What's in a name?

An almighty row is breaking out over the Assam government’s decision to set up model colleges in educationally backward districts and name these after Jan Sangh leader Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya. In September this year itself, five Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya Adarsh Mahavidyalayas will start functioning at Dalgaon in Darrang, Bihali in Biswanath, Tulungia in Bongaigaon, Amjonga in Goalpara and Eraligol in Karimganj districts. All these districts are either minority dominated or have substantial minority populations, which could explain the stridency of political wrangling that has erupted. However, seven more model colleges are under construction and will function from next year, three such colleges are being planned at Samaguri in Nagaon, Borkhola in Cachar and Deithor in Karbi Anglong districts, and the final tally could be as many as 22 colleges named after Deen Dayal Upadhyaya. The power-be in the Education department are making it known that this naming is necessary as the colleges will be Centrally funded. Leftist and several regional organisations are however alleging that the BJP-led coalition government in Assam is bending over backwards to allow ‘saffronisation’ of education in the State at RSS dictates. The AASU, AJYCP and many other students and youth organisations have warned of agitational programmes if the government goes ahead with its move. The Congress, blithely glossing over its own propensity when in power to name various assets after the Gandhi family, has lambasted the BJP by asking whether Assam has no worthy personalities after whom model colleges can be named.
Assam BJP president Ranjit Kumar Dass has come out strongly to defend the State government’s decision, pointing out that Pandit Upadhyaya was a great scholar, philosopher and patriot who espoused integral humanism and Antodyaya to serve the poor, a silent RSS worker whose contributions people ought to know about now. When asked where Assam BJP now stands with its ‘jati-maati-bheti’ slogan when it fails in popularising great luminaries of the State, Dass responded that the slogan was made in broader national context ‘because Assam cannot exist without India’.     Clearly, we are going to see more such clashes as the RSS-BJP seeks to supplant the Congress idea with its own. The Congress of today, despite its claims to the contrary, is far removed from the party that freed this country from British yoke. It is amusing to hear the Congress in Assam now suddenly waking up to sons and daughters who have made the State proud, including Jyotiprasad Agarwala, Lakshminath Bezbaruah, Holiram Deka, Bhupen Hazarika, the first Assamese woman graduate Sukhalata Duwara and first Assamese woman doctor Rajaniprabha Saikia. So what did the Congress do to immortalise their names in the 15 years it ruled the State from 2001, or in earlier decades? Votaries of the Sangh Parivar allege that the Congress and Left intellectuals gave their own political slant to the country’s history, and played up their heroes while totally blanking out the contributions of leaders like Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya and Madan Mohan Malviya who too dreamed and fought for a strong India.
Thus it was that the NDA-I government under Atal Behari Vajpayee tried to put the record straight, notably through then HRD Minister Murli Manohar Joshi’s efforts to revise NCERT history textbooks. Under Narendra Modi’s NDA-II regime, all stops are being pulled out to celebrate Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya’s birth centenary, as well as establish in the public mind the life and works of other Sangh Parivar ideologues and pathfinders. The Central rural electrification scheme, Mughalsarai railway junction of Uttar Pradesh, the subsidised kitchen scheme of Madhya Pradesh, an employment scheme in Uttarakhand and many other projects, assets and educational courses in BJP-ruled states have been named after Pandit Upadhyaya. Ministers in Assam like their counterparts in Uttarakhand are keeping portraits of Shyama Prasad Mookerjee and Deen Dayal Upadhyaya in their offices. Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal has also stressed on additional classes in the model colleges ‘to impart knowledge on Pandit Upadhyaya’. So the race to be in the Centre’s good books and get it to loosen purse-strings is on between the BJP-ruled States. But Assam’s ruling dispensation needs to think twice about riding roughshod over regional sentiment, because the centrist BJP had to join forces with regional parties to seize the reins in Dispur. Navodaya or Sainik schools, or even Super-30 private coaching academies are acceptable as branded entities, but a chain of Deendayal Upadhyaya model colleges in just one State? Surely, this is taking things too far. The Sonowal government should be prepared for hard questions about how far it is willing to go to convince the Centre about contributions made by many great luminaries of Assam. It needs to observe how the Maharashtra BJP, faced with Shiv Sena’s ‘Maratha manoos first’ challenge, is succeeding in drawing the attention of the party’s national leadership to great Maratha icons. In States like Assam where identity politics can be highly sensitive, much can ride on a name.