Commercialisation and saffronisation of the education system has intensified in the NDA II regime of Narendra Modi. Funding has been cut for public educational institutions and some are being privatised. Through political appointees (who are often inexperienced and inept) and stooges, and through the RSS affiliated Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the ruling dispensation is curtailing democratic spaces in educational institutions.

In the 2013-14 budget, the education sector was allotted 4.57% of the total budget. This has been reduced to less than 3.8% in the 2017-18 budget. The 1966 Kothari Commission Report proposed that 6% of the GDP be allocated to education. More than 50 years later, the Modi government is on a mission to reduce funding for the entire education sector – including school and higher education.

For the Dept. of School Education & Literacy, Modi Sarkar spent Rs. 45,722 crore in 2014-15, down by Rs.1134 crore over the previous year (UPA’s last year). In 2015-16, Rs. 42187 crore is estimated to have been spent (revised estimates), further down by Rs.3535 crore and in 2016-17 budgeted allocation, the govt. has allocated Rs. 43554 crore.

The Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao Yojana – to save girl child and to ensure education and participation of the girl child – was allocated Rs. 43 crore in the 2016-17 budget. According to the Parliamentary Standing Committee report on the Ministry of Human Resource Development only Rs. 5 crore was utilised. It is evident that this government’s schemes are only gimmicks to convince a certain section of the society that development is taking place through online campaigns such as #SelfieWithDaughter.

The NITI Aayog has called for handing over the “student-challenged” schools to private entities under the PPP (public-private partnership) model. The plan is to hive off the education department into a separate autonomous directorate under “professional management”. The NITI Aayog is even exploring the possibility of the private sector adopting government schools and the government paying the private companies on a per child basis. The excuse given is that the government expenditure per pupil is too high and by involving the private companies the expenditure can be minimised.

Meanwhile, forced by the deterioration of learning in govt. schools, more and more parents are being forced to send their children to private schools that extort exorbitant fees and charges. All over the country, parents’ associations have been protesting against this racket but to no avail. Although CBSE issued a circular that schools should not indulge in such malpractices, the managements have paid no heed. This is because of the close nexus between politicians of several bourgeois parties and educational institutions. The central and state govts. are silently allowing this to continue because they are committed to privatisation at any cost.

In the name of educational reforms and autonomy, the NITI Aayog has decided to grant complete autonomy for so called well-performing universities. This is nothing but a move to reduce government expenditure on education and allow universities to hike fees. Jawaharlal Nehru University, Banaras Hindu University, Delhi University, Shri Ram College of Commerce and Lady Shri Ram College that are funded by the Centre could get full operational autonomy, including that in financial matters. The universities then would have to raise funds; the easiest way for which would be through imposing high fees on students. The National Institute Ranking Framework (NIRF) was set up in 2016 precisely for speeding this process of privatisation.

The unwillingness of the government to support education was evident in the 2015 UGC announcement claiming that non-NET fellowship would be stopped. Only after protests from student groups, did the MHRD repeal this announcement. From mid-2016 onwards the non-NET fellowship was delayed from two months to as long as eight months, putting students under severe hardship. IITs have increased fees up to Rupees 2.5 lakh per annum from Rs.90,000 in 2015. Instead of the government funding and subsidising education, it is minting money by providing loans to IITs. Students are trapped in paying off educational loans for a long period after completing their education.

Limited seats and limited funding in government universities is pushing students to take loans, join private colleges and making them captive to the bourgeois market. The ruling dispensation is finding every possible way to sell education to private companies.  Students protesting fee hike, privatisation and attack on fellowships are termed as “anti-national” and sedition charges are filed against them. 66 Punjab University students were charged with sedition under 124 A for protesting fee hike. The students were also booked under other sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), including 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapon), 149 (unlawful assembly), 332 (causing hurt to deter public servant from performing his duty), 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from performing his duty) and 308 (attempt to commit culpable homicide). Even the attack on JNU came soon after the students protested against the UGC’s decision to stop providing non-NET fellowship and clinched their demand. By portraying students of public universities in a bad light, the funding provided for them is questioned. Journalist Arnab Goswami hammered upon the “I don’t want my taxes to fund JNU anti-nationals” argument endlessly.

Another flank for attack is the saffronisation of education. The New Education Policy vigorously propelled by the government encourages teaching of Sanskrit in schools and has a significant component of ‘value’ education. History textbooks are being rewritten across the country. The Rajasthan education minister Vasudev Devnani has said that students will not read “distorted history” referring to Maharana Pratap’s lost Battle of Haldighati against the Mughals. In the annual academic calendar of Maharaja Sayajirao University, several sages were credited for contribution to science. Sushrut was hailed as the “father of cosmetic surgery”, Acharya Kanad was described as having “developed nuclear technology”, Kapil Muni for “father of cosmology” and others.

Anyone questioning the right-wing ideology is being crushed. Ambedkdar Periyar Study Circle in IIT-Madras was banned. Ironically that resulted in the formation of several APSCs across the country. A professor in Khopoli town, Raigad dist of Maharashtra was assaulted and arrested for asking why Shivaji’s birthday is celebrated twice every year on a Whatsapp group of his college colleagues.

The right wing government is appointing its stooges to push for cultural intervention in every public and private educational institution. Even though the students of FTII sat on 100-day long hunger strike against appointing Gajendra Chauhan as their Chairman, the ruling dispensation was completely relentless. Braj Kumar Bihari was directly appointed by the government as the Chairperson of Indian Council for Social Sciences Research (ICSSR). Bihari clearly lacks the academic and research credentials for the job and members of the ICSSR collegium have also said that they were kept in the dark over about his appointment.

The ABVP is working along with the administration and police to create ruckus in universities. Whether it is the attack on JNU, the institutional murder of Rohit Vemula, mysterious missing of JNU student Najeeb, attack on Pondichery Students Union magazine Widerstand, ruckus over inviting JNU student Umar Khalid to Ramjas College or continuous attack on Professor Nivedita Menon, the ABVP has a major role to play in all of them. At Shimoga university in Karnataka, ABVP students have created communal disharmony by wearing saffron shawls to college. When told it was an educational institute and that such explicit display of religion is not accepted, the ABVP students argued that if Muslim women can wear burkha, they can wear saffron shawls.

The administrations of universities are finding various ways to attack democratic spaces. A workshop on caste and social movements by Professor Ghanshyam Shah in Maharaja Sayajirao University was cancelled fearing that certain people might raise issues similar to that of Ramjas College. At English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), undertaking forms are being issued during admissions demanding students to sign stating they will not participate in protests. Show cause notices are being issued out to students for raising their voices. JNUSU Vice President Amal P. P. was issued a notice. So was HCU President student union President Kuldeep Singh Nagi.

The three of Modi government has made it clear that education and empowerment is not priority. Government funding for education is considered a waste. Students organisation like Students’ Federation of India (SFI) have been demanding 10% of yearly budgetary allocation for education, but the ruling dispensation is curtailing even the existing student friendly structures. But the nation continues to see hope in the form of massive student protests.