By Moumita Ghosh:
While Christmas celebrations were stalled in Pakistan as part of a gesture to both condemn the brutality of the Peshawar massacre and express solidarity among the nation’s members, the “good” citizens of India were expected to ditch their Santa hats and carols this Christmas season and instead pick up their brooms while chanting ‘har har Modi! ’, for a reason quite different. Welcome to the land of modern-day Ram rajya where the 25th of December was officially declared as – ‘Sushashan divash’ or Good Governance Day. The day also marked the 90th birthday of former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and the 153rd birth anniversary of Madan Mohan Malaviya, the founder of Banaras Hindu University (BHU). Both the personalities are also to receive the Bharat Ratna; the latter, posthumously. While it is safe to presume that most of us are quite familiar with the former’s name, but before one dismisses the latter as some boring, ancient, academician of the bygone era, here is a quick heads-up: Madan Mohan Malaviya was a pioneer of Hindu nationalism, being one of the first members of the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha: a party extreme right-wing in its approach, recognizing India primarily as a “Hindu Rashtra”. In recent times, the party has been in the news for asking actresses who perform in item numbers to be labelled as prostitutes while also seeking permission from the government to install statues of Nathuram Godse at various public places throughout the country, besides declaring to build a temple in honour of Godse, whom they consider to be a ‘martyr’. The party, which had Vinayak Damodar Savarkar as one of its pre-eminent leaders in the 1920s, has also called for the re-conversion of Muslims and Christians to Hinduism at different points in its history, a trend which found expression in the recent Ghar Wapsi issue of the Bajrang Dal, a close offshoot of the Hindu Mahasabha, which espoused the ‘Bahu Lao, Beti Bachao’ campaign and quoted Christianity and Islam as nothing more than a ‘samasya’, even raising funds to facilitate such conversions.
So, all was well in the land of Ram-rajya as acche din-s were on their way until the “deliberate mischief” caused by a TOI reporter. In a circular dated December 10th, issued by the Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti (NVS) to their schools (the rural-residential Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas) which is affiliated to the CBSE and recognizes itself as an autonomous organization devoted to the “excellence in all domains of education”, under the ministry of HRD, declared the 25th of December as the day for ‘Good Governance’ and instructed the observance of the day through the conduction of quiz, one-act plays, essay writing competitions, screening of documentaries and films on “ best practices in good governance” and other related activities in schools.
Although such instruction was not given to the other CBSE schools till then, much “useless” criticism and controversy, to put it in Rajya Sabha MP Ram Jethmalani’s words, was sparked off by such a declaration of the central government, followed by the HRD minister Smriti Irani dismissing media reports as “totally, totally, inaccurate hain, baseless hain” and claiming that the school vacations shall be adhered to, adding that the essay competition would be held online and that participation is voluntary.
Keeping parity with the press note released by the HRD ministry, Aijaz Ilmi, a national member of BJP, summed it up to NDTV in an interview when asked if the lines between religion and politics are getting blurred: “I think you are reading too much into this. It was a distorted version that was given about by a section of the media. There was no instruction to make schools remain open on the 25th of December which is a very happy occasion of the Christmas day. There was no instruction given to any CBSE school, Kendriya Vidyalaya-s, only to residential Navodaya-s . It is very clear that children who are staying back, they celebrate their festival and if they want to take part in a voluntary, online, essay competition on good governance, they are free to do so. No coercion, no compulsion, no attack on any religion or any section of the society.”
The central government’s brand new take on what constitutes a “voluntary” action is indeed creative as the circular (the link to which has been shared above) requested the deputy commissioners of all the NVS regional offices to merely “ensure” that Good Governance Day was observed in all the JNVs in their region. The NDA government’s voluntary observance also interestingly necessitated evidence, in the form of a “consolidated report”, instructed to be prepared with photos and video recordings of the specific activities carried out on the concerned day and submitted via e-mail.
The final arrival of the day saw BJP MPs, including BJP President Amit Shah, who were evidently not busy anticipating the possible imposition of the ‘voluntary’ task of writing essays, devote their time in their respective constituencies for the ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ while not forgetting to bring their DSLR-armed friends to capture the “true spirit” of the day! According to Zee News, even Narendra ‘Ram’ Modi visited his Lok Sabha constituency, Varanasi, to mark the ‘Good Governance Day’ where he literally ran the show – from inaugurating an Inter-University Centre for Teachers`Education inside the BHU premises to wielding a broom in a bylane leading to the Jagannath Temple in Assi ghat area, amidst media reporters and his bhakts, thus setting an example to the residents of modern day Ayodhya.
But why the 25th of December was zeroed in as the day remains a matter of much speculation. The hashtag #goodgovernancedaycarols which were doing rounds on Twitter are surely funny but they also cause one to think, much like the jesters in a Victorian court. The declaration of the Bhagwad Gita as the national scripture, the treatment of Hindu mythological narratives as ‘facts’ in NCERT textbooks, many of which have been penned by Dinanath Batra, (the ‘book police’ if you will), the PM’s silence regarding the Ghar Wapsi issue, to mention a few, are all merely instances of coincidence which, in Aijaz Ilmi’s words we are “reading too much into”? In the modern-day Ram rajya, these events should not be perceived in isolation either as they exhibit specific patterns of a much bigger picture of a conscious, chalked-out process of saffronization under the same old garb of ‘development’ where ‘vikaas’ means being stripped off your basic rights to education, religion, knowledge and much more in the days to come, where promising ‘vikaas’ to people is, as Jarod Kintz would say- ‘putting them in a straitjacket and kicking them down a flight of stairs’. Hindutva fascism? What’s that?! It now comes in the mask of –‘Saabka saath, saabka vikaas!’.