This seems to be an ideal world. The one we live in is the bestof all possible worlds, right? So, educators have a duty and also a right to ask questions. Prof. Sukanta Chaudhuri, Professor Emeritus of Jadavpur University, Kolkatta has written a thoughtful piece in the Economic Times of 6thFebruary, 2020. We like to request someone who may be near the PMO to bring this piece to the immediate attention to the Prime Minister himself.

It won’t take more than, say some 10 minutes and so the PM can be drawn attention to this piece which elaborates and succinctly puts all the questions that might be agitating to educators, teachers, and students and why even the ones like State Governors who are now the Chancellors of the Universities. Unfortunately, as things stand inIndia the education system is not producing a greater India, instead we are all feeling like ponies, small men and women when it comes to what weread about the state of our education.Prof.Chaudhuri sums up so clearly what is wrong with our education system in which India doesn’t finda mention even in the world’ s top 100 universities.

There is dullness in the country and no one seeks to speak out their minds. This is so bad for a democracy which by definition promotes diversity of opinions and citizen must only listen to what the politicians say. The current criticisms of the ruling and Opposition parties, theirleaders, a mixed bunch no doubts, the discussions and debates havedeteriorated so much that there is no way to find out where the Indian education system stands.

Every year thousands of students compete for very limited seats be it in Delhi or in other cities.For instance, in Delhi, St. Stephen’s college is fancied very muchas the elite college but do you know that most students enter the college under several quota systems. It is a Christian denomination institution and as the governmentpolicy on reservations is such that the best not always gets in. Something like 20,000 students compete and how many can hope to get a fair chance? So too universities the world over! Now, the Indian students flock to foreign shores where the chance of staying back for work for 2 years in UK, 3 years in Australia and forother lengths of time in the USA.

So, theunemployment market is expanding and the Indian talents are being destroyed for lack of good education back in India. So, Indian education has to be reformed to retain talents in critical fields like engineering, IT, medicine and India-born citizens must live a life of dignity and self-fulfillment. To be able to live a life of freedom and dignity we have to improve our education, its philosophy and its ethics.

Prof.Chaudhuri says that first –intellectual, honest must prevail and we must know that university staff, students are thinking people. They are think tanks! They are also public intellectuals. They represent the collective intelligentsia. So, they might often disagree with bureaucrats and practical politicians. So, there could be conflicts of opinion. This is where the current protest must be seen and understood in a sympathetic manner. You see politics is always a matter of power and how the exercise of power affects the wielders of power. Everyday new problems crop up. You see that the latest Supreme Court judgment on eliminating criminalization of politics where the persons contesting elections with a criminal history must explain why he or she did involve in criminal issues, this must be uploaded on the website within two days.

Such judgments might go against the wishes of ruling party. But we have to accommodate such divergent views. As for education we have to update the quality. At Oxford too, something like 20,000 students compete and something like 7,000 students only get in. The national Educational Policy didn’t take off. Right?
Why? Simplybecause experts are uneasy with the government. The PM must invite such independentminded experts and talk with them and assure that there is freedom of expression and experts can speak out. You see that the private universitiesenter the scene for the profit motive and yet with the commitment to produce high quality students. And yet, it is the public universities that had promised independent high qualityresearch, be it the old ones and the new ones.

The innovative ideas only can make a university great. The current eruption of protests all over India and in the leading universities, some of the best 10 are the ones that came into the public attention, JNU, Jamia Millia, and others. No Indian university came in the top 300 world universities in the World University Rankings in the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings. This must be our one goal. How Indian universities must aim for inclusion in the rankings. Then only other changes we might effect. So, there is genuine dissatisfaction after the higher education has become a mass-market.

In a situation when we find the Indian agriculture in debts and droughts and floods!
Why, even you can add litigation and much else!

This year’s Christmas double issues of the internationally known magazine, The Economist, has written its major editorial on Optimism vs. Pessimism.

The widely read intellectual elite journal has highlighted the radical changes now caused by the growth in technologies that are not only creating enormous wealth, also benefitting man by improving living standards, spreading education, also health by the many medical miracles that allow us to live longer and also helping us to travel thanks to revolution in aviation, not to also add the telecom revolution and the IT industry that had transformed a traditional society like India to emerge as a Superpower.

