Not trusting teachers to set the proper tone, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken it upon himself to deliver a 105-minute speech on Teachers’ Day. The HRD ministry has gently asked schools to “facilitate” the live telecast of the speech, which is to take place from 3-4.45 pm. No pressure, it claims, but the Delhi government’s directive to schools has quiet steel in it: “Any laxity in arrangements shall be viewed seriously”, it says.
Teachers’ Day, much like Children’s Day, has its origins in the kind of benevolent from-on-high, grandfatherly political gesture so in vogue in the early years of independence. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan wanted his birthday to be dedicated to teachers, just like Nehru wanted his to celebrate children. Neither teacher nor child complained. Teachers’ Day means cake, it means euphemistically named dance programmes, it means a half-day or a quasi holiday. All this naturally engenders a warmth between teachers and students that is missing for most of the year. But with the Modi dispensation anxious to own it, the innocuous Teachers’ Day has suddenly become the centre of a competitive politics. Some state governments, like Haryana and MP, will have their own chief ministers delivering inspirational addresses. West Bengal has decided defiance is the best form of offence and said it has its own plans. Tamil Nadu parties, meanwhile, are muttering darkly about alleged Central attempts — denied by the Centre since — to sanskritise Teachers’ Day by renaming it Guru Utsav.
The Modi government’s grand vision also assumes that schools will have the televisions, projectors, electricity and the space needed to put up such a show, or at least the resources to acquire the paraphernalia. Will Modi Live reach those schools where electricity and even generator sets are a distant dream, where classes are held in a tiny room with students attending in shifts, where children have been turned out of classrooms used to store foodgrain, or where school itself is a spot under a tree? It doesn’t say in any directive.