NDA ’s undoing of his legacy
India has a long and rich tradition of great saints, seers, philosophers, teachers and intellectuals. The whole world has benefited immensely from their wisdom, learning,teaching and philosophy down the ages. Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was one such great master philosopher, teacher, statesman, speaker, author and administrator.
Born in a middle class family in the pilgrim town of Thiruttani on September 5, 1888, he had to face serious financial hardships. So, he had to depend largely onscholarships for continuation of his studies. His father, it is said, wanted him to become a priest. However, the talentsof the boy were soon gained recognition and he was sent to school at Thirupati and then Vellore. Later, he joined the Christian College, Madras. Drawn by accident intophilosophy, he studied philosophy and obtained B.A and M.A. degrees in the subject. He was very much enthusiastic about Hinduism, Vendanta and Hindu philosophy.
Dr. Radhakrishnan by his confidence, concentration and strong convictions went on to become a great philosopher. His first book, ”The Ethics of the Vedanta and Its MaterialPresupposition”, being his thesis for the M.A. degree examination of the Madras University, published in 1908, and established his fame as a great philosopher of undoubted ability. His later works also came out as landmarks in their respective fields. What distinguished him from his contemporaries was his ability to express abstract andabstruse philosophical thoughts in intelligible language.
To him, philosophy was a way of understanding life and his study of Indian philosophy served as a cultural therapy. By interpreting Indian thought in western terms and showingthat it was imbued with reason and logic he was able to give Indians a new sense of esteem and pride. This helped them overcome inferiority complex inculcated by the colonial rule and imperial forces. Still his philosophy was pragmatic and much grounded in sociocultural realities that didn’t overlook the outmoded features in our long andrich tradition. So, he called for an evolutionary approach and broad outlook.
Dr. Radhakrishnan believed that in India, the philosopher’s duty was to keep in touch with the past while stretching out to the future. This made his philosophical thoughts evenmore relevant to the task of nationbuilding and socio cultural reconstruction of newly independent nation. He sought to engage his philosophical and religious studies in the political and social developments of the contemporary context. This ensured his place as more than a mere academician.
His scholarly writings became visible manifestation of his commitment to the social cause and the crusading urgent tone pertaining to the same. His interpretations ofeven classical texts were complemented by a modern note. His intellectual resistance to the deforming pressures of colonialism provided the much needed intellectual creed and strength to the newly born nation like India. This went a long way in giving Dr. Radhakrishnan a distinct public image. Far from being a stern and severe intellectual remote from the world, Dr. Radhakrishnan was a very humane person.
Exceedingly popular among his students right from his early days as a professor at Presidency College, Madras he was an evocative teacher. He was offered the professorship inCalcutta University when he was less than 30 years old. He served as Vice Chancellor of Andhra University from 1931 to 1936. In 1939, he was appointed the Vice Chancellor of Banaras Hindu University .Two years later, he took over the Sir Sayaji Rao Chair of Indian Culture and Civilization in Banaras. Recognition of his scholarship came again in 1936,when he was invited to fill the Chair of Spalding Professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics at Oxford which he retained for 16 years. His mastery on his subject and his clarity of thought and expression made him a much sought after teacher.
Dr. Radhakrishnan was a highly respected figure abroad. He earned very early international recognition as a philosopher.
In 1952, the Library of Living Philosophers, an institute of worldwide repute, brought out a massive volume on ’the philosophy of Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan’ devoted wholly to acritical appreciation of his philosophical doctrines. In the last decades of British rule, his was the most sophisticated and exalted analysis of Gandhi’s work andthought. In free India he provided the ideological armour for Nehru’s foreign policy. After Independence, this philosophical luminary, who personified the essence of Indiayet had a universal vision, became an ideal ambassador to the Soviet Union, for the nascent nation poised to establish itselfin the international arena.
His commitment to high principles and unfailing dignity lent nobility and moral authority to all the offices which he held. In 1952, Dr. Radhakrishnan was chosen to be the VicePresident of the Republic of India and in 1962, he was made the Head of the State for five years. It was the glory of Indian democracy that an educationist aloof from politics but with an international acclaim as a profound scholar was placedin the position of the President. And it was an advantage for a young country like India to have him to interpret its domestic and foreign policies abroad to expound its outlookand aspirations emphatically and in the right way which was much needed in a world of uncertainty and disbelief among nations.
His appointment as President was hailed by Bertrand Russell who said “It is an honour to philosophy that Dr. Radhakrishnan should be President of India and I, as a philosopher, take special pleasure in this. Plato aspired for philosophers to become kings and it is a tribute to India that she should make a philosopher her President”.
History reserved for Radhakrishnan’s term of office as President much suspense and surprise. Within months of his ascendancy in 1962 there was the Chinese invasion. The nation’s morale was dealt a blow but Radhakrishnan’s voice, firm and resolute came on the air to reassure a shaken nation: “Owing to the difficult terrain and numerical superiority of the Chinese, we suffered military reverses. These have opened our eyes to the realities of the situation. We are now aware of our inadequacies and are alive to the needs of the present and the demands of the future. The country has developed a new purpose, a new will”.
Dr. Radhakrishnan had great faith in Indian democracy. In his farewell broadcast to the Nation on May 12, 1967, he said that despite occasional forebodings to the contrary, the Indian Constitution had worked successfully so far. But democracy, he warned, was more than a system of the Government. “It was a way of life and a regime of civilized conduct of human affairs. We should be the architects of peaceful changes and the advocates of radical reform”, he said.
