Sunday is Guru Purnima, the festival when students pay respects and gratitude to their teachers. Under Prakash Javadekar, the Human Resource Development (HRD) ministry will felicitate some of the topmost educationists of India on that day, and also President Pranab Mukherjee.
Mukherjee, whose term ends on July 25, used to be a lecturer at Vidyasgar College in West Bengal in the early-1960s, and the HRD ministry hopes to mark this Guru Purnima as a suitably emotional farewell to the President, who is admired by politicians cutting across party lines for his scholarship.
In 2016, within days of taking over as the HRD minister from Smriti Irani, Javadekar’s ministry held an event in Parliament to felicitate those Members of Parliament who have been teachers. The occasion was Guru Purnima and over 50 MPs, cutting across party lines, were honoured, including Congress’ Karan Singh and Janardan Dwivedi, Deputy Chairperson of Rajya Sabha PJ Kurien, Trinamool’s Saugata Roy, and many more.
Javadekar, starting with Karan Singh, the senior-most MP, presented a ‘Tulsi’ sapling and a CD of the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi to the MPs. Those who had attended the function still remember how moved 86-year-old Karan Singh was at the gesture when he addressed the gathering.
There were also requests from schools and colleges from his hometown Pune, a renowned education hub, to felicitate Javadekar after he was sworn in as the as the cabinet minister for HRD on July 5. Instead, Javadekar honoured the teachers who had taught him in school and college in Pune as his ‘Guru Pranam’ to them.
Academicians and even politicians from rival parties credit this winsomeness of Javadekar to have brought much needed stability to the HRD ministry, which had become a hotbed of controversy and fractiousness during the time of his predecessor.
In the two years from the time the Narendra Modi government came to power mid-2014, there was trouble at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Hyderabad Central University and questions were being asked about the Modi government trying to “saffronise” education.
Some of India’s well-known educationists would complain of the disrespect being shown to them by the ministry. One of them was Anil Kakodkar, India’s most eminent nuclear scientist. In 2015, the 73-year-old quit as the chairman of the board of governors of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay after a disagreement with Irani over the choice of an IIT director.
Two years after he quit, Kakodkar is set to return on the board of governors of IIT Roorkee. Javadekar is being credited with ensuring the return of the former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission of India and former director of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC).
In his year-long stint at HRD, Javadekar has tried to be a facilitator and consensus builder.
His days as a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson, where he was known for his soft-spoken but firm approach in putting forth his party’s point of view, his experience in dealing with a wide variety of issues and having rubbed shoulders with some of the best brains among MPs as a member of several parliamentary committees, has helped Javadekar keep his ministry out of controversies and focus on the ministry’s principal task of improving primary and secondary education in the country.
Javadekar has often said that he believes in dialogue, and his approach is simple – “either you convince me or you get convinced”, which has helped him defuse potential controversies.
Early in his tenure, Javadekar met students and teachers of JNU for a dialogue, which helped soothe frayed nerves at the institution. Javadekar has more than once gone on record to praise the institution for its achievements.
When accused of saffronising the New Education Policy, Javadekar accepted Congress MP Jairam Ramesh’s advice to hold a workshop of MPs, where over 50 of them from all major political parties attended and gave their suggestions. The exercise blunted much of the criticism on the issue.
While a minority objected, his decision to reintroduce Board exams at Class X level was welcomed by most, but the minister built consensus on the issue after wide consultations.
Under Javadekar, the HRD ministry has taken several small steps to improve primary and secondary education, online learning, training of teachers but also initiatives to make private education outlets more accountable.
He has also tended to focus on positives.
The latest example of this being Jammu and Kashmir. At a time when photographs of students, including girl students, throwing stones at security forces have dominated the narrative, Javadekar has been tweeting about the improvement in Kashmir’s school results.
“A total of 24,700 class XII pass students of J&K applied for PMSSS (Prime Minister’s Special Scholarship Scheme) for a total of 3,430 seats comprising 2,830 seats in professional courses,” he tweeted on July 2.
The minister said that in the first two days of counselling, top 1600 students were called and 670 professional, 112 generals and 82 medical seats were allotted in top colleges across the country. “This is real Kashmir, youth wants good education,” Javadekar said.
Not that Javadekar hasn’t come for criticism in Parliament, but his political rivals have found it difficult to escape his affability and have applauded him for his accommodative spirit.
Last year, Trinamool Congress’ Lok Sabha member Sugata Bose complimented Javadekar. “The minister is trying to reach out to leaders from across parties. It is a good sign,” Bose had told Lok Sabha.