The proposal to introduce chapters based on the Gita in Madhya Pradeshs school textbooks starting with Urdu schools,a decision since withdrawn,was only the latest in a series of experiments that the BJP government has made with the education system. Other proposals have ranged from introducing surya namaskar and guru paad pujan (washing the teachers feet) to revising history books and introducing a magazine brought out by an RSS-linked trust.
The BJP,which came to power in December 2003,had its first brush with major controversy in 2007 when it decided to introduce mass surya namaskar in schools. After court cases and criticism,participation in the yearly event was made voluntary.
It was followed by a revision of the high school and higher secondary history syllabus. Mughal emperor Akbar was cut to 30 lines and Rani Durgavati,who killed herself while resisting his campaign to annex her kingdom of Garha,was put almost on par with him with 27 lines in the revised Class IX textbook. Chhatrapati Shivaji and Maharana Pratap got 37 and 36 lines respectively. The revised Class VIII book contained a lengthy nine-page chapter on the revolutionary movement,while Jawaharlal Nehru got one line in an eight-page chapter on the independence movement. Pt Jawaharlal Nehru was made the first prime minister of free India, it said,replacing a previous description as the most popular leader after Mahatma Gandhi. The book left out a two-page passage on communal parties,which named the Hindu Mahasabha and the Muslim League.
In between,then school education minister Laxman Singh Gaud introduced guru paad pujan on Teachers Day and took the lead by washing the feet of his teacher. The practice did not continue.
In 2010,the BJP government announced that Devputra,a childrens magazine printed by an Indore-based trust affiliated with the RSS,will be prescribed. Government schools now get two copies each of the monthly. A complaint followed that Rs 13 crore funds under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan had been diverted to the trust,headed by a senior RSS functionary. The Lokayukta has taken cognisance of the complaint. School education minister Archana Chitnis has said theres nothing wrong in inculcating nationalist values.
In 2011,Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced that Hindutva icon Veer Savarkar will get his due in the school curriculum while stressing a need to take a fresh look at history because freedom fighters had not been given their rightful place. The same year,he made public his intention to include the essence of the Gita in the curriculum. The implementation led to the recent controversy,sparking criticism and ending in withdrawal.
The state textbook standing committees chairman,Govind Sharma,also vice-chairman of the higher secondary board,defends the revision saying it was based on the NCERTs National Curriculum Framework. He says the opposition is political. You can be accused of perverting history only if you exclude certain things,not for introducing them.