PM Modi, Allahabad University was once 'Oxford of East', but not due to Murli Manohar Joshi

Some varieties of butter do not melt easily in the mouth.

On Monday, during his speech at the BJP's national executive in Allahabad, Prime Minister Narendra Modi buttered two slices with one sound bite when he said: There was a time, when humare Murli Manohar Joshi and pujniya Rajju Bhaiyya used to teach here, Allahabad University was called 'Oxford of the East.' Yeh rutba tha (This was its prestige).

Ahem! Modi may have sounded more convincing had he labeled Indian cinema in the age of Sunny Leone most dharmic.

Allahabad University was once indeed a great centre of learning. It was considered among the best in India, at the vanguard of culture, literature, academics and politics. And, though lots of varsities stake claim to that moniker, it was often hailed as Oxford of the East.

 PM Modi, Allahabad University was once Oxford of East, but not due to Murli Manohar Joshi

Narendra Modi with Murli Manohar Joshi. File photo: News 18

But, sorry Modi ji, humare Joshi ji was not the symbol of its acme. He was, in fact, a symbol of its decay. The university's rapid slide into mediocrity, politics and gradual irrelevance.

Since Joshi ji's contribution was hailed great by the PM, here is an anecdote to accord the former HRD Minister his rightful place.

After completing his doctorate in Physics from the Allahabad University, where one of his teachers was the other RSS stalwart eulogised by the PM, Rajendra Singh aka Rajju Bhaiyya, Joshi started teaching at the varsity.

One of his prominent claims was that former PM Vishwanath Pratap Singh was among his students. Once when a senior journalist asked Singh if this was true, this is what the former PM said: "Haan bhai, ek din gaye the Physics padhne. Par jab pata chala ki Joshi ji padhayenge to subject hi change kar liye!'' (Yes, I went for a day to study Physics. But on realising Joshi is the teacher, I changed the subject.)

So, why did a former PM run away from the teacher hailed as the architect of Oxford of East by the current PM?

Much before he joined the varsity, Joshi had become a member of the Sangh, some claim at the ripe age of 10. In 1948, he was arrested during a protest against the ban on Sangh in the wake of Mahatma Gandhi's assassination.

All his life, Joshi sailed in two boats: RSS-BJP and Allahabad varsity. He held on to his teaching job for a long time after joining active politics and retired as a professor and head of the Physics department.

In 2012, when he became president of the BJP, Joshi refused to resign his varsity job. This in spite of the fact that he had remained an absentee teacher since the 90s and had not been drawing his salary because of his inability to take classes. Yet, he continued to block the post.

So, do varsities become competitors of Oxford by virtue of having teachers who do not teach and just do politics, lead kar sevaks to demolition of disputed structures?

Perhaps his students were lucky to have not been under his aegis. In 2009, the BJP released its manifesto for the Lok Sabha polls with a preface from Professor Joshi, chairman of the manifesto committee. In the manifesto, the learned professor quoted from a "speech" delivered by Macaulay in the "British Parliament" on 2 February, 1835, and wrote: "I have travelled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief, such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such high calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self esteem, their native culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation."

As AG Noorani pointed out in the Frontline, Macaulay came to India in June 1834 and became Law Member in the Governor-General's Executive Council. He returned to England early in 1838.

"His famous minute on Indian education was written in India on 2 February, 1835, the very day Joshi has him speak in the British Parliament. That impossibility apart, the minute has none of the statements Joshi attributes to him," Noorani pointed out, comparing Joshi with Don Quixote.

Wonder what laws of Einstein's commotion students would have learned from Professor Joshi!

It is easy to understand the PM's compulsions when he tries to massage butter on the ego of Allahabad and his own sulking seniors. If he needs their vote and support, lofty praise, even if undeserved, is par for politics.

But, this stratagem of arguing that every hallowed institution of this country owes it to the pantheon of Sangh-BJP idols is ridiculous. It is alright when the PM boasts in front of his audience that politicians before him had ruined India and he should now be applauded for rescuing us from our tryst with ruin. In politics, anything that runs down the rival's legacy and exaggerates your own is understandable. In the end, the electoral cycle balances it out.

To falsely credit people from the Sangh —  how much, for instance, could have Rajju Bhaiyya contributed to academics while running his Shakhas — and ignore doyens of an institution is an insult to their legacy.

Allahabad varsity got its name from teachers like Raghupati Sahai (Firaq Gorakhpuri), Harivanshrai Bachchan, Tej Bahadur Sapru, KN Katju and Moti Lal Nehru, who went on becoming prominent voices of Indian art, literature, law and freedom movement.

The varsity became the Oxford of East because its students could once proudly say, in the immortal words of one of its genuine legends: "Aane wali naslen tum par rashq karegi hum- aseeron, jab unko dhyan aayega tum ne Firaaq ko dekha tha."

Joshi's time, in contrast, would perhaps invoke just a smirk and painful memories of an institute dragged to its death by full-time politicians masquerading as teachers.

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Updated Date: Jun 20, 2016 13:32:02 IST