Though a philosopher, scholar, administrator and statesmen, Dr. Radhakrishnan is more venerated in his avatar as a teacher. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru once said “He has served his country in many capacities. But above all, he is a great Teacher from whom all of us have learnt much and will continue to learn. It is India’s peculiar privilege to have a great philosopher, a great educationist and a great humanist as her President. That in itself shows the kind of men we honour and respect...”
He was a great educationist. He chaired the first University Education Commission also known as the Radhakrishnan Commission which produced a masterpiece on education policy. In that he argued that universities must focus on teaching democratic principles like liberty fraternity, equality and social justice, and explained in detail as to how understanding each of these principles impact society. The Commission made some landmark recommendations pertaining to ways and means for the improvement and reorganization of the University Education, problems of the teachers, curricula, medium of instruction, religious education problem of discipline, health and residence of the students and such allied problems in the perspective of the national and international conditions. It was in 1962 when Dr. Radhakrishnan became the President of India that his birthday on 5th September came to be observed as ‘Teachers’ Day’. It was a tribute to Dr. Radhakrishnan’s close association with the cause of teachers. Whatever position he held whether as President or Vice President or even as Ambassador, Dr. Radhakrishnan essentially remained a teacher all his life. The teaching profession was his first love and those who studied
under him still remember with gratitude his great qualities as a teacher.
The then prime minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru described Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan as ”the symbol of India”. If Nehru and Ambedkar are architects of our political institutions, Dr. Radhakrishnanan is definitely the architect of our social institutions. He had an unparalleled understanding of philosophy of religion and education, and an extraordinary ability to convert seemingly contradictory thoughts into complementary ones. But what made him even more popular was his warm heartedness and his ability to draw out people. This aspect of his personality continued to win him countless admirers throughout his long and illustrious public life.
For his contributions and in recognition of his meritorious service to mankind Bharat Ratna, the highest award of the nation, was conferred on him in 1954.
Congress leadership under Nehru and subsequent leaders particularly Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi made untiring efforts to incorporate the above mentioned ideals and vision of Dr. Radhakrishnan in their policy on education. This is reflected in various policy measures pertaining to education that seeks to ensure equality, social justice, liberty of thought and expression. Ensuring independence and safeguarding autonomy of universities, universalizing elementary education, promotion of literacy among weaker sections and women, enactment of Right to Education Act by UPA government are few steps taken by successive regimes under Congress party.
Dr. Radhakrishnanan views on an “ideal teacher” are contrary to many of the common teaching practices today. He warned against idolising teachers as gurus and becoming a congregation of faithful without openness of mind. He encouraged the students to question and criticize their teachers. The Indian education system did not change much from what he cautioned more than 60 years ago. “The process of education becomes dull and boring if we are unable to interest the live minds of the students. What they learn unwillingly becomes dead knowledge which is worse than ignorance. Learning is an activity of thought. It is not stuffing the mind with facts. We must be able to use what we learn, test it, throw it into fresh combinations. It must become vibrant with power, radiant with light” Unfortunately, the present NDA regime has left no stone unturned in undoing the task envisioned by our founding fathers and implemented successfully by political dispensation under Congress leadership. The massive cut in the budgetary allocation for higher education in the Union Budget 2016-17 should be seen as an alarming situation as higher education in India directly affects the learning and future of 30 million youth who are enrolled in colleges, universities and institutions of higher education.
More so the mindless actions and unilateral decisions taken by the BJP led government and more particularly the Ministry of Human Resource Development in the recent times reminds us of the draconian measure taken by the British government to control the higher education aiming to contain the sense of civil liberties, rationalism and nationalistic consciousness among the masses. Important example in this context is the new enactment namely Central Universities Act (CUA) by Modi led government. The CUA, inarguably is the 21st century avatar of the Indian Universities Act enacted in 1904 by Lord Curzon to curb the autonomy and independence of the Indian Universities. This is nothing but a shame and the sham of Modivian ‘Good Governance which supposedly is ‘pro people’ and ‘proactive’. The dichotomy of theory and practice is well visible where a clear dilution of people’s participation and rights are seen, be it in the modified bill of Land Acquisition or the CUA. The superimposition of the CUA is a definite violation of the rights of the teaching community and the students alike which shows how unparticipative Indian democracy stands in the 21st century.
Further explicit steps have been taken by NDA govt. towards privatization of education. A clear erosion of fundamental values of equality, liberty, democracy, accountability and responsibility from education system is conspicuous under the present Modiled government.
In another attempt to gag University education, the BJP led government in Gujarat has tried to recreate and replicate the conditions of the Indian Universities Act, 1904 which was designed by the then Viceroy, Lord Curzon to control the universities in the most complete manner. The GSHEC bill, 2016 recently passed by BJP led Gujarat government is a complete draconian Act which would take complete control over the academic, administrative and financial power of the university. According to this legislation, the proposed Higher Education Council shall include the C.M. as the President, Education Minister as the Vice President and the V.C.s as its members. Now this would clearly reduce the universities of the State, which are the centre for production, assimilation and dissemination of knowledge and ideas, mere handmaids of the government. This will also reduce the autonomy of the universities to function outside the undue executive pressure of the government.
Undoubtedly, this is not what Dr. Radhakrishnan has dreamt of. This a serious undoing to the vision and contributions of the Great teacher and maker of modern India. Today, our nation in general and education system in particular is facing tough times.
So it is a time to fight these fissiparous tendencies and divisive political forces. There is a great need to defend and revive his thoughts on the importance of building social institutions which can share the burden of political institutions. These institutions may not necessarily be based on religion.They can have their foundations on modern principles of individual rights, equality and fraternity, and operate through education. That would be a real tribute to one of the greatest philosophers and more importantly a great teacher
of modern India.
The author is from Department of History, A.R.S.D College, University of Delhi