Kolkata: The West Bengal government has instructed its schools not to follow the Centre’s circular on building “mass fervour” around Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘New India Mission’ and administering a ‘Sankalp se Siddhi’ pledge to all students, while also rejecting a suggested format for celebrations to mark Independence Day this year.
The Union Human Resource Development Ministry had written to all states on August 7 to create a “patriotic mood” by holding events between August 9 and 30 to realise the vision of a ‘New India’. “It is desirable that this momentous occasion should be celebrated with an objective to create a festive and patriotic mood across the nation and a movement is created to involve every citizen of this country in the mission of realising the vision of a new India, which is clean and free from poverty, corruption, terrorism, communalism and casteism,” the circular stated, going on to suggest the “participatory activities” that “all the schools/educational institutions may be instructed to undertake”.
West Bengal Education Minister Partha Chaterjee said the state government is not bound to follow the directives of the Union government on this matter. “We do not need lessons on patriotism from the BJP. Independence Day will be celebrated here this year in the same manner that it is celebrated every year,” he told.
In a circular issued to district project officers of the Sarva Shiksha Mission (SSM), the West Bengal Education Department said they should instruct all schools and educational institutions to stop all preparations for celebration of Independence Day as per the directives of the Union government.
“It has been decided by the state School Education Department that Independence Day 2017 will not be celebrated in this manner,” the state government circular said.
Calling the state government’s decision “unfortunate” on Sunday, HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar shared a copy of the West Bengal memo. “The language used in the memo is strange and unfortunate. I will talk to them. What we have proposed is a secular agenda, not a political party agenda.”
In its circular, the Union HRD Ministry had asked all educational institutions to arrange a ‘Sankalp’ programme from August 9 to 30 on the premises of a Shaheed Smarak, or if there wasn’t one nearby, within the school premises itself. It enclosed a copy of the oath for teachers and students to take on the occasion.
The Ministry also said a quiz competition on the Independence movement and India’s development would be uploaded on MyGov website, and available on Narendra Modi app, which students of Classes 11 and 12 could take between August 9 and 15. Classes 6 to 8 could participate in a painting competition, it said.
A West Bengal minister, refusing to be identified, said the counter-circular had been issued on the instructions of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. “The Chief Minister feels that this is yet another attempt by the Union government to step on the state government’s authority and is against the federal structure of India. She feels that the Union government cannot dictate how schools of the state will celebrate Independence Day, since individual state governments are quite conscious of the importance of Independence Day and how it should be celebrated,” the minister said.
“They talk about cooperative federalism, but in reality what they are trying to do is bulldozer federalism,” TMC MP Derek O’ Brien said.
West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh accused the state government of indulging in “anti-national activities”, in an attempt to oppose the Union government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “Is West Bengal out of India? The Union government provides a major portion of the funds under the SSM and hence it has the right to enquire whether the funds are utilised properly or not,” Ghosh said.
The Karnataka government has decided to follow the suggestions of the HRD Ministry and issued an advisory to government and private schools to get students to take a pledge to eradicate corruption, poverty, terrorism, communalism and casteism as part of Independence Day programmes. “We do not see anything wrong with the HRD circular. There is nothing wrong in taking a pledge. The state government has issued circulars in the form of advisories to schools. Government schools will be following it and it is up to private schools to follow,” Additional Chief Secretary, Education Department, Ajay Seth said.
The Punjab Education Department issued a letter to government schools on August 10 asking them to unfurl Tricolour on their premises. The letter says “singing the National Anthem has to be a mandatory part of the celebrations”. However, the letter does not mention the ‘Sankalp programme’, which the Centre said be organised near Shaheed Smaraks, or any oath-taking. Krishan Kumar, Secretary, Education, said, “We did not receive the HRD letter till August 10, when we issued our letter. We do not have any objection to HRD orders. We will now issue some separate instructions as per that letter.”
The Kerala Education Minister Prof C Raveendra Nath said he was not aware of any circular from the HRD Ministry regarding Independence Day. “Directions to educational institutions would have already gone out regarding the observance of Independence Day. We would observe it as we used to in the past,” he said. The office of the Director of Public Instruction also said they hadn’t got a circular.