Let us strengthen the Indian model of educational development

Haridwar | Friday, 06 June 2008

Convocation Address by Shri L.K. Advani at Gurukul Kangri Vishwavidyalaya

Chief Minister Shri B.C. Khanduriji, Paridrushta Vaidya Shri Trigunaji, Kulapati Prof. Swatantra Kumar ji, Kuladhipati Pandit Sudarshan Sharma ji, Vice Chancellor Prof. Vedprakash Shastriji, eminent personalities in the auditorium, esteemed teachers, and dear students,

It is a great honour for me to be invited by any university to attend its annual convocation. But the honour is redoubled when the invitation comes from a university as uniquely prestigious as the Gurukul Kangri Vishwavidyalaya.

Your university is situated in the holy town of Hardwar, on the banks of Maa Ganga. That itself is a source of uniqueness and pride. Equally proud is its association with Swami Shraddhananda, a great freedom fighter and social reformer in the pre-1947 era, and one who was inspired by Swami Dayananda Saraswati to promote the ideals of Swabhasha, Swadharma and Swadesh. Before he took sanyas, he was known as Mahatma Munshiram, about whom Gandhiji himself said, “If anybody called me Mahatma, I would think that it is a case of mistaken identity. The true Mahatma is Munshiramji.”

Indeed, there is no other university in India that received such strong blessings and regular personal attention from Gandhiji as the Gurukul Kangri Vishwavidyalaya. Last week, Prof. Swatantra Kumar sent me two books about your university. One of them, which is quite bulky, is devoted solely to Mahatma Gandhi’s association with your Gurukul.

Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee and Gurukul Kangri

The second book, titled Deekshalok, is a collection of the convocation addresses by eminent personalities who visited the Gurukul since its inception more than a hundred years ago. This book gave an additional reason to feel honoured to have been invited to attend this year’s convocation. For amongst the eminent personalities who came here was Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee, who delivered the convocation address in 1943. He was the founder of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh in 1951. I started my political life as an activist of this party, which merged into the Janata Party in 1977 in the aftermath of the successful struggle against the Emergency Rule and was reborn, after the fall of the Janata government, as the Bharatiya Janata Party in 1980.

Dr. Mookerjee, who was known as the “Lion of Bengal”, was an outstanding leader. A great freedom fighter, an able minister in Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s first government after Independence, a widely respected opposition leader after he resigned from the government, and by far the best parliamentarian of his time, he was all this and more. He was also one of the greatest educationists and vice chancellors of his time. Son of Ashutosh Mookerjee, himself a highly revered educationist in Bengal, he became the vice chancellor of the prestigious Calcutta University when he was only 33 years old.

Let me quote a few lines from Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee’s convocation address at your university. “We are not unhappy with the fact that (during the British rule) the doors of western education were opened for Indians. What distresses us is the fact that this education is being imparted to us by suppressing India’s rich heritage of culture and knowledge…We should cultivate in the hearts of young Indians such strong pride and such deep awareness about our national heritage that makes them rise above the barriers of caste and community.” Dr. Mookerjee complimented the Gurukul “for demonstrating that in our country it is possible to create a proper balance between the fundamental aspects of the Indian civilization and the needs of the scientific and technological era.”

Dr. Mookerjee’s words show that our great leaders were never against modernity and scientific and technological progress. However, what they stressed as an ideal was modernity with an Indian personality, and not imported and supplanted from outside.

Need to protect and promote Sanskrit, Hindi and Indian languages

Esteemed teachers and dear students, I am happy to be at Gurukul Kangri for another reason. Yours is one of the few universities in India that was not only founded to promote education through Hindi and Sanskrit, but has kept that tradition alive even today. I am not against English, and I do not think that any Indian should oppose English for the sake of it. After all it is the repository of immense knowledge from the modern era. Over the years, it has become as much a language of Indians as it is a language of Britishers or Americans. Nevertheless, I believe that Angrezi and Angreziat are two different things. Angreziat connotes a sense of superiority complex, which, unfortunately, has survived in India long after the British rule ended in our country.

