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Mainstream, VOL L, No 34, August 11, 2012

NCERT’s Political Science Textbooks

Friday 17 August 2012, by Arjun Dev


The author’s article “NCERT’s Political Science Textbooks Controversy: Cartoon-centred Pedagogy” appeared in Mainstream (July 28, 2012). The following article is a continuation of the previous one.

There are six textbooks in Political Science for Classes IX to XII, two for Classes IX-X and four for Classes XI-XII. Each of these textbooks has been prepared by, or under the auspices of, a Textbook Development Committee, one for each book, but all of them have a common Chairperson of the Advisory Committee (Hari Vasudevan, Professor, Department of History, University of Calcutta), and two Chief Advisors (Suhash Palsikar, Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Pune, and Yogendra Yadav, Senior Fellow, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi). Besides, there are Members, their number varying from about 10 to about 20 for each book; they include Professors, Readers, Lecturers, and school teachers (from various parts of the country) and some others such a Supreme Court Advocate (in one case) and independent researchers, etc.
Apart from the Textbook Developing Commi-ttee, there is a Monitoring Committee set up by the Department of Secondary and Higher Education, Ministry of HRD of the Government of India. There are two Chairmen of this Committee—Professor Mrinal Miri and Professor G.P. Deshpande; the number and names of Members of the Monitoring Committee are not mentioned in any textbook except for two Political Science Professors of the JNU. One of the two Chairmen was a Visiting Professor at the NCERT for an year or so. The precise function of the Monitoring Committee is not stated but it seems to have functioned as a kind of final approving committee for each textbook before it was sent for publication. The actual authorship of books, of who wrote what (unlike in the case of the NCERT’s new History textbooks) is not mentioned which, it is presumed, means that the Textbook Development Committee of each textbook is collectively responsible for it and the Chairperson and two Chief Advisors as well as the Monitoring Committee Chairmen are responsible for all Political Science textbooks. For some textbooks, besides the two Chief Advisors, there is also an Advisor who, it may be said, is responsible, along with others, for a particular textbook.

Considering the eminence of the Chairperson, Chief Advisors, Advisors, many Members of the Textbook Development Committees, Chairmen of the Monitoring Committee, the list of those who have contributed to the development of these textbooks in various ways leaves one with a sense of awe as nothing comparable in terms of mobilisation of expertise for preparing textbooks has ever been tried before.

In view of what has been stated above, it can be argued that the sense of deep hurt and even anger that most of those who have been involved in the preparation of these textbooks, and many others who have admired not only those who have prepared them but think that these textbooks are so sacrosanct that persons who find some cartoons offensive or are even mildly critical of them or think that in view of the sensitivities that have been expressed, admittedly not always with logic or restraint, a second look to see if there are materials that may be ‘educationally inappropriate’, are enemies of academic freedom, even of all freedom, and of education. And Members of Parliament and the institution of Parliament, in particular.

One of the Chief Advisors, commenting on the proceedings in Parliament on the cartoons, wrote: “This is where the real irony lies. While the textbooks which Harsimrat Kaur attacked explain why seemingly dirty political competition helps promote collective good, why political representatives and Ministers must have the final say even if the experts are better qualified, how the apparently dreary proceedings of the Parliament perform crucial functions of responsiveness and accountability in a democracy. The point is not that the parliamentarians failed to appreciate the real spirit of the books. The real irony is that the parliamentary discussion on the textbooks ended up reinforcing precisely the stereotypes middle class Indians have about politics and politicians.” Some Members of Parliament had said precisely this, not entirely without justification, about what some cartoons in the textbooks did. Further on, the Chief Advisor said: “You cannot blame them (the students) if in their mind the distinction between rule-bound constitutional democracies and autocracies is a little blurred….This cannot possibly foster respect for democratic politics and institutions like the Parliament.” (The Hindu, June 1, 2012)
Prabhat Patnaik in his article (The Hindu, May 22, 2012) had expressed a very different view of Parliament and the ‘experts’ and argued that “It was entirely correct for the Lok Sabha to have intervened in the textbook row as it represents the people, and their right to an egalitarian society, better than any group of ‘experts’.” The article provoked much angry response from a section of academics. Some of them raised questions about violating the ‘autonomy’ of the NCERT, the leading academic body in the country in the area of school education.

