After Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Teachers’ Day address and then the Swachh Bharat campaign, educational institutes now have to prepare for yet another “top priority” occasion. The University Grants Commission (UGC) has shot off a letter to vice-chancellors of all Central, state, private and deemed universities, asking them to organise events on October 31 to celebrate Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s birth anniversary.
As per the October 22 notification, institutes have also been asked to inform the UGC about the type of activities being planned to celebrate what it calls “Rashtriya Ekta Diwas or National Unity Day”.
Modi has, on many occasions, spoken about plans to build the tallest-ever statue of Patel.
“We are all aware of Sardar Patel’s contributions to India’s unity, safety and security. As a mark of honour… you are requested to organise different events on October 31 on the campus,” reads the UGC notification.
Institutes have been asked to administer the ‘Rashtriya Ekta Diwas pledge’ to all students, faculty and staff members, and organise a ‘run for unity’. The letter also says that institutes can organise debate competitions, NCC march past and photo exhibitions, and screen documentary films on Patel.
“I am certain you could consider organising many other such activities which could spread the message of unity, safety and security. While you may prepare a list of activities which would be context specific with respect to your institution, you have to make it a point that you will accord top priority to administering the pledge and organising a run for unity,” said the letter, signed by UGC chairman Ved Prakash.
The UGC has also circulated English and Hindi versions of the pledge along with the letter.
B V Bhosale, a sociology professor at Mumbai University, said, “When it comes to administering certain programmes, ultimately it rests with the political party that comes to power. It could be the Hindutva ideology that they may try to propagate through various institutional frameworks to gain legitimacy for their respective ideologies, and an educational institution is one such framework. As academicians we have no objections to such programmes.”
However, the initiative may only get a lukewarm response since Diwali vacations are on in several institutes.
The principal of a college in Pune, who did not wish to be named, said, “Celebrations would revolve around staffers alone as students are on vacations. We cannot ask them to join back between their holidays. At most, a few students, including those staying in hostels, might be requested to come.”
Sanjaykumar Dalvi, director of the Board of Students’ Welfare at Savitribai Phule Pune University, said the schedule for the day would be finalised by October 27.
Both the Congress and the BJP have tried to lay claim to Patel’s legacy in the past. The 182-meter statue proposed by Modi is to be built at the Sadhu-Bet Island in Gujarat’s Narmada district. According to details given on the project website, about Rs 2,063 crore would be spent on the project, which would be completed in four years. The project had come under fire over the amount being spent on it.