In this context, let me give an example from my own life, which I have mentioned in my recently published autobiography. I knew very little Hindi during the first twenty years of my life (1927-47) I spent in Sindh. But I studied it diligently after I migrated to this part of India after Partition. I came from Rajasthan to Delhi in 1957 to assist Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the parliamentary wing of my party. Those days, whenever the telephone rang at my residence and I happened to pick it up, my first expression was (it still is), “Haan ji.” To which, many times, the response from the other side used to be: “Sahab ghar mein hain?” (Is sahib at home?). And I would tell them, “Aap ko Advani se baat karani hai, to main bol raha hoon.” (If you wish to speak to Advani, you are talking to the right person.)

When we talk of India’s national heritage, we must remember that our linguistic diversity is a very rich part of this heritage. Each of the Indian languages has a precious treasure of knowledge, cultural and artistic wealth, folk memory and spiritual enlightenment. Unfortunately, one of the ill-effects of globalization has been the neglect of Sanskrit, Hindi and other Indian languages. This is especially true about university and college education, but is now rapidly spreading in secondary and primary education, too. This neglect must be arrested and reversed.

I would like to mention in this context that the United Nations has proclaimed 2008 as the International Year of Languages, recognizing that genuine multilingualism promotes unity in diversity and international understanding. It also emphasized the paramount importance of the equality of the Organization’s six official languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish). Sadly, there is not a single Indian-origin language among these, although the number of Hindi-speaking people exceeds those that speak Arabic, French, Russian and Spanish.

Two contradictory aspects of the Indian reality

Friends, six decades after attaining freedom from colonial rule, India today stands at a crossroads. On the one hand, India is progressing in some areas at an unprecedented speed, rapidly catching up, in select parameters, with the so-called developed nations of the world. For people of my generation, both the pace and nature of change in India in recent years are unprecedented. There is far greater material prosperity today, albeit it is being enjoyed by a small section of society, and also far greater self-confidence among Indians.

Never before since 1947 did India enjoy so much attention of the international community as now. Indians are being seen as big achievers. By excelling in both academics and professions, Indian students are earning a remarkable place for themselves in the eyes of the world. This year, just recently in the United States, there were two major annual contests — one was the prestigious National Geographic magazine’s geography contest and the other was the Scripps’ International Spelling Bee contest, which tested proficiency in spelling and language. Both of these contests were won by Indian children living abroad.

In previous decades, we used to complain about the phenomenon of “Brain Drain” — our most talented and best-educated young men and women leaving India for greener pastures abroad. Now the trend has reversed and become what is called “Brain Gain”. A recent survey showed that for a majority of IIT graduates, who earlier used to migrate to USA in large numbers, the preferred country for career development now is India.

A big shift in global power equations is currently taking place. The world has come to recognize that India will be a decisive player in shaping the global economy and global affairs in the 21st century. A principal reason for this is our enormous pool of human resources, as can be seen from the fact that two-thirds of India’s population is below 35 years of age. Indeed, as many of as 10 crore young Indians, above the age of 18, will be voting for the first time in the 2009 parliamentary elections. If this vast reservoir of human resources is properly educated and empowered, it can indeed create miracles in the future.

While this is one aspect of the reality, the other is the many glaring inadequacies, imbalances and distortions that we see in our national life. Non-fulfillment of the material needs of a majority of our population, combined with the growing legitimate aspirations and expectations of this section of the population, poses a serious challenge before us. Rich-poor divide and urban-rural divide are widening at an alarming and unprecedented pace.

However, I would like to caution against the tendency to see the challenge before the nation purely in terms of material inequality. Even where material progress has taken place, it is not of the kind that enriches life in an all-round manner. In a nation that rightly prides in having a hoary civilisational and spiritual legacy, we are also seeing widespread erosion of morality in politics, governance, and various professions. With each new generation, our students are getting more and more educated. More and more MDs, PhDs and Masters degrees are bestowed upon deserving students. Yet, side by side with the increase in academic education, is the tragic deterioration of values and culture. Knowledge is flowering but wisdom is withering.

There is also another worrying trend. Our national unity and social cohesion are coming under stress due to the rise of casteist, communal and parochial prejudices. Terrorism and religious extremism are being stoked by anti-India forces in our neighbourhood. And they are helped by a weak response from the government. A section of the youth is being misled by political ideologies that believe in violence and have a deep aversion towards our nation’s cultural and spiritual heritage. This can be seen from the spread of naxalite groups over a large geographical area. The victory of Maoists in Nepal is a worrisome development for India.