It is actually the authorities of the organi-sation, and their appointees (including authors/textbook committees, focus groups, experts, selection committees, referees, coordinators, etc.) which exercise whatever ‘autonomy’ the MHRD allows them to exercise which often includes suppressing the academic freedom of the faculty and it is sometimes, and only sometimes, that parliamentary intervention curbs the ‘auto-nomy’ of the authorities to do what they like. During the NDA regime in the NCERT, the faculty was marginalised when not punished for asserting the right to have views that were different from those that were sought to be imposed by the authorities. In one case—the refusal of the author of a textbook and the head of the organisation to add even a reference to the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in a textbook on contemporary India—it was the intervention by Parliament that helped the ‘autonomous’ body to restore a little bit of acceptability to the textbook in question. Violations of the faculty members’ right to freedom of speech and association have occurred also after there was a change of regime in the government and in the NCERT. This, however, is not the place to recount them. The question of autonomy needs to be seen in terms much more than the autonomy of the authorities.

COMING back to the textbooks and the controversies surrounding them, it may be useful to first refer to the Foreword(s) of the Director who remains anonymous almost throughout these textbooks. It (they) begin by stating: “The…(NCF), 2005, recommends that children’s life at the school must be linked to their life outside the school. This principle marks a departure from the legacy of bookish learning which continues to shape our system and causes a gap between the school, home and community. The syllabi and textbooks developed on the basis of the NCF signify an attempt to implement this basic idea.”

The Chief Advisors, in their “A Letter to You”, in Indian Constitution at Work state that ‘you would find more focus on the rationale and the real life consequences of the Constitution than just more and more information’. One consequence of this is that even essential information for under-standing the text is often absent. In order to make ‘a departure from bookish learning’, the Chief Advisors have introduced a number of aids in the textbook (in this as well as others) in the form of ‘some example of an article from the Constitution’, ‘some quotations’ from the Constituent Assembly Debates, Cartoons and (non-stop) commentary by Munni and Unni. The cartoons are stated to be ‘not …simply as comic relief’. They ‘tell you about the criticisms, about the weak spots, about near- failures’. “We hope that apart from enjoying these cartoons, you would learn from them, both about politics and about how to think about politics.” This book also is supposed to allow ‘you to compare India and its Constitution to other countries’. The twitterings of Munni and Unni, when not just silly and distracting, and often irritating, sometimes disseminate wrong notions with a sense of authority. The cartoons are rarely amusing and mostly incomprehensible. Regarding learning about other countries, there are two cartoons, one about the European Constitution that was referred to in the previous article and another about quarrels among Shias, Sunnis and Kurds while engaged in framing the Constitution of Iraq in the wake of the US invasion and occupation (to which no reference is made in the text or in the over seven lines of the note on the cartoon).

A reference has already been made to the sketch of Rajendra Prasad and the chairmanship of the Costituent Assembly and his alleged first address. There is also a sketch of Dr B.R. Ambedkar with Rajendra Prasad’s but he remains unnamed. The cartoon depicting Dr Ambedkar riding the snail nowhere mentions his name; he is recognisable only to those who would be already familiar with his figure. (It is only on page 21 that another sketch of Dr Ambedkar also carries his name.) The text accompanying the ‘snail’ cartoon nowhere mentions him as the Chairman of the Drafting Committee and his role in drafting the Constitution. The text refers to ‘eight major committees’ of the Constituent Assembly but does not mention any. It says: “Usually, Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajendra Prasad, Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad or Ambedkar chaired these committees.” Who chaired which committee is nowhere mentioned. Perhaps they chaired various committees by turn. Incidentally, Maulana Azad was not the Chairman of any Committee. The authors/advisors have made another discovery. The text on pages 18-19, while referring to the debate in the Constituent Assembly, says: “But in each instance every single argument, query or concern was responded to with great care and in writing.” (Emphasis added) So while the proceedings have recorded who said what, who interrupted whom, etc., one should also try to access ‘responses’ made in writing. All this is supposed to be part of a section dealing with the Procedure for framing the Constitution. That remains totally obscure.