So, how can be unaware of the various revolutions in technologies should also must be causing a great revolution in agriculture?

This question is nagging in our minds when we sit down to write any editorial. As educated persons with some privileges of wealth and opportunities we have to be morally committed to the rural people, farmers and other underprivileged sections of society in which farmers occupy central place we are duty-bound to speak the harsh truths as well. This is for the rural farmers.

Agriculture is a risky activity. In distress and debt!
How the government policies work?

After Modi took over as the Prime Minister of India there have been too many new policies and too many risk taking outcomes. In agriculture and rural; development there has been a sea-change in the announcement and implementation of the various schemes. PM’s two bold decisions, demonetization and GST have really impacted the way now citizens use the banks through online transactions.

Of course there have been mixed results. Yes, the radical decisions led to some pain, some might say more pain than positive results. However, any new radical step would distort and destabilize some sections. Now, after all these years we see much positive changes only. This much if fine and fair. As for the agri sector is concerned, the new schemes from farmers personal pensions and insurance cover the scheme has been yet to show results. The various subsidies that always go with any agriculture schemes go also under the many other agri schemes.

One obvious and much discussed and much politicized schemes are farm loan waivers. The latest one is by the Maharashtra government under the new Chief Minister Uddhav Thakeray. This scheme is likely to cost Rs.50, 000 crores and can the rising NPA be sustained by the rising NPAs of banks and also the already strained deficit, fiscal position of the State government?

One simple and straightforward retort is: who cares?@Today’s political environment is such that no rational response is welcome and always some sort of shrug is welcome and people react favorable to such confrontationist political gestures. So far, the public and private sector banks had written off Rs.80, 893 crore during April-September 2019.

The government in Delhi pretends to say and maintain still that that the loan write offs continues to be for repayment. So farm loans very soon turn out to be bad loans and continue to hang around the necks of farmers, though the final and realistic outcome nobody knows! As per RBI, the rate of recovery of bad loans has come down from 18.4% in 2014 to a low of 12.45 by March 2014..And so on so forth!

We don’t believe in going into detailed data from the official sources that have become suspect in recent times! What is reliable is the ground level reality and we have to be very robust in mind and body when we talk of Indian agriculture. Agriculture in India is highly distorted, officials and ministers are known for their silence when such hot topics come for public debate. There are political priorities in drawing up agricultural policies. Unfortunately there are widening gaps between the politicians who draw up policies and the rest of the agriculture=-linked groups of people. Apart from farmers who belong to the lowest categories like marginal and small farmers who are as of today own an average one or t wo hectares, there are other categories who fall into the category of big farmers, or big corporate who also accumulate vast acres of agriculture lands.

Our humble suggestion is that the ICAR must be recast. It must be recast to bring together agriculture leaders, agriculture veterans, leaders like Sharad Pawar and Chandrababu Naidu and many others who in their tie had done much for improving agriculture after the series of radical land reforms laws were introduced soon after Independence.

What lessons we have learnt from the radical land reforms that abolished zamindari and also to the extent of tenancy reform laws. The Prime Minister must convene a meeting, why a series of such meetings to get an update of the rural reality today.

Why even a veteran like Deve Gowda who in his Chief minister days, likewise Sharad Pawar(we have met them then and interacted with them. They also sought progressive ideas as to bring in large investments.

So, we too should do now and take the agri reforms as continuity. New technologies are coming out everyday. From IT to AI. So, we can have much optimism and must be able to take forward reforms and policies that would reach out almost every single farmer So, we request farmers generation today to have optimism, the younger generation specially to help to spread the new optimism that they find in non-farm sectors. Also from urban centres, from big cities like Bangalore to remote villages.

Let us build an enlightened agricultural lobby!
An effective agricultural lobby needs much media support!

Two much bureaucracy weakens farmers-policy makers interaction. What should be done now? Give media support!

Agriculture is now in the dark. Not the crops and crop prices. The people who flood this vital economic segment. 50 people who toil in 15 percent wealth creation!

Not many know what is happening in this priority sector. Price rise and food inflation alone is not agriculture news. The rising inequality, persistence of poverty and various exploitations of the helpless farmers are also news and needs to be reported and written about. Who does these all public services?