All-round flowering of the human personality: Indian model of educational development

How do we face all these challenges? The answer to this question depends on how far, and how fast, we bring about necessary changes in our political system, economic system and culture of governance. This is not the platform for me to express my views on the changes needed in these fields. However, I strongly believe that education is an equally important field where our nation’s ability to face present and future challenges is going to be tested.

The question that naturally arises is: What kind of educational development will enable India to successfully face the challenges of today and tomorrow? I believe that it has to be an Indian model, rooted strongly in the Indian soil, based on Indian’s needs, and guided by India’s integral view of life. Some days back, while speaking at the annual session of ASSOCHAM, which is a body of businessmen, I said that India needs to evolve an Indian model of development, taking the best from everywhere but without imitating any foreign model. I would say the same about the Indian model of educational development.

I am not an educationist. Indeed, I welcome ideals and suggestions from the teachers and administrators of institutions like yours on what kind of educational reforms we should implement, if the people give us a mandate to govern the country in the next parliamentary elections. Here I only wish to present a few broad thoughts on the subject.

The first and most important feature of this model is to develop a strong sense of patriotism among students of all backgrounds. Our students should have sufficient knowledge of such basic aspects of our national history, society, culture, way of life, our national heroes, our achievements in the past and present, and future goals as will make them proud to be Indians. National pride and awareness of national unity alone can help our people transcend the various diversities, which otherwise can become sources of divisiveness.

The Indian model of education should help students develop an all-round human personality. There is a need to provide high-quality education for all in diverse streams of academic knowledge and skills, combined with values, morals and sanskaras. Academic knowledge can help a person earn a livelihood. But it is the inner development of personality that alone can help him learn how to live life. That is what forms the basis of Indian education, and particularly the traditional Gurukul system.

We cannot perhaps revive and recreate the external aspects of the Gurukul system in today’s times, but its core is equally relevant even today. We should enhance the prestige and social status of a teacher to that of a “Guru”, because a teacher cannot merely be a purveyor of information or book-based knowledge. He or she should be in a position to impart wisdom, teaching students how to live life, inculcating in them a sense of right and wrong, and stimulating in them varied interests in the wonders of the world. It goes without saying that teachers’ own continuous training and retraining has to receive priority attention.

Far too often, we rely on alien methods of education in India. It is necessary to revive Indian systems of learning and teaching. As we know, many great minds have worked on this subject in ancient as well as modern times. For example, Mother of the Aurobindo Ashram has identified five principal components of education and also evolved appropriate ways of developing them among students: (1) Development of the power of concentration and the capacity of attention; (2) Development of the capacities of expansion, widening, complexity and richness; (3) Organisation of one’s ideas around a central idea, or a higher ideal that will serve as a guide in life; (4) Thought-control, rejection of undesirable thoughts, and the ability to think only what one wants and when one wants; (5) Development of mental silence, perfect calm and a more and more total receptivity to inspirations coming form the higher regions of the being.

It will be seen from this that Indian educationists have delved into the deeper potential of the human mind and how to actualize it through education. The present education system is aimed at developing a very small part of the mental potential of students. This is because of the one-sided emphasis on the fulfillment of the material needs of human beings. If this imbalance is removed, and more and more people are empowered through proper education to develop the hidden powers of their minds and hearts, we can indeed hope to see a qualitatively superior kind of social progress in the future. And this is what our seers like Swami Dayananda, Swami Shraddhananda, Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi, Maharshi Aurobindo and others had attempted.

The Gurukul Kangri University was born out of this Indian vision of education — to support the all-round development of the nation as well as the individual. Students who have graduated this year, and who received their degree certificates today, should be proud that they studied in such a great institution. They must try to attain excellence in their future studies and professional life, for that is what will bring recognition, success and satisfaction to you. However, they should also strive to live by the ideals and sanskaras that they imbibed while learning and living in the Gurukul.

On my part, I extend my best wishes to all the fresh graduates. And I once again thank Prof. Swatantra Kumar and others for inviting me to attend the convocation at such a hallowed institution.

Thank you.