There is much else in this book that needs to be taken note of if a comprehensive evaluation is to be attempted. This is beyond the scope of this article. Only a few comments are, therefore, being made. In the section on Fundamental Rights, there is a reference to the Nehru Report but not the Karachi Resolution as that would have added to information which has to be avoided in the interest of critical pedagogy. Even the section on Fundamental Rights is utterly confusing. Right to freedom of speech and expression, to assemble peaceably and without arms, to form associations or unions, to move freely throughout the territory of India, etc. becomes ‘freedom of thought, expression and action’. Article 21 is quoted but not Article 21A, that is, the right to education. There is much about the non-justiciability of Directive Principles, but no reference even to the provision (Article 37) that ‘the principles therein laid down are nevertheless fundamental in the governance of the country and it shall be the duty of the State to apply these principles in making laws’. Article 51A on Fundamental Duties, which reflects some of the most important values integral to the objectives of education (for example, ‘to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform’) is dismissed by quoting one sentence from it.

THE book, Politics In India Since Independence, for Class XII was first published in 2007. This book has received much notice because of the protests against the cartoon on anti-Hindi agitation in Tamil Nadu. Besides the two Chief Advisors, the Textbook Development Committee for this textbook also had an Advisor (Ujjwal Kumar Singh, Reader, Department of Political Science, University of Delhi). According to the Chief Advisors’ ‘Letter to the Readers’, ‘Given the significance and the sensitive nature of the book’, the drafts of the book were ‘put through many rounds of scrutiny by a group of Political Scientists and historians’.

Three historians of great eminence—Dr Ramchandra Guha, Professor Sunil Khilnani and Dr Mahesh Rangarajan—referred to by the Chief Advisors as ‘readers’, were requested ‘to read an early draft of this text for accuracy and non-partisan treatment of the subject’. “Their remarks,” say the Chief Advisors, “encouraged us; their suggestions saved us from many errors.” The Chief Advisors have also referred to the special debt they owe to Dr Ramchandra Guha ‘since we have liberally drawn upon his book, India after Gandhi’. A special sub-committee of the National Monitoring Committee comprising Professors Mrinal Miri, G.P. Deshpande and Gopal Guru are stated to have ‘read the book at least thrice’. Professor Hari Vasudevan and Professor Krishna Kumar (Director of NCERT) have been thanked for their support, advice and guidance ‘at different stages of this delicate project’ and Professor Yash Pal ‘for his interest in and support to this book’. With such credentials, one would expect the book to be free of any blemish whatsoever.
This book has, besides the cartoons and Munni and Unni, many new features: the Amul ads, lots of photographs and newspaper clippings, boxes on films relevant to the text, pictures of postage stamps, boxes of biographical notes and poems by some very eminent poets, etc. While some pages are not difficult to read, most pages are too cluttered for easy reading. This, however, may or may not be a problem for Class XII students. But there are other problems. Only a few can be indicated here.

Amrita Pritam’s poem reproduced on page 7 on communal riots is one of the great poems on the subject (although much of its emotional element may perhaps be lost in translation). Its placement is not quite right but that doesn’t matter too much. But what is Faiz’s Subh-i-Azadi doing here? It is neither a celebration of independence nor a lamentation on the tragedy of Partition. This is one of Faiz’s finest poems expressing the disappointment of those who looked forward to, and worked for, independence as marking a social(ist) revolution.

