Saffron Chimera to Hide Modi Government’s War on Students
RSS-dictated Modi government will be completing two years in a few months. The RSS-BJP nexus has been employing the ploy of communal polarization to advance their electoral interests since at least a year-and-half prior to the Lok Sabha elections in 2014. What is starker perhaps is the fact that this has been continued over the last two years. Renowned Marxist theorist Randhir Singh in a short note on communalism (during a period of the ascendency of the Hindutva forces) had made an important observation. He wrote: “One may add that the spread or heightening of communalism and related phenomena like religious revivalism, fundamentalism, or obscurantism, is in direct proportion to the depth of crisis in Indian polity and politics of the ruling classes on the one hand and in inverse proportion to the presence or power of the left or class-based politics of the people on the other” .
As orchestrated assaults on higher educational institutions continue unabated - with the latest episode of JNU being used to create an all India spectacle of ‘nationalism’ - the ‘heightening of communalism’ continues. The policy trajectory of the RSS-BJP led NDA government is a toxic combination of neoliberal assaults and regressive Hindutva. Modi government’s general budget has gone on to accentuate the economic burdens on all sections of working people, including the students.
The share of expenditure on education as a percentage of the total central budget is just 3.6% - which is 0.2% less than the revised estimates for the year 2015-16. The same figure in terms of the percentage of the total GDP is meagre 0.5%.The budgetary allocation for ICDS has seen a sharp fall of 1500 Crores, which will directly affect the mid-day meal scheme in the primary schools. This goes against the Supreme Court ruling, which called for universalization of the scheme - that would have required an additional outlay of 10000 Crores. Allocation for school education has been cut from Rs 69794 Crores in 2015-16 to Rs 63826 Crores.
The finance minister in his speech has talked about an ‘enabling regulatory architecture’ for 10 public and 10 private educational institutions to be made ‘world-class’. This will enhance the dual education model that on hand creates a minuscule number of so-called centres of excellence while the vast majority of institutions are forced to be cash-starved.
The Budget allocation for the University Grants Commission (UGC), which provides funds and maintains standards in institutions of higher education, has been cut by almost 55 per cent, from Rs 9315.45 crore in 2015-16 to Rs 4286.94 crore in 2016-17. This has happened even though the actual layout for the higher education sector has increased marginally. It is because of the fact that funds meant for UGC have been diverted to Rashtriya Uchhtar Shiksha Abhiyaan (RUSA) a new body called HEFA (The impact of this shall be outlined in the next section). The fund cuts for UGC will directly affect research fellowships, the infrastructure and the overall academic standards in our public universities.
Diverting Public Money to Private Institutions
The finance minister in his speech has talked about an ‘enabling regulatory architecture’ for 10 public and 10 private educational institutions to be made ‘world-class’. This will enhance the dual education model that on hand creates a minuscule number of so-called centres of excellence while the vast majority of institutions are forced to be cash-starved. Another disturbing feature is the inclusion of 10 private institutions in this framework, which is the progression of the regressive outlook of RUSA and other such academic reforms which have been seeking to divert public funds to private players (while there is no social control over the fees, infrastructure, teaching etc. in these institutions).
A Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA) is being set up with the initial base capital of Rs. 1000 crore. Finance Minister in his speech has said that ‘These funds will be used to finance improvement in infrastructure in our top institutions and will be serviced through internal accruals.’ This again means: 1) Diversion of funds to select few institutes 2) Linking of funds to the financial performance of the institutes (since internal accruals refer to the accumulation of retained earnings and depreciation charges).
Further, for the Rashtriya Uchhtar Shiksha Abhiyaan (RUSA), a provision of Rs 1300 crore has been made in the Budget, up from Rs 1155 crore in the current financial year. The centrally sponsored scheme launched in 2013 aims at providing strategic funding to eligible state higher educational institutions. Rashtriya Uchhtar Shiksha Abhiyaan (RUSA), which was introduced by the Congress-led UPA-II government and has been carried further by the BJP-led NDA government, replaces the pre-existing multiple funding mechanisms with one centralised mechanism. The funding then is linked to a set of conditions failing which the institutions/states won’t be eligible to receive funds. These conditions include implementation of Choice Based Credit System (CBCS), semesterization and compulsory accreditation among others. The same document makes it clear that the funding under RUSA will be norm based as well as performance based. This means that the state governments or universities will not have any room to modify the system according to their specific conditions and all powers to determine their education are snatched away from them. Funding will be linked to the performance of the institution, based on set criteria (which would include student-teacher ratio, infrastructure, examination results etc.). This would effectively spiral into increasing the already existing inequalities. For example, let us consider St. Stephen’s College in Delhi and Rajendra Mishra College in Saharsa, Bihar. If funding is linked to accreditation, then St. Stephen’s College will continue getting more funds every year due to better ‘indicators’. Rajendra Mishra College, which needs more funds to enhance its infrastructure, will actually keep on getting less and lesser funds every year. Hence, this performance-based approach to funding will actually widen the existing gulf. RUSA has provision to divert funds to even such institutions, which do not fall under section 12B and 2(f) of the UGC Act. This translates into the provision of diverting the public money (tax collected from the working class and other toiling sections) to fund the private institutions, which are anyways free to charge exorbitant fees.
The student movement, in particular, has been able to accelerate the “crisis of the polity” by taking up the economic demands of the student community. The latest budget would go on to accentuate the “economic burden” over the students.
This approach of making 'neoliberal academic reforms' as an integral part of the funding mechanism of the public education system will only further the ongoing process of modularization (curriculum being broken into 'modules' which then can be interchanged. In fact, as the experiences of Bologna Reforms  have shown this 'modularization' has been central to the commodification of higher education).
In the nutshell, this budget carries forward, the neoliberal philosophy of limiting the public expenditure on education, while at the same time shamelessly seeks to divert people’s money to the hand of fraudulent private players. The saffron chimera of Hindutva is being used not only to break people’s unity but also to act as a smokescreen to hide the ruthless economic assaults on the people. What needs to be particularly underlined is that this is also an attempt to arrest the “crisis of the polity” and it would be futile for forces on left to be caught in the political discourse set by this chimera. The student movement, in particular, has been able to accelerate the “crisis of the polity” by taking up the economic demands of the student community. The latest budget would go on to accentuate the “economic burden” over the students. (Take the example of the non-NET fellowships for the research scholars, which had become a flashpoint for a big movement in October-December last year. The review committee set up by MHRD on the non-NET fellowships has to submit its report by the end of December 2015. However, a notification sent on Feb. 22 has given an extension until 31st march. When a budget cut has already been made, one is forced to think what really the recommendations of this committee will mean in effective terms. Another hogwash?)
While countering and resisting the authoritarian assault on the universities and democracy is of prime importance today, the “economic issues” will also have to be taken up with right earnest. In fact, it is essential to defeat this assault.
1) ‘Theorizing Communalism: A Fragmentary Note in the Marxist Mode’ (Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 23, No: 30, July 23, 1988)