AMIDST CUTOUTS of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, almost all government primary schools across his Varanasi Lok Sabha constitutency on Saturday celebrated his 67th birthday. Songs were sung, sweets were distributed, and classes were cancelled for a part of the day in most schools, to hold the function. Varanasi district Basic Shiksha Adhikari Brij Bhushan Chaudhary told The Sunday Express he had not received any written communication for the event to be held in primary schools. “I do not know about any such event.
We forwarded no written notification to primary schools.” However, BJP Kashi district secretary Ashok Chaurasiya said the party did not need permission because the party had “adopted” all primary schools earlier this month. But as confusion reigned over government schools being used thus for a party function, the BJP distanced itself from the events. UP BJP spokesperson Chandra Mohan said, “We only sent a circular to local party units to hold swachhta programmes across UP. But we said nothing on Modiji’s birthday celebrations and neither do we know anything about them.”
On Saturday, a day before Modi’s birthday, party workers held the celebrations in 129 of Varanasi’s 150 government primary schools. In other UP regions, like Lucknow, celebrations will be held on Monday. There will be no cake-cutting, a party leader said, as “it is not part of Bharatiya sanskriti”. However, at least one BJP MLA, Avinash Trivedi, of Bakshi Ka Talab in Lucknow, cut a 5-kg cake. He held the celebrations at a government primary school in Itaunja in his Assembly segment, apart from a cleanliness drive. Later, sweets were distributed.
On Sunday, the day of the birthday, the BJP plans to distribute fruits and biscuits at government hospitals. In Varanasi, celebrations will be held in 70 government hospitals and orphanages, and city roundabouts will be decorated, with 67 diyas at each chowk.
For the school celebrations on Saturday, party workers had been instructed to bring along a photograph of Modi, and to highlight the PM’s welfare measures. “We used paraphernalia left over from previous elections. I sent the portrait of Modiji from my house to be used for the birthday event at the Middle and Primary Balika Vidyalayas, in Chowk, Ramnagar,” Asha Gupta, a former Ramnagar councillor, said.
At the Bheeti village school, “adopted” by BJP Kashi district president Lakshman Acharya, around 20 BJP workers cleaned the premises early in the morning. A big cutout of Modi was placed on a plastic chair.
Around 7.20 am, Acharya drove in along with partymen and asked students to name the prime minister of “Bharat Varsh”. The students were promised free pens and copies, and chairs to sit on. “There is no shame in being poor,” Acharya said. “Lal Bahadur Shastri was poor, but his parents got him educated. So did Modiji’s and mine.”
He raised slogans of Bharat Mata Ki Jai, Vande Mataram, and Narendra Modi Zindabad, and the children followed him. Principal Om Prakash asked three students, Shiv Prakash, Rishabh Gaur and Waris Khan, to lead their “school-wallah naara (cheer)”. The students shouted, “The food we eat, the clothes we don, the water we drink of, that belongs to my lovely country/ Bharat Mata ki jai, Bharat Mata ki jai”.
Later, Acharya distributed biscuits and bananas among the students, and inspected the toilet under construction near the premises. At the primary and middle girl schools “adopted” by Asha Gupta, Acharya led slogan-shouting, and a question and answer session on Modi. Later, students and teachers lined up for selfies with the PM’s cutout.
The principal of the girls’ middle school, Rajiv Singh, listed the Modi government’s achievements, including schemes like Swachh Bharat, Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, Ghar Ghar Sauchalya, and Ujjwal Yojana. The head girl, designated “the Pradhan Mantri of the school”, spoke about Modi, his parents, the city of his birth, and that “Bal Narendra” sold tea at a railway station, before becoming the CM of Gujarat four times and then the PM with a “bhaari bahumat”. He was now bringing “revolutionary change” in the country, she said. Slogans of Har Har Mahadev were among those raised as part of the festivities.
Tanya Maurya, of Class 8, said she enjoyed the programme. Her friend Nazim Khan added that a celebration on this scale was held only twice a year at their school, on Independence Day and Republic Day.
Criticising the celebrations, state Congress vice-president Mani Shankar said the BJP was breaking all protocol by “forcibly” holding such an event at government institutions, encroaching on rights of students. “We never held such celebrations on Jawaharlal Nehru or other party leaders of the Congress. These celebrations can be held among party members but not in government institutions. This is the BJP’s attempt at promoting cult and personality politics, and the RSS’s attempt at saffronising education. Next time, when another party is in power at the Centre or in the state, it will also follow suit,” he said.
Principal Rajiv Singh and BJP leader Asha Gupta denied the allegations. “There is nothing rajnaitik (political) in this. This is a cultural programme organised by the wise and good people of society and we are proud of the opportunity to celebrate the birth of our Prime Minister, a great man,” Singh said. He added, “If another political party wants to celebrate its leader’s birthday in schools, we will welcome the move, provided the leader enjoys as much popularity and is as great as our Prime Minister.”
Chaurasiya said, “What the government does in the 150 primary schools of Varanasi is a separate thing. We as a party this month have adopted a school each to work for their betterment, like building toilets which are absent or defunct in almost half the schools, cleaning the school premises and other such activities. Humein in schoolon ki dasha sudharna hai (We have to right the direction of these schools).” Teachers at the Chowk primary school, Vikas Kumar and Seema Bhatnagar, said that at least to the children it mattered little. They were too young to understand the politics of it, they said, and were just happy for the sweets.