The first para on page 8 is silent on Hindu communalism. The last para on page 11 should have mentioned the Hindu Mahasabha and RSS as the organisations ‘which were trying to organise Hindus…’etc. On page 27, it is stated that the ‘Constitution was ready and signed on 26 November 1949’. It was ready but was signed on January 24, 1950. (The same error has occurred in the Class XI book.) There are too many errors of this nature to be pointed out. The few lines from Nehru’s letter to Rajaji cannot make sense to a reader who does not know about the clash with Tandon. Quoting it here without any reference to it in the text serves no purpose. On pages 49 and 51, the statement on the adoption of Planning by the Congress attributed to, besides the Soviet example, ‘the inter-war reconstruction of Japan and Germany’ seems absurd. (Why is there no reference to the Congress’ National Planning Committee and even to the Bombay Plan?) On page 65, there is a strange statement which makes ‘many developing nations’ responsible for ‘division of countries of the world into two clear camps’ because these nations ‘chose to support the foreign policy preferences of the powerful countries who were giving them aid or credits’. There is a reference here also to ‘the experiment called the Non-Aligned Movement’. Non-Alignment was no more than an experiment, so says this book. On page 66, in the section on Non-Alignment, there is a reference to ‘linkages established between India and overseas Indians during the freedom struggle’. What has this to do with Non-Alignment?

Dr Yogendra Yadav has justified the inclusion of the cartoon which depicts the students’ agitation against Hindi as one led by illiterates by stating that ‘this text had recognised how significant and effective the anti-Hindi agitation was’. He doesn’t see ‘any affront to Tamil pride’ by what the cartoon depicts. The text says nothing about what led to the violent agitation, only that it strengthened the Dravidian movement. Why was the language issue important? What was the threat which Tamils perceived to be posed by Hindi in 1965? There is no explanation at all. The reference to the press clipping included on the same page as the cartoon has little meaning. The press clipping deals with the question of the use of Hindi as a medium language raised in Parliament in December and has nothing to do with the agitation in Madras. Also, why abandon critical pedagogy when it comes to the Dravidian movement?

THERE has been no controversy over Contemporary World Politics, a textbook for Class XII, perhaps because no Indian sensitivities seem to have been involved. It is also possible that not many people outside the school system have gone through this book which is a pity. There are many problems with this book when one looks at it from the point of view of finding out what kind of understanding of the contemporary world this book is designed to promote.

It covers the post-Cold War period of world politics. It starts with a brief reference to the Cuban Missile Crisis which is stated to have been ‘a high point of what came to be known as the Cold War’. It contains what appear to be some strange formulations. One of the formulations read: “The installation of these weapons put the US, for the first time, under fire from close range and nearly doubled the number of bases or cities in the American mainland which could be threatened by the USSR.” Strangely, or perhaps not so strangely, there is no reference to the numerous US bases with missiles equipped with nuclear weapons installed surrounding the territory of the USSR (and China), and no critique of the ‘unilateral right’ assumed by the US to ‘deploy missiles anywhere’. The book further says that the ‘US President, John F. Kennedy, and his advisers were reluctant to do anything that might lead to full-scale nuclear war’. Was Kennedy’s order to ‘American warships to intercept any Soviet ships heading to Cuba as a way of warning the USSR of his seriousness’ a sign of reluctance ‘to do anything that might lead to full scale nuclear war’? The book tends to see every crisis in terms of rivalry between two superpowers.

There is another strange formulation regarding the arms race. The book says: “However, since the Cold War did not eliminate rivalries between the two alliances, mutual suspicions led them to arm themselves to the teeth and to constantly prepare for war. Huge stocks of arms were considered necessary to prevent wars from taking place.” The contradiction between the two statements—to constantly prepare for war and to prevent wars from taking place—is perhaps not so obvious. The book on contemporary world politics seems to have totally ignored developments in South America. Even the State of Israel, much less Palestine, has not received any attention.

Coming back to the controversy, it is more than six weeks since the Thorat Committee submitted its report. About a month ago, it was reported to have been discussed by the Monitoring Committee headed by Professors Mrinal Miri and G.P. Deshpande. Nothing has been heard about it after that. It is important that the decision on the Thorat Committee’s recommendations is taken and implemented at the earliest and steps taken to initiate the process of reviewing the NCF-2005 and evaluating the syllabi and textbooks that were brought out as a follow-up of its adoption.

The author is a former Professor of History at the NCERT.

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