A draft ordinance has been cleared by the Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh that has all the hallmarks of pushing scholarship into the background, and things that much of today’s politics is made of into the foreground. The state’s private universities will, according to the draft, have to submit an undertaking that they will refrain from indulging in ‘anti-natoonal activities of any sort’. No ‘such activities’ will also be allowed to take place in these instititions.

On the face of it, this seems like standard procedure — educational institutions not directly under the purview of the government having to radiate ‘patriotism’ and other nation-building and ‘strength through joy’ kind of programs. This will certainly be lapped up by the majority of people, whether in the clergy of academia or the laity outside. But is building ‘national integration, secularism, social harmony, international goodwill, moral building and desh bhakti’ objectives of universities, or that of schools? This is not missing the wood for the trees. This is missing the trees for the landscape.

But what is really troubling about the draft of the Uttar Pradesh Private Universities Ordinance (UPPUO) 2019 is the gateway it provides to label and jettison genuine scholarship as waste (of time, money and intent). If an MPhil or PhD candidate chooses her or his subject of scholarship to be, say, ‘Extremist movements in Post-Independent India’ or ‘Sexual Personae and Hindu Iconography‘, what will be the odds of such critical enquiries not being given the ‘Rejected’ stamp for falling off the prescribed ‘nation-building’ template?

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We have already seen grants and scholarships in subjects and seminars not falling under what is considered kosher having their plugs pulled. An ordinance of this nature leaves scholars and scholarship in a more precarious position, making it compulsory to toe a line and heel others, something that certainly goes counter to what state health minister (sic) Siddharth Nath Singh said the ordinance is in pursuit of: an attempt to “introduce the best practices of international universities”.

India’s higher education has been on shaky ground for some time now. To bring in new ‘parameters’ under the rubric of ‘quality control’ and that have little to do with critical thinking and scholarship, will certainly make it even more of a closed chamber than it already is. Whether it’s intention is that or not, this draft ordinance, if passed into law, essentially will foster nation-building finishing schools with its cookie-cutter template of virtues rather than temples of knowledge.

For the sake of its own reputation, the UP government should quietly put aside the draft ordinance in a drawer and let scholars deal with scholarahip. It is too important to be left to self-styled nation-building politicians and their minions.



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