What is it to stand for the country? Maybe we must necessarily define, at the outset, what we mean here by serving the country. It means creating a generation of statesmen who have a vision to transform the nation into a more just and equitable society while at the same time making strides in development. Leadership, in our times, has often collapsed into expressions of power and the ability for rhetoric. Politics is the last resort of scoundrels -- so goes the saying. Are we, then, seeking an entry into this purported world of rascals? I hope not. What, then, do we expect from the leaders of our country? Beyond the paradigms of political party affiliations, there is a question of envisaging a society that can bring happiness and well-being for the masses. We should ask ourselves this pertinent question whether, in this sense, we have failed as a democracy. If the answer is yes, then can we provide better people to remedy the situation?
Campus and the country
Every nation-state, when it was formed, had set up institutions that would uphold and build up the values and principles that those countries stood for. Educational institutions, especially, were the crucial formative grounds that had to play the dual role of ensuring fair citizenship as well as preparing ground resources for building up the country through science, technology and industry. An all-round knowledge production capable of transforming the country is what is aimed at. History, as an academic discipline, claims the creation of an enlightened citizenry, as its goal. Therefore, the underlying need for a vital link to be established between societal concerns and education becomes underscored.
In the post -World War I situation, a collection of theorists and thinkers together under the banner of the Frankfurt School in Germany, raised this important question -- what is education for -- and stressed that an education that does not fulfil its transformative goals is no education at all. At this moment we also realise the harsh realities of the changes that have come in the visions on education in the country. The Budget allocation for Education in 2019 is Rs.93,847.64 crores, marking a 10% increase from last year. Compare it with highest ever allocation for Defence which is Rs.3 lakh crore. The Prime Minister claims that science and technology will facilitate his New India 2022 Vision with technology as the biggest driver in improving the quality of education. When Higher Education is envisioned by industrialists and science and technology emerges as the leader, where do the Humanities and Social Sciences fit in? Where will we place the concerns of society and how? Where will our training on democracy come from? It is indeed one thing to worry about Campuses not producing statesmen but we need to seriously ask why we need to begin from Campuses and how?
When ‘politics’ is a banned practice on Campuses, it is decided to sanitise campuses from the ‘evil effects’ of bringing societal concerns into the academia. Violent outbursts do occur, but have we prepared to tone ourselves for political debate and dialogue? In certain campuses, the student elections are run by students themselves and campaigns necessarily have to be debated out. Candidates have to face questions -- on theory and practice, on ideologues, comment on contemporary situations and issues. Both the candidates and voters have a sense of political literacy -- something that is seriously lacking on campuses these days. We should debate and engage in dialogue, instead of using physical force to overwhelm people.
How to create good statesmen is another pertinent question. Is it by being critical of the system? Being critical is not necessarily to oppose, but to develop a critique of evaluating society and its norms and values and to reflect on equity. This involves questioning the status quo. It is not business as usual that we promote with inspiring words alone, but an essential perspective-building that helps develop insights into configuring the road ahead.
Statesmanship cannot be a goal in itself. Are we aware of the questions and problems that the country needs to address? What are the priorities that we assign to the issues of crisis in the country? Is it poverty reduction? Is it the state-of-the-art technology-building? Is it addressing caste violence? Is it making the world better for women and children? Statesmanship should essentially be defined as a sense of justice and equity while also raising the country to new levels of progress, and the ability to translate that into action at the national level.
Do we equip female students to access the public sphere, talk boldly, ask questions, take decisions? Or are we giving a cosmetic sense of empowerment that fulfils itself in indices -- well paid jobs, bank accounts, entrepreneurships, driving license and other formal indicators which may not necessarily translate into real life indices. Do we also equip families by way of processes such as counselling, to bridge gender gaps? Despite 50% reservations, women coming into Panchayats initially find it very hard, but through continuous negotiations, they work out things to their advantage and take very firm decisions.
My experience as an academic and an activist for the past twenty years is that academics as it functions today makes the students immune to the concerns that the country faces. Unless education is revamped to make it socially accountable, we will be unable to produce statesmen solely on the basis of their campus life.