Has the ministers recently spoken about agriculture? Has the PM spoken about agriculture issues lately?

These are not for rhetorical questions .but a pouring out of some accumulated frustrations! Give subsidies to agriculture media! Otherwise in a few years what remains would go off the attention of the policy makers forever!

Even now what do you see happening in the many established channels? Agriculture extensions services are almost weakened still old fashioned Colonial institutions prevail.
In this age and time of technological revolutions, mobile phones and Whatsup and what have you, the average villagers, need to speak of farmers, for every small official favour, be it the local thaluk or Collector’s office farmers have to make a trek, spend time travelling long distances and wait for a dharsan of the high and mighty officers!

Most of the time the so-called officials are either absent or in conferences. You can check this up every Monday when crowds gather at the Collector’s offices for pouring out their grievances. Oh, how much injustice still persists? Thus, we call every Indian farmer a debtor, litigant and a suicide-prone helpless victim. Now, lately, with a new type of political environment there is almost a near anarchy in governance practices.

As we rite there was a large scale eviction of urban shanties in Bangalore city where nearly 300 thatched huts near high rise buildings were evicted one fine day without any priority notices by the police and City Corporate engineers without the joint Commissioner of the Corporation knowing. There were screaming cries and much more. There was no adequate response and only NGOs and others were seen engaged in helping out the victims. This in time of so many other revolutions and communication techs.

We can go on talking and talking but unless there are independent media houses, more so the government controlled DD and also specific schemes and channels to give opportunities for independent interactions between the citizens and the politicians in power, there can’t be any democratic sense of security and the many freedoms promised under our Constitution would only remain on paper only. That would see the more vital organs like the DD and other government channels would become 100% government propaganda tool! Agriculture needs media support!

This, only the government agriculture strategy policy can imagine. It is not there right now! There is too much apathy and too much unconcern. That shows the many distortions and lack of articulation even in government agri policies and schemes! Crop insurance, health insurance and direct payment etc are all good initiatives but how are their implementation?
Amit MItra, the hon’ble finance minister in the West Bengal government, the other day in an interview with the NDTV revealed many instances that were not covered in the print media in many mainstream newspapers.

One or two instances here. The FM revealed to a question why the economic slowdown and what can be done etc., he said fear and trust in the government. There were some 30 odd cases, criminal and civil, against one corporate and he asked how do you expect the entrepreneurs to come out and invest and deal with such a government. Also he revealed many instances and schemes in the name of the PM, which show the allotted funds were not spent and also in schemes for which funds were shared between the Centre and the States and yet in one such instance quoted by Mitra that only the PM’s image is put to the exclusion of the State CM is not found! How do you then create trust, how do you show trust in the Federal character of the country? In fact, the State FM had many more such glaring injustices are rendered today.

Such mature and more experienced FMs are hard to find. Such facts and figures are not known widely. Oh, when you come to agriculture, the many injustices done to helpless farmers who commit suicides many more heart-rending go unreported. Is there any one newspaper or TV channel to cover the less glamouring and yet human interest stories or why, even to comment and bring to the attention of the high and mighty who hold forth on agriculture without stirring our of needing of the Lyten Bungalow zone and now, the Khan market!

The point here is that the Central government already what remains, we are told, is advised to reduce media advertisement and revert to TV channels and digital marketing. This is being told by man y of the Central government commodity boards and other such departments. The agriculture ministry, both at the Centre and the States, dont have budgets for agriculture schemes to be advertised, both in English and the regional languages.

Please spare a thought for the agri sector and the remote rural India. Thereby the democratically elected government might still make an impact on the insecure and left out segments of the population.

What more we can plead for even in this age of enlightenment?

See, what is making news and capturing public attention

What purpose does JNU violence and so many agitations serve? It is a very tragic story not yet fully unveiled and the days and months to come would be severely lost and no public good is likely to be served if the antagonists and the protagonists are to settle their dues in this way.

If the senior political leaders, specially, the Communist party leaders, are to be taken seriously, then, the time has come for someone to tell these gentlemen that this sort of agitation politics at a premier university carrying the great of no less a leader than Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru who almost symbolizes all that is great and heroic in the country’s glorious heritage, history, the ideals, tolerance, truth and ahimsa etc. would be sadly lost if we, the present generation and the ones that are there to lead them, the senior politicians would be failing in our duties to the great causes for which our freedom struggle was waged with such uniqueness in all of the nations of the world.

