With some political parties questioning the timing of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's proposed address to students on Teachers' Day Sep 5, Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani Monday clarified that listening to the address was "completely voluntary".
"This particular activity is completely voluntary and if there has been any miscommunication over this issue and is (seen to be) politically contrived, I would say it is regrettable," she said.
Irani sought to dismiss apprehensions that the central government was planning to observe the day as "Gurutsav".
According to a government circular, all schools across the country have been asked to make arrangements for children to view Modi's live address on television.
The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has directed schools to make arrangements for the event between 2.30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sep 5.
It has also sought a report on the arrangements made by the authorities and the number of students likely to attend the address.
Modi is scheduled to address students and hold an interactive question-answer session from 3 p.m. to 4.45 p.m.
While the Congress and the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) questioned the timing of Modi's address, some parties from the southern states expressed apprehension that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government was seeking to associate the word "Gurutsav" with Teachers' Day.
Teachers' Day is celebrated Sep 5 to mark the birth anniversary of India's first vice president Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who was also a great philosopher. Schools organise functions to honour teachers on that day.
Modi's speech would be telecast live on Doordarshan. It would also be available on the website of the human resource development ministry.
Since schools usually close by the afternoon, some principals here questioned the timing of Modi's speech.
"It is good the prime minister wants to connect with children. But he can do it during the school hours. Why hold the interaction in the afternoon when most schools are closed?" Jyoti Bose, principal of Springdales School in south Delhi, told the media.
The principal of another private school told IANS: "We will have to stay in the schools till 5 p.m. Where is the respite for teachers on this special day?"
Congress leader Manish Tewari questioned the timing of Modi's address.
"If the prime minister wants to share his pearls of wisdom with the children of the country, the least he could have done is adjusted the speech timing with the school timing rather than making students stay back after school and causing inconvenience to them and their parents," he said.
CPI-M leader Brinda Karat said Teachers' Day was not "prime minister's day".
"If the prime minister wants to speak to the children, he should do at a time which is convenient to them," Karat told IANS.
Modi will interact with students of Delhi schools in person and those from Leh, Ladakh, Port Blair, Silchar (Assam) and Imphal among others through satellite links.
Complying with the directive, some schools have already sent messages to parents.
"Students of Classes 1-12 must be present in schools Sep 5 from 2.30 p.m. to 5 p.m. to watch the prime minister's live address," said one such message sent on mobile phones.
The Directorate of Education of Delhi said in a circular that any laxity in the arrangements shall be viewed seriously and also sought information about the number of students attending the event.
Tamil Nadu parties such as PMK and DMK expressed apprehension about Teachers' Day being renamed "Guru Utsav".
PMK leader S. Ramadoss said any move in that direction was an attempt to impose Sanskrit.
DMK leader T.K.S. Elangovan said the NDA government was seeking to introduce its policies in education. "They are trying to divide the country on linguistic lines," he said.
However, Irani told the media here that Gurutsav was just an essay competition being held as part of Teachers' Day.
"Gurustav is an engagement and opportunity for the students to dedicate a few words to the contribution of teachers in their lives. Anybody who has objection to the fact that teachers are to be revered... I regret."