
Somehow Gurudev did not like formal schooling since he found it mediocre and uninspiring. He developed such an aversion to formal schooling that after spending sometime in a couple of schools, he refused to go to school. He was once even enrolled at a public school in England, but when he evinced the least interest in formal schooling, he was called back from there. He began to develop his literary and artistic skills at a very early age. Even though he had very little formal education, he was a self-taught thinker and artist and a voracious reader with varied intellectual interests. He had great interest in studying Sanskrit, history, astronomy, modern science, literature and biographies. He was a scholar of incredible talent with no certificates and degrees. The only degrees he ever received were honorary ones bestowed later in life.
As an artistic genius, Gurudev composed his first poem at the age of eight, and by the end of his life he had written over 25 volumes of poetry, 15 plays, 90 short stories, 11 novels, 13 volumes of essays, started and edited many journals, written numerous Bengali text books, and composed over 2,000 songs. It is believed that after the age of 70, he created more than 2,000 pictures and sketches. His compositions were chosen by two nations as their national anthems—India’s “Jana Gana Mana” and Bangladesh’s “Amar Shonar Bangla”.
Gurudev was a Bengali polymath who reformed Bengali literature and music as well as Indian art during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1913, Gurudev became the first non-European to be awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. As the author of Gitanjali and its profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verses, Gurudev came to be known for his poetry which is viewed as spiritual and having qualities of eloquence and ingenuity. His legacy endures in Visva-Bharati, Shantiniketan, the institution that he founded in 1921. He dedicated the rest of his life to this institution, which became a fountainhead of Gurudev’s philosophy on education.
The establishment of Visva-Bharati and Sriniketan by Gurudev led to groundbreaking efforts in many ways, including unique models for Indian education, rural reconstruction, mass education as well as pan-Asian and global cultural exchange. In creating the eco-friendly campus of this institution, Gurudev sowed the seeds of environmental awareness with an all-encompassing altruistic, humanitarian, educational philosophy for the world, firmly rooted in the philosophy of naturalism, of which he was an ardent advocate.
Since Gurudev did not write a central educational treatise, his thoughts must be gleaned from his various writings and educational experiments that he had carried out at Shantiniketan. His vision for education was very pragmatic. He believed that education on the one hand must be deeply rooted in one’s immediate surroundings but on the other hand also be connected to the culture and ethos of the wider world.
According to him, the highest education is that which does not merely give us information but keeps our life in harmony with all existence. In Gurudev’s philosophy of education, artistic and affective development of the senses was as important as its cognitive development. It was for this reason that he attached equal significance to the development of the cognitive, affective and psychomotor domains. This was evident from his love and passion for music, literature, art, dance and drama, as according to him, these are very essential to enrich the soul.
Gurudev’s educational model has a unique sensitivity and aptness for education within multi-racial, multilingual and multicultural situations. He was a staunch supporter of the unity of the East and West. He believed in inner peace, awareness of natural ecology and a better sense of human togetherness. He was an ardent supporter of natural growth in a natural environment, a total disbeliever in book-centered education, an advocate of the freedom of heart, freedom of intellect and freedom of will. He had a very progressive outlook and that is what he wanted to be inculcated through education across the globe. He believed that spiritualism embraces a vast array of highly diversified philosophical views and therefore the outlook of different thinkers, regardless of their backgrounds, should be acknowledged and taken in the right spirit.
According to Gurudev, self-realization is an important aim of education. Manifestation of the personality depends upon self-realization and spiritual knowledge of the individual, as Gurudev believed that spiritualism is the quintessence of humanism. His concept of intellectual development meant open-mindedness, freethinking, inquisitiveness, originality, novelty and alertness of the mind. He believed that the child should be free to adopt his/her own way of learning which alone would lead to all-round development of his/her personality. He gave importance to a sound and healthy physique. Gurudev held that the entire universe is one family and education has the potential to teach people to realize the oneness of the globe.
Gurudev realized it well that education was the only means for the empowerment of the rural masses and the reconstruction of villages. He recognized the power of education as a vehicle for appreciating the finest aspects of different cultures while maintaining one’s own cultural specificity. His first experiments in adult education were born out of his awareness and understanding of acute material and cultural poverty that permeated across uneducated masses. In order to uplift the downtrodden and rural masses, he involved students and teachers with literacy training and social work and the promotion of cooperative schemes.
In keeping with his theory of subconscious learning, Gurudev rarely wrote down anything for the students but rather involved them in whatever he was composing. He has written about how well the students were able to enter into the spirit of the drama and perform their roles, which required subtle understanding and sympathy without special training. Without music and fine arts, Gurudev believed that a nation lacks its highest means of self-expression and consequently the people remain inarticulate. In his curriculum, Gurudev promoted a different approach. Instead of teaching cultural dominance and about wars won, he advocated a system wherein emphasis should be laid on the analysis of history, culture, economy and social progress that have been made against all odds.
Gurudev’s vision of culture was not static. He believed in the process of acculturation which facilitates newcomers and minorities to acculturate into the dominant culture and maintain all aspects of their minority culture, and similarly the dominant culture also allows the fusion of minority culture into itself. He wanted the world to be a place where multiple voices could be encouraged to interact with each other and to reconcile their differences with an overriding commitment to peace and harmony. He tried to establish this kind of an institutional ethos at Visva-Bharati where conflicting interests were minimized and individuals worked together in a common pursuit of truth.
It is pertinent to recognize that Gurudev, by his efforts and achievements, got into the league of pioneering educators such as Rousseau, Pestalozzi, Froebel, Montessori and Dewey – and in the contemporary context, Malcolm Shepherd Knowles – who have striven to create non-authoritarian learning systems that promote learners’ engagement happily with their social milieu as well as the outside world side by side.
Gurudev’s vision of Shantiniketan, in the true sense, may be difficult to replicate as that was nurtured by the soul of a great artist, humanist and philosopher. But the inclusion of Gurudev’s thoughts into the current curriculum of school education followed by his basic philosophy of learning in the domain of higher education are worth a try. The philosophy of education enunciated by Gurudev has great potential for the transformation of the education process in our national rejuvenation. Although something is being practised, a lot still needs to be incorporated from the principles of education propounded by him especially the ones like naturalism, cultural assimilation, a harmonious balance of mind, body and spirit, and peaceful coexistence. There is a crying need for that to happen.
The nation holds Gurudev in the highest respect and affection. In difficult times such as these, when the coronavirus has imprisoned all of us, depriving us of any public meetings to pay tribute to Gurudev for the magnificent qualities of his head and heart, we need to remind ourselves of the great message of his poemL “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high; where knowledge is free….. into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake”. The poem not only reflects Gurudev’s inspiring soul and great vision for the country of his dreams but is also an exhortation to attain that vision, which can be realized only by revamping education as envisioned by him.
The author is former Chairman, UGC.
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