This sort of intolerance including those we have seen in the current turmoil is not a worthy emulation. Two innocent ladies were thrown out for the simple reason they held flags opposing the CAA cause!

Now, university education? It is in doldrums, we all can see. The visiting eminent Indian intellectual and economist, the Nobel Laureate, Prof.Amartya Sen lamented at the Infosys Prize distribution ceremony in Bangalore the other day that the current scene in Indian universities is ‘appalling’. Sen had in mind the yet to be resolved violence in the JNU, New Delhi.

With the latest violence at the JNU at the top of the minds of Indians, Sen could have dwelt at some length and the country would have benefited with his superior academic wisdom. Sen observed that the current law, the CAA and its two more related legislations are controversial and widely considered even not constitutional and many hope the Supreme Court would find so. The academic scene in India is even otherwise too bad, really pathetic and in particular the universities are really in a very bad shape. Many eminent educators have been involved and yet the so-called new Education Draft hasn’t seen the light of the day. Education policy making in the BJP governments era has become a standing joke. How many ministers have come and gone and yet the very many drafts are under wraps, for no genuine reasons. Perhaps there is confusion at many levels and the sadder is the fact that the many very competent educationists and the intellectuals are choosing to remain silent for obvious reasons.

Even the new education (HRD) minister, it seems, hasn’t got grips with so many vested interests, besides other issues are bedeviling the critical sector. First, there is widespread corruption in university education and university administration, so many unseemly episodes happening, raids and arrest and even jailing of VCs is now day-to-day news headlines!

The state universities with the incumbent Governors as Chancellors of the State universities are now facing competition for resources and power, both social and political power with the thriving private universities. There are some 900 universities and more than 40,000 colleges with a student strength of 40,000 students.

The State governments nowadays are controlling the universities and given their penchant for favouratism the whole university system is politicized. Private universities have become a menace! You can imagine the quality, the qualifications of an average education minister and the havoc they are wreaking the system. The education ministers brag on public platforms about the gross enrolment ratios in higher education. While we were reading through the news page that reported Prof. Sen’s address; the very same page carried a half page paid advertisement that proclaimed the achievements of a private university that said it all, we thought. There are so many private universities in India at present and their population is bound to go up in leaps and bounds. In particular, the Southern States seem to be in a race.

In TN there is a proliferation of these pseudo institutions already causing havoc! Some of the founders of these shadow institutions have become enormously rich and powerful. They are some of the richest politicians in the State; some run many other related and unrelated businesses, including TV news channels and also got elected to Parliament and run many other dubious activities. Imagine for a moment what sort of academic merit such univerisities can carry when the founders are practicing politicians, nay, even when some of them are film producers of very cheap entertainers!

Lately, they have resorted to conducing high profile public shows of awarding honorable degrees of ‘doctors’, even to the incumbent Chief Ministers. The incumbent Governors of the State, being the Chancellors of the government -controlled universities, the Governors are mute figures only decorating the platforms and thus creating false public images of government and political authority to the functions. These Universities also surreptitiously conduct the Founders’ birthdays this way and outcome of all these dubious activities, in our opinion, is to further debase the genuine educational values a university is supposed to instill in the minds of the pupils, academic staff and on the general public.

It is also unfortunate, that every day we read in the media that some Vice-Chancellor or other is found jailed for misappropriation and some VC’s appointments are invalidated. Besides, university appointments are held invalid by the courts and many corruption cases involving the universities are creating a bad feeling. There are now ceremoniously many other university diversifications announced like distance education, a clear source of bogus degrees awarded with no sound academic scrutiny.

Now, as for real academic merit in the Indian universities, the real test is how far the Indian universities, both in the government and the private sector are attracting students from within India and also from outside. Even now, there is almost an exodus of sorts for Indian students to migrate to foreign lands, not to UK and USA alone, even to neighboring countries like Australia, Germany and even Ukraine(for cheap medical degrees).Yes, there are reports that there is now a reverse trend, the number of Indian students going to USA is even declining. For USA alone, the number is declining from 12.3 percent 2016-17 to 5.4 percent in 2018-19, second only to China. Detailed figures are available to show this declining trend. The point here is that the outside world is changing and yet within India we seem not to have given up this craze for foreign education and also true that the standards of higher education within India are really appalling.

