INVITING BJP leaders to talk to its students and teachers about the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) has put a Matunga-based school in a spot. Describing the incident as a “shameless attempt to politically influence young and innocent minds,” School Education Minister Varsha Gaikwad ordered a probe into the incident Saturday.
On January 10, Shree Dayanand Balak, Balika Vidyalaya and Junior College, which is run by the Arya Samaj, had organised an hour-long programme on a public ground next to the school campus. Local BJP leaders, including corporator Nehal Shah, had interacted with school students from classes VIII, IX and X and first and second-year students of the junior college to “spread awareness” and “correct misinformation” about CAA.
Mumbai BJP’s Uttar Bhartiya Morcha’s Mahamantri, Sumita Suman Singh, who had organised the interaction, is a trustee of the school. Photos of the interaction showed that a BJP banner, bearing photographs of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, among others, was installed on the stage.
“This is blatant politicisation of schools. This won’t be tolerated. Schools aren’t a ground for politics. I have asked the education secretary to probe the whole episode. An explanation will be sought from the school for permitting such an activity. Action will be initiated if the school management itself is found to have indulged in politicisation,” Gaikwad said.
She added that directives will be issued to other schools as well to detest from such activities. “We will act against those allowing school campuses for politicisation.”
Speakers at the event, which included Sumita Suman Singh and Nehal Shah, reportedly slammed those protesting against CAA as “traitors” and urged those present to save the nation from them. Postcards bearing the address of the Prime Minister’s office were later distributed among the students, encouraging them to write their own views and feedback on them.
Singh denied using the students for political campaigning, even while admitting that installing the BJP hoarding on the stage was a “mistake”. “There is no question of playing politics. I am also a trustee of school, and have never encouraged any form of politicisation in the school,” she said.
“The CAA has been passed by the Parliament. Since there is a lot of debate about it, the school’s principal had requested me to organise an interaction spreading awareness about the Act. We did not ask the students to support or oppose the Act. We just shared factual information. About 25 per cent of the students in the school are from the minority community,” she added.
With the school having two other campuses — in Mulund and Kandivali — Singh admitted that she planned to organise interactions there as well. It is now unlikely to take place. “We will submit our reply to the government,” she said.
Earlier in the day, Cabinet Minister Aaditya Thackeray had raised the red flag on the episode. “To campaign abt an Act in schools is ridiculous. What is the need for such political campaigning justification, if there is no ill intent? Politicisation of schools mustn’t be tolerated. If politicians want to speak in schools, speak on gender equality, helmets, cleanliness! (sic),” he tweeted.
The Congress also took strong offence to it. Party spokesperson Sachin Sawant tweeted, “Demand strong action against all those @BJP4Maharashtra workers who have tried to pervert the minds of school students & politicise school education. @VarshaEGaikwad ji must take action against this absolutely worst form of politics.” In a subsequent tweet, he wrote, “Action also must be taken against the school management as well, @VarshaEGaikwad ji. (sic).”