Monday, June 23, 2008

Agitation over textbook lands government in trouble

The Opposition parties and various religious groups have come together to demand scrapping of a school textbook, landing the Left Democratic Front government in a fix. The last thing it wants is a gang-up of the kind that the first communist regime faced 50 years ago.

Last week the pro-Congress Kerala Students Union staged violent demonstrations all over the State, saying the Social Science textbook, prescribed for Class VII, was unacceptable. The Youth Congress also participated in the agitation.

The police resorted to harsh measures against the students.Among those injured in the incidents were a Congress MLA, TN Pratapan, and the KSU president, Haibi Eden.

Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan accused the KSU of resorting to Naxalite style of agitation. Pradesh Congress president Ramesh Chennithala said Balakrishnan was acting like Hitler.

The police repression brought the Congress directly into the battlefield. The party's top leaders, including Chennithala and former Chief Ministers Oommen Chandy and K Karunakaran participated in a protest sit-in outside the State Secretariat.

Congress leaders have charged the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which heads the ruling coalition, with attempting to spread its ideology through the Social Science textbook, which was prepared after the LDF came to power two years ago.

They have raised two specific objections to the book. One is that it seeks to promote atheism. The other is that it seeks to belittle the freedom movement and glorify Communist-led peasant struggles.

The book in question was introduced this year on the basis of the new curriculum adopted by the State Council of Educational Research and Training last year.

According to SCERT director MA Khader, the new curriculum is based on the one adopted by the National Council of Educational Research and Training in 2005. He claims the teachers involved in the preparation of the textbook were selected through a written examination, without regard for their political affiliation.

Few will give credence to the claim since the political parties are known to exert influence even when selection is based on written examinations.

The CPI (M), which commands the loyalty of a large majority of teachers and other employees, is particularly adept in this regard. K.Vikraman Nair, a former president of the pro-Congress Government School Teachers Union, has stated that the controversial book did not come before the curriculum committee at all.

Vikraman Nair, who was a member of the curriculum committee, has alleged that textbooks in various subjects were being prepared secretly even before the syllabus was finalised.

The Indian Union Muslim League and the Kerala Congress (Mani) have also come out against the Social Science textbook.

At a meeting called by Muslim League president Panakkad Mohammed Shihab Thangal, representatives of several Muslim organisations endorsed the view that the book propagates anti-religious sentiments.

Archbishop Emeritus Joseph Mar Powathil, who heads the Inter-Church Council of Education, has also criticised the textbook as anti-religious. The latest to join the chorus against the book is the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party. It has planned a series of agitation at the State and district levels from Wednesday.

Education Minister MA Baby's initial response was to dismiss the KSU agitation as a cheap political exercise. He said the textbook was prepared on the basis of an approach paper, which was discussed widely, down to the panchayat level.

However, as the agitation snowballed and the UDF prepared to raise it in the Assembly, which begins a month-long session today (on Monday), he put out feelers aimed at assuaging the feelings of critics on a selective basis.

He said if Mar Powathil and KM Mani gave their objections to the book in writing, the government would examine them. While ruling out withdrawal of the book, he offered to make amendments if critics should show that it contained objectionable material.

Baby did not extend the offer of talks to the Congress or its affiliates. Even so, Ramesh Chennithala and Youth Congress president T.Siddique said they would not enter into any talks until the textbook was withdrawn.

Various political parties and caste and religious organisations had come together in the so-called 'liberation struggle' which ended in the dismissal of the first communist government.

It is no longer possible to overthrow an elected government under similar circumstances. However, the LDF is aware of the need for caution when the possibility of early Lok Sabha elections is looming large on the national scene. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 23, 2008.

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