Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, till recently the national vice-president of BJP, represents Maharashtra in the Rajya Sabha. After a three-year tenure, Sahasrabuddhe retires this December as the president of Indian Council for Cultural Relations. He is also the chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on Human Resource Development.
In the post-Covid phase, given the general aversion to physical attendance at events, how will the activities of ICCR change?
We have begun preparation to be able to offer online courses about traditional Indian knowledge systems. The significance of rangoli, mehendi or toran, for example. The flora-fauna, cuisines, cultures of various regions in India are topics covered under our courses. We plan to develop 70 such courses, each having a total duration ranging from 4-5 hours to 4-5 days and weeks as well. We partnered with the Ministry of Ayush for the fifth consecutive year for the celebration of International Yoga Day and this year we held a video blog competition as open and public practice of Yoga was not possible due to Covid-19. We are also partnering with artisans and bringing them into the fold. We are broadening our base and making our activities more inclusive. We have now decided to do away with empanelment of artistes in traditional manner. Rather, any artiste who is recognised through the means of some honour or award is eligible to represent India abroad. We are exploring newer markets to deliver a traditional message, and are keen to translate the goodwill that India enjoys into an understanding of India. In order to celebrate International Culture Day, from 2018 onwards we launched a series of lectures on various facets of India’s soft power like Sanskrit, Ayurveda and even our culinary and cuisine traditions.
Apart from the work of ICCR, Bollywood has also played a major role in amassing goodwill for India and has been an important soft power tool. But given the reasons why Bollywood is in news now, do you think it will have a bearing on the image of the country?
Absolutely not. We faced the emergency but did that dilute our democratic traditions? It was a small phase after which democracy was restored. We also had corruption cases in the past but does that mean that India’s standing was affected? These things keep on happening. This will not have any bearing so far as Bollywood as an instrument of India’s soft power promotion is concerned. In fact we desire to work in collaboration with people in Indian cinema to be able to provide subtitled Indian movies abroad in various languages as there is a growing demand for that even from smaller countries like Kazakhstan.
You have been associated with Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini, which has produced literature on sociological issues in Indian society. Are you satisfied with the quality of research taking place on sociological issues affecting the country?
Sadly, in the global context, only those researchers are encouraged by universities and think tanks abroad who speak against India. There are several dimensions to Indian polity. However, only perversions prevail in the thought process of universities abroad. This is true not just about India but also about perhaps the entire South Asia. For example, a seminar was conducted about two decades back in a California university and the subject was titled ‘Bride Burning Traditions and Son Preference in South Asia’. People with such perverted notions thrive on presenting a perverted picture of India. We will have to work over time to counter this.
In your book Beyond A Billion Ballots you’ve spoken about populism, personality cult, and the perennial election mode in politics. While you wrote the book in 2013 do you think things have changed now?
Yes, there are honest attempts being made at course correction. Unfortunately, most scholars who appear to be ‘non-partisan’ have the habit of painting every party with the same brush. Ours is a cadre-based, organisation-based party. But there is an established trait to ridicule all politicians, and this is not a healthy sign, it won’t help the polity in general. For example the proposal of ‘one nation one election’. Scholars have looked at it with prejudice. They were not ready even to discuss the idea. They think, what is wrong if more time is spent in elections and less time in governance. Take the initiative of direct benefit transfers for farmers — are these agricultural reforms not going to stop pilferage? Jan Dhan accounts have ensured that the deprived sections of the society are reached out, involving women, farmers, hawkers, among others. It has helped prevent corruption. These important and successful experiments in governance merit more attention.
Can you discuss the progress being made by the HRD parliamentary standing committee in relation to the National Education Policy (NEP)? What are the other tasks the committee has been working on?
It has been decided to have a meeting to deliberate on the preparation for the implementation of the NEP. The ministry, I am told, is presently engaging with the state ministers for assessing the level of preparedness. In the past few months, we in the committee have discussed the Covid-related issues in continuing school education. We had invited several technocrats to demonstrate the nuances of new technologies in online education as a means of orientation — what is blockchain technology, Artificial Intelligence and its role, among other things.
You’ve been associated with Mumbai University in the past, as its senate member for nearly two decades, among other educational institutions. Even today, no Indian university figures in the top 100 institutions in the world, apart from select IITs. What is your assessment of the problem?
Apart from the rudimentary things such as land and infrastructure for creating a university, several other factors are critical in creating an institution — how its statutory bodies function, how are the vice-chancellors, the roles that scholars play. Some universities lack substance and seriousness, in absence of the right kind of leadership. It is a tough job for academicians to prove themselves as able administrators. The idea mooted in the NEP is to keep the monitoring mechanism for higher education institutions ‘light but tight’ — giving universities enough autonomy, and supporting them to raise their standard. As far as institutional development is concerned, I believe the government is on the right track. It also matters how India is perceived globally, and we will have to work on this over time.
For some time now, scientists across the country have felt the need to speak against the unscientific comments often made by ministers in power, or the policies of the BJP. What is your take on these matters?
These are a group of scientists who make it a point to constantly criticise the government. The policies of the BJP are perfectly in tune with the Constitution.
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