So, what to do in the days and months ahead in the Indian education sector and that too in the higher education sector? No one is talking about education reform in a serious way.

Of course, the men and women who matter in education know of all these ills. They also know well the ways of reforms needed. Urgently, we need to combat the corrupt practices that had already crept into the university education system. Unless there is a determined effort on the part of the Central government to reform higher education with suitable inputs from international faculty the situation won’t change easily. Let us all introspect and speak out.

A country is without an education policy

Education is not just a day-to-day activity as it is with a large number of stake-holders today. Education in India has become a highly commercial activity. Take a newspaper or turn a TV screen, they scream with full-page ads that proclaim, if we can so put it, a new millennium on the horizon. What do you want to become tomorrow? All the promises are on display. Various tuition centers are called by many fancy names. There are well-dressed boys and girls swarming the gates of many newly opened academies with fancy names. All things promised under the sky! It is rather becoming a sickening experience. These screams and shouts!

This is gross display of total insentivity. We never thought that education would degenerate so much. Education is a very noble, very uplifting thought and experience. Even in today’s world, education and culture shape the character of not only an individual but also of a country. The very essence and distinction of people are all traced to the sort of education and schools. This is so from the time of Greeks, at the height of their glory in the 5th century BC onwards. Greeks in particular gave the world the unique definition of an ethos that you can find out in reading Plato, why, even in Socrates’ dialogues when the great sage questioned everyone he met on the streets of ancient Agora where he lived and walked every day.

Man becomes civilised when he interacts with his fellow human being and when questions are asked and answers are sought. Education has a long history. The Encyclopedia Britannica has almost hundred and odd pages on the subject of education. And education history too has a long process of how man throughout questioned and doubted and became skeptical and argued and pushed the boundaries of knowledge. That is how ethics, what is right and wrong were asked and also how philosophy and science were reached. From medieval times onwards to the Renaissance to the French Enlightenment and modern day world of science and technology, Industrial Revolution to the present day, the Information Technology and Internet we have reached the current world of great many mental breakthroughs. Modern man’s mind today is uncluttered and also cluttered in some areas.

Education today stands at the threshold of many new breakthroughs. It is quite a long time since the world faced two unmitigated world wars and destroyed many mental blocks. The Western countries, mainly the Western European societies have advanced much in many learning streams, mainly in humanities and sciences and also in shaping and governing societies. Thus politics as a humanities branch again emerges as a high priority field. India stands very much at a threshold.

In one respect, India is at a very high threshold, in the sense; we run the world’s largest democracy. This has become rather tried and tired old reiteration. What does it mean to be a great democracy with 1.3 billion people? It is a very complex and contradictory statement.
How sure are we, the common people, to live in a democracy? It is what makes our many current convictions and governance complicated. India after seventy years of independence seem to have not realized, neither fully nor partially what freedom and independence means for the average citizen.

Has anyone pronounced the very meaning of the concept of freedom and liberty? I need not presume I can do adequate justice here. Sir Isaiah Berlin, my professor of political and social science, taught at Oxford in the 1960s had expounded it at some length as positive and negative liberties. In the Indian context it should mean absence of fear and anxiety of the authority. In recent times, in many democratic countries, the democratic government also ensures some mental peace and happiness. This mental happiness can come only when a government acts with absolute neutrality and in short what is called in the BJP parlance, raj dharma!

The present day concern is that no articulation is available. No one is talking out! It is the task of educated and enlightened public opinion to enable a discourse on raj dharma. It is the critical task of education to enable education and culture and much of other learned men and women to ask for further enlightenment. So, education becomes rather very critical.
Education policy is making the most demanding task. This task is not for bureaucrats. It is for creative thinkers and public intellectuals. Unfortunately, Delhi is populated with full of bureaucrats, retired and serving, they won’t be forthcoming with new thinking and ideas! It is for the Prime Minister and his close associates to undertake this demanding task. The country can’t wait further to create a more liberal, secular and a more open society!