On Friday, Congress president Rahul Gandhi gave the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) a backhanded compliment. The Congress chief, speaking at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit said the RSS was running 1,30,000 schools across the nation. "These numbers are so big," Rahul said at the summit in Delhi. Twice.
Now, any organisation would be pleased to take this statement—having built such a vast network of its educational institutes—as a compliment. More so coming from a known adversary. However, the Congress chief was not offering a compliment, nor did the RSS take it as a pat on the back. Through his statement, Rahul was asking: Who funds these institutions?
After speaking to RSS leaders and taking a look at the website of 'Vidya Bharati Akhil Bhartiya Siksha Sansthan’, Firstpost ascertained that Rahul was bit off the mark: Vidhya Bharati ran 23,320 schools and number of Ekal (single teacher) Vidhyalaya was 76,611. So that's around one lakh schools (including primary, secondary, intermediate and teachers' training schools).
Returning to Rahul's original charge: What is the source of funding? His argument was the BJP-ruled states were diverting funds meant for the public to RSS run schools. He also said that BJP MPs and MLAs were contributing money out of their MPLADS (Members of Parliament Local Area Development Fund Scheme).
Rahul said this while responding to a query on “subversion of institutions” by the government. He gave the impression that growth of Saraswati Vidyalayas and Ekal Vidyalayas run by RSS affiliates were a phenomenon associated with government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP governments in various states. The schools, associated with “one particular ideology”, were growing in number due to the patronage of BJP governments and diversion of resources which should otherwise have gone to government schools, Rahul alleged.
Atul Kotari of Bharatiya Siksha Utthan Nyas said these institutions don’t seek funds from the government. "We seek donations a large number of people. Influential persons from society donate for the cause. Ekal or one teacher schools, are run in forest, tribal and hilly areas including in Kashmir and North East 'in areas out of reach of government schools'" Kotari said.
RSS Alkil Bharatiya Prachar Pramukh Arun Kumar said it should be clear that the RSS does not run schools. "Mohan Bhagwat recently made clear that the only work the Sangh does is “vyakti nirman” (building an individual) and it is incumbent on these individuals to pursue work which they deem fit," Kumar said. "It’s true that Vidya Bharati and Ekal Sanstha are run by individuals built by the Sangh. They work with the support of the people and work under the established legal order. All donations are collected in a transparent manner through banks and many known personalities are associated with this mission."
Yet another RSS leader, speaking to Firstpost on the condition of anonymity, denied Rahul's allegations. He argued that today, the BJP and its associates rule 20 states and things would have been different if it were suggested that the educational work at these institutions be done under official patronage. “We have developed a unique model, where each school is run by a committee which includes one swayamsevak and some prominent persons of that area. Since teachers in these schools work with a nation building mission, they work at a far lower salary than those in government and private schools. We build a 'guru-shishya' tradition in these schools," he said.
Their argument is that these schools pre-date the emergence of BJP and are spread in areas where BJP does not have any substantive presence: Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal, Odisha, and Jammu and Kashmir. West Bengal, for instance, has 290 Vidya Bharati schools and Odisha has 1,000 schools. The first RSS-affiliate school was opened in 1946 in Kurushetra. The second in Gorakhpur in 1952. Then they began expanding to various parts of the country. Different committees were formed in different states and Vidya Bharati was established in 1977 for the purposes of better coordination and structured exchange of ideas.
Fifty lakh students are enrolled in these schools. Naturally, that figure should be of concern for the Congress president. And his charge that the resources for these schools came from BJP MPs and MLAs through their MPLADS? RSS Delhi wing prachar pramukh Rajeev Tuli said he had no idea about this. However, considering some contributions from an MPs fund was made to a school building, these must have been done through established legal processes because of existing guidelines for spending under these schemes, he added.
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Updated Date: Oct 05, 2018 20:12:08 IST