Akbar once drew a line and asked Birbal to make it bigger without touching it. Birbal immediately drew a shorter line next to it, making the original bigger in comparison.
Faced with an embarrassing problem of lack of intellectuals in its camp, the right wing in India appears to be following Birbal's formula: If you can't rise to the level of others, try and drag them down to yours.
Nowhere is this stratagem more visible than on the Indian campuses, where the RSS-BJP combine is dreaming of breeding a generation of dullards raised on government propaganda, pseudo-nationalism, myth masquerading as science and the drivel of an imagined past. Free thinking, critical enquiry, dissent, debate — almost every practise that led to the growth of human intellect — is being discouraged, even penalised.
Consider the latest directive of the Gujarat government to its scholars. In a global first, the state government has dictated to varsities a list of 82 topics for doctoral theses.
According to The Times of India, the government has directed that each university should ensure doctoral students opt for at least five subjects from this list. These include Prime Minister Narendra Modi's pet project 'Swachh Bharat Abhiyan', Gujarat's model schemes like Kanya Kelavani, Gunotsav and MA Yojana and several other government projects and initiatives.
Fundamentally, there is nothing wrong if a student decides to research a government scheme. But, in this case, the government has decided to dictate to scholars what they should study for their theses, treating them like intellectual slaves. So, while their counterparts outside the state will have the freedom to research latest developments in science, arts and literature, students in Gujarat would have to study things like how many tonnes of garbage has been lifted from Ahmedabad's roads, or how many girls have access to PM's welfare scheme.
Pity a student whose creative and intellectual freedom is constrained by such diktats. The purpose of education is to expand the horizons of mind, explore new ideas and concepts. But the Gujarat government wants to draw a small circle around their intellect.
In 1999, the Wachowaski Brothers introduced us to the world of The Matrix through their Hollywood blockbuster. In the film, machines control the minds of humans by imprisoning them in an artificial reality called the Matrix.
If the RSS-BJP combine has its way, the youth of tomorrow would look eerily like people caught in the Matrix, imprisoned in a world of myths, arcane concepts, dead languages, forced morality and ultra-conservatism. All this through manipulation of the education environment.
A few days ago, HRD minister Smriti Irani directed IITs to introduce the learning of Sanskrit to "facilitate the study of science and technology as reflected in its literature." It would be interesting to know how many of the current BJP politicians, including the HRD minister, have an iota of knowledge of Sanskrit. But, that is besides the point?
This obsession with a language that died centuries ago makes a mockery of the knowledge dynamics of the world. In today's competitive environment, age of global economy, the focus is on learning languages that are in wide circulation — English and Mandarin, for instance.
The Sangh and its foot soldiers do not understand a simple fact: if they wish for the students, the outside world to discover the hidden secrets in our Vedic literature, it would be much more beneficial and pragmatic to get them translated in the lingua franca of students. Instead they want to force on students a language that has absolutely no practical use and do not open up employment opportunities. All this to help them to learn bogus ideas like how our ancestors flew Pushpak Vimans, fitted the heads of elephants on decapitated boys and bred children through the simple expedient of Ashwamedha Yajna or invoking gods through mantras.
While an attempt is being made to tinker with the curricula, campuses are being turned into battle grounds against students resisting the BJP-RSS ideology. Recent examples of JNU, Hyderabad Central university show Indian universities are in the grip of an epidemic of competitive sycophancy. A mad race is on to please the BJP-Sangh and do its bidding, manifest in collective cries of VCs for implementing banal decisions like flying the Tricolor on campuses to promote desh bhakti.
A lot has already been said about the JNU sedition case and its management's decision to suck up to the government by punishing students even when courts are hearing cases against Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and other students. By stoking a dying fire, the government stooges in JNU have given a second wind to Kanhaiya and his comrades, whose rejection of the punishment and resultant agitation is bound to add to the government's criticism and the administration's embarrassment.
Instead, consider a recent dossier by right wing "intellectuals" from JNU that indicts students, faculty and staff of debauchery, sex trade and drunken orgies.
"Over one thousand boys and girls (sic) students have been fined from Rs 2,000 to Rs 5,000 for consuming alcohol, for indulging in immoral activities in their hostels. On a casual glance at the gates of the hostel one can see hundreds of empty alcohol bottles. Sex workers have been openly employed in hostel messes, where they not only lure JNU girls into their organized racket but also pollute the boys. How come big and high brand cars are moving around the hostels particularly in the night hours. Some security staff is (sic) also involved in this racket. Freshers are particularly inducted in this ring of vice by luring through money, sex, drugs and alcohol, so that they become tied up with the cause of foreign agencies,” says the dossier compiled by 11 JNU teachers considered close to the BJP.
The dossier is a classic example of the intellectual squalor of the right wing. In it sweeping allegations have been made against JNU, but without a shred of evidence. All of it is based on hearsay, imagined reality and slights and based on regressive ideas of morality and value judgments, steeped in misogyny (some women in messes are sex workers).
This demonisation of JNU as a symptom of the burning desire to vilify independent thinkers and ideological opponents of the Sangh. The strategy is simple: defame such institutes so much that sanskari parents would think twice before sending their children to such institutes. Perhaps the right wingers want the next generation to grow up in the stifling, regressive environment of Shakhas.
Controlling the mind of the youth has always been the holy grail of all totalitarian regimes, the fantasy of despots and dictators. The moment a population is deprived of the ability to analyse, question and interpret independently, it turns into a willing victim of propaganda. Intellectual slavery also guarantees that regimes would be not be resisted because opposition would have been wiped out through mental conditioning.
Unfortunately for politicians, the human mind is extremely difficult to control and pacify. Efforts to brainwash the youth and manipulate their intellect often fail, as the fate of Nazi propaganda reminds us. In India too, the RSS-Sangh will never succeed in imposing its agenda on varsities and schools. Had this been possible, their Shakhas would have been overflowing by now with youth willing to imbibe their ideology.
In the Matrix, the creators talk about how humans became restive when the machines conjure a utopia — a perfect world without pain or suffering, based on perennial happiness — for them as an artificial reality. But nobody accepts it.
If the human mind finds it difficult to accept manufactured perfection, what chance does the BJP-RSS have of foisting their imperfect ideologies and suffocating agendas of bigotry, conservatism, misogyny and imagined glory?
It is inevitable that free-think, liberal students would continue to offer bigger, better ideas, making the line drawn by right wingers look extremely small in comparison.