Thursday, December 25, 2014

Focus on policies, not events

Opinion » Editorial                December 25, 2014

In its first seven months, the Narendra Modi government seems to have appropriated as its own several of the red letter days in the calendar. Just as Teachers’ Day on September 5 became Guru Utsav, Gandhi Jayanthi on October 2 was used to showcase Mr. Modi’s Clean India campaign. Indira Gandhi’s death anniversary on October 31 was observed as National Unity Day in commemoration of the birth anniversary of Sardar Patel, one of Mr. Modi’s heroes. Even the birthdays of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi on November 14 and November 19 were sought to be turned into markers of his Clean India drive. Now, Christmas will be Good Governance Day, to mark the birthday of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Mr. Modi takes centre stage no matter whose birth or death anniversary it is. Whether India needs to observe any one day as Good Governance Day is debatable, and whether it ought to be the birthday of Mr. Vajpayee even more so. The irony of marking a public holiday as Good Governance Day seems to have been lost on Mr. Modi and his Cabinet colleagues. Several Ministries have asked officers to attend programmes on December 25 as part of Good Governance Day. Schools have been asked to encourage participation in an essay competition to mark the day. Although participation is voluntary, entries for the online competition would be accepted only on December 25.

The infusion of new meaning into traditional public events and holidays seems to be a deeply political act, particularly in its show of insensitivity to the sentiments of minorities. If the Congress suspected an attempt to appropriate, or worse, undermine, its icons through government-sponsored activities, school authorities, especially managements of Christian minority institutions, are worried about having to help, even if only tangentially, with events on Christmas day. Given the ideological orientation of the BJP government, what could have passed off as innocuous events to ritually mark anniversaries have become politically contentious. Although participation in the essay competition is voluntary, and it is to be held online, the very fact that the Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti not only asked officials to ensure that activities relating to Good Governance Day be held in all schools in their respective regions, but also demanded a consolidated report to be sent to the Samiti indicates the pressure on officials to ensure compliance. Holidays are declared for a purpose, but it is not the kind of political purpose the government seems to have in mind. Instead of stirring controversies, it is time the Modi government, especially the Ministry of Human Resource Development, thought more in terms of policies and programmes than in terms of anniversaries and competitions.

Source: The Hindu   

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