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The petty tyranny of Teachers' Day: Modi-ji, leave the kids alone

Editor's Note: This article has been republished for Teacher's Day

Narendra Modi is India's prime minister and deserves all the respect due to that post. However that does not make him the nation’s "prime teacher". And that's why he should not be hijacking a day meant for teachers. It does not matter if his message is impeccably non-partisan, utterly laudable and loftily inspiring – honor thy teacher.

Since 1962, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan’s birthday has been celebrated as Teachers’ Day in this country. He had wanted that the day be set aside for teachers instead of a celebration of his own birthday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

Like many good intentions, Teachers’ Day in practice can be a far cry from Radhakrishnan’s high-minded intention. It's often just an inane exercise in lame variety programmes, some cake and bouquets, a sort of quasi-holiday. But it still remains a respite from many of the usual chores of teacher-hood, a day for teachers to feel appreciated.

No more. Narendra Modi wants to give a pep talk to about a thousand students in New Delhi this Teachers' Day and schools across the country are supposed to gather their flock together to virtually "attend" the event. Modi used to do the same while he was chief minister in Gujarat and this is the Gujarat model at work on a national scale. It sounds very much like assembly.

The directive from the Delhi Directorate of Education is unambiguous. “All heads of schools of government, government-aided, unaided (and) MCDs (corporations) shall make arrangement to assemble the children in order from 2:30 pm to 4:45 pm on that day so that children (can) view the Prime Minister’s address.”

If a school does not have the television sets, cable connections and projectors needed for something like this, they had better get cracking on organizing everything before 5 September.

If it’s a school without electricity, it can hire a generator.

If it happens to be a government school that runs in a single shift, it needs to tweak its timings to overlap with The Speech.

If it thought of ending school a little early that day after some slice cake and orange squash, too bad. Big Brother will be watching. District officials will visit the schools to make sure it’s happening. "Any laxity in the arrangements shall be viewed seriously," the directive says ominously.

It's not surprising that teachers and principals are hardly thrilled to suddenly find this new project thrown into their laps, a deliverable earmarked for the very day that is traditionally handed over to the students in many schools. Now it’s come bouncing back to the staff for execution.

“So though it is a good initiative, teachers will end up spending the entire day to ensure implementation of the government directive,” says Ameeta Mulla Wattal, the principal of Spring Dales, Pusa Road. "We welcome the idea of screening the PM's speech for all students. But the state government has not yet sent the circular to schools. How are principals going to hold this program? Most schools have two shifts, morning and afternoon. It is highly impossible to bring them together to show the speech," Prashant Rediji, principal of the Maharashtra Principals’ Association tells DNA.

This is sounding more and more like exactly the kind of high-handed Big Government socialist exercise Modi was known to abhor. He promised maximum governance with minimum government, a government that would stay out of the way and just do its job. Instead now the Prime Minister is being force-fed to schools across the country. And it does not matter if they had other plans already, plans that were more about the teachers the day is intended to celebrate. The PM trumps all.

"Every year we have grand celebrations for Teachers' Day and this year too, we have already made plans. Making last-minute changes is not possible," said Anjana Prakash, principal of Andheri's Hansraj Morarji public school according to the Times of India. Usha Ram, principal of Laxman Public School in Delhi tells the Indian Express “Normally on Teacher’s day, we used to end school hours by noon and then the teachers would be taken out for a party." Now Modi-ji has gatecrashed that party.

Some principals have suggested that it would be logistically easier it the speech could be recorded and shown at more convenient times of the school’s choosing. But the very idea of a must-watch prime ministerial speech is disquieting.The HRD says it is not "mandatory" and different states can decide what they want to do but even non-BJP ruled states are making arrangements because it’s clear this is something near and dear to the prime minister’s heart and not organizing a telecast would itself become a political act.

The BJP denies this is a grand PR exercise for Modi. "If the PM is speaking to students of the country where is the PR in it? He is not speaking as a party member. He is speaking as a PM. This should be welcomed. How much does it cost to set up a TV? This should be welcomed and no one should play politics on it," says Vinod Tawde, the Opposition leader in the Maharashtra Legislative Council. That might well be true but Modi is very shrewd about PR and always looking to do something different, something that will make him the pioneer. And this, a first-ever event of its kind, is very much in that vein. It might not be an image-building exercise but it will certainly build his image as he is beamed into schools across the country. As Pink Floyd would sing:

Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!
All in all it's just another brick in the wall.

Except this time is Hey! PM-ji.

Perhaps it’s not for nothing the BJP wants to change the name of Teachers’ Day to Guru Utsav. A miffed M. Karunanidhi complains that it’s part of a “conspiracy” to sneak in Hindi but its motivation might be more subtle. Narendra Modi cannot pretend to be teacher on Teachers’ Day but surely noone can stop him from being a Guru on Guru Utsav.

Updated Date: Sep 05, 2014 09:48 AM

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