With the BJP and its government in Assam dismissing any possibility of withdrawing its decision to name 12 new colleges in the state after RSS ideologue Deendayal Upadhyaya, more and more voices are being raised in the state against it. The latest voice of dissent has come from the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), an ally of the BJP in the state, which has said that the regional party would not accept such a decision.
“We do not want any decision that hurts the sentiments of the people who had voted us to power. The government should review its decision to name all 12 colleges after one particular person,” AGP president Atul Bora said. Bora also happens to be agriculture and urban development minister in the BJP-led Sarbananda Sonowal government.
AGP general secretary Kamala Kalita on the other hand asked the government to name these colleges after different personalities who had contributed towards development of education and society in Assam. “There were many eminent persons who had contributed immensely towards Assam’s development in various fields like education, culture, science, administration and so on,” Kalita said.
These colleges are being set up under a scheme with central assistance for educationally backward districts where the gross enrolment ration in higher education was less than the national average (19 per cent) during 2008-09. A government notification of April 25, 2017 said that these colleges would be named after Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya, “a great thinker, philosopher, economist and sociologist” of the country. The five colleges that will function from September have been set up at Amjonga (Goalpara), Dalgaon (Darrang), Bihali (Biswanath), Iraligol (Karimganj) and Tulungia (Bongaigaon). While the first four colleges will have Science stream, the fifth will be a Commerce college.
The All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), opposition Congress, the pro-talk faction of ULFA and various other groups have also opposed the Sonowal government’s decision. The AASU said it had no issue if one or two colleges were named after Upadhyaya. “We do not disrespect him. But naming all new government model colleges after him is definitely a disrespect to those eminent personalities of Assam whose contributions to nation-building were more than that of Upadhyaya,” AASU advisor Bhattacharyya said. The AASU and Congress have also suggested naming some of the colleges after such personalities of Assam.
Leading intellectuals like Prof Hiren Gohain and Prof Nagen Saikia have also criticized the government’s decision. “Upadhyaya was a mantra-guru of the RSS. The people of India have not found his any other identity. There would not have any such problem if the colleges were named after Gandhiji, Nehru, Tagore, Maulana Azad, Netaji Bose or Radhakrishnan. Naming all 12 colleges after Upadhyaya naturally evokes suspicion…. The RSS, which has not been able to enjoy widespread acceptability, is trying to utilise its government’s powers and force its influence upon the people,” Prof Gohain, in an opinion piece in an Assamese daily said.
Well-known scholar and litterateur Prof Nagen Saikia has asked the Sonowal government to review its decision and consider naming these colleges after some eminent freedom fighters and social leaders of Assam. “Upadhyaya is definitely a very important name for the RSS and BJP. There would not have been any problem if the RSS and BJP had named their party institutions after him. But, if we ignore our own heroes and import all names from northern India, it will amount to distorting our history,” Saikia, a former president of Asam Sahitya Sabha said.
BJP won’t budge:
The BJP, which is the leading partner in the ruling Assam coalition, however is not prepared to listen to any criticism or opposition to its decision of naming the 12 colleges after Upadhyaya. While state BJP president Ranjeet Kumar Dass has said that those opposing the decision did not have any knowledge about Upadhyaya, state general secretary Dilip Saikia said the party’s state executive on Saturday had resolved to solidly stand behind the government’s decision.
“Those who are opposing and criticizing the decision don’t have any study of Upadhyaya. The party (BJP) has hailed this decision of the government to name colleges after such an eminent scholar. Naming colleges after Upadhyaya does not demean the eminent personalities of Assam,” Dass claimed.
He equated the demand for naming of institutions after local heroes with regionalism and said that regionalism would not be able to safeguard the interests and identity of Assam. “Nationalism, and not regionalism alone will be able to save and protect Assam. Such (regional) attitudes had stood in the way of making the name of Srimanta Sankaradeva known across the country,” the state BJP president said.