After Swami Vivekanand and former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, it is ‘Bharat Mata’ and Narendra Modi whose photographs got prominent display on notebooks distributed among students during the state government’s Kanya Kelavani and Shala Praveshotsav 2014 enrolment in Vadodara.
Interestingly at Deendayal Updahyay Primary Shala, where an English-medium school was inaugurated on Thursday, a sizeable number of recipients of the school kit were children from Muslim families, who when asked about the photo of the deity on the notebooks, promptly said it was ‘Bharat Mata’. However, when pointed to Chief Minister Anandi Patel’s photo, most five-year-olds stared blankly.
Four-year-old Nergis Ali, ecstatic after laying hands on her school kit, easily identified Modi from the pictures on her school bag and the back cover of her book. She too recognised the picture of Bharat Mata.
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When this reporter asked the little girl, dressed in a bottle green pinafore school dress explains, she explained “My teacher in Balwadi taught us to say Vande Mataram when this picture is shown.”
Ironically though, when asked to identify Anandi Patel on the right hand top corner of the back cover of her notebook, she shakes her head and says, “I don’t know.”
Among the 98 students at the event in the Chhani school, the majority belonged to Muslim families. Most children identified Bharat Mata from their Anganwadi dance lessons with much ease. However, some did draw a blank.
Four-year-old Ali, who got his school kit after a long wait, could not identify the picture. “It is a picture of Goddess, but I don’t know who, because I don’t pray to her.” For Ali, the only familiar picture on the notebook was Modi’s. “He is Modi,” Ali said emphatically.
On Thursday, 1,226 students from 104 schools run by the Vadodara Municipal Corporation across the city, received school bags and notebooks bearing pictures of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chief Minister Anandiben Patel and “Bharat Mata” – a symbol strongly used by the RSS – that will help develop a strong spirit of “nationalism” among children, officials said.
Mayor Bharat Shah, MLA Jitendra Sukhadia and other local leaders were all here to distribute the kits that included notebooks. However, state Finance Minister Saurabh Patel remained absent due to some “budget engagements”.
Over the next three days, about 4,000 schoolchildren in Vadodara will receive the kits, comprising a school bag, with pictures of Prime Minister Modi and Chief Minister Anandiben Patel, a saffron-coloured pencil box and water bottle, a lunch box, crayons, pencils, erasers and a pair of shoes and socks.
Last year, the kits distributed during the drive had bags with pictures of Modi and Vajpayee, while Swami Vivekananda was featured on the designs to mark the monk’s 150th birth anniversary.
Vadodara Municipal Primary School Board Chairman Keyur Rokadia said the idea to place the image of Bharat Mata on notebooks this year was to instil a feeling of national pride and devotion among students. “The symbol of Bharat Mata is for each and every individual to feel devoted to the nation. We want the children from our schools to grow up with a feeling of nationalism. If someone associates it with the RSS, then it is up to them. We have used it as Mother India. At schools, we do not differentiate between children on grounds of religion. Children belonging to different faiths will all be nationalists. We do not have any data segregating children on the basis of religion.”
Rokadia said the Board’s decision to print pictures of Modi and Anandi on school bags was “natural” as they are the heads of government in the state and at the Centre. “We have printed pictures of the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister as we are a government school. It is not just Modiji or Anandi,” Rokadia says.