1. BJP vs RSS: The battle over primary education in Goa

BJP vs RSS: The battle over primary education in Goa

The RSS and the BBSM have grown increasingly militant — warning that if the state government didn’t stop grants to English-medium schools by June 1, it would “find an alternative to the BJP”.

By: | Published: May 9, 2016 12:12 PM
Subhash Velingkar (L), Goa CM Laxmikant Parsekar (Source: IE) Subhash Velingkar (L), Goa CM Laxmikant Parsekar (Source: IE)

leadership of the party’s parent body, the RSS?

Ahead of the 2012 Assembly elections, the BJP, which was then in opposition, led a movement with the RSS and the Bharatiya Bhasha Suraksha Manch (BBSM) to promote “regional languages” such as Konkani and Marathi as the medium of instruction (MOI) in the state’s primary schools — ostensibly to protect and promote “local” languages. It strongly opposed grants-in-aid for English-medium primary schools, and promised to scrap them if voted to power. During the elections, the BJP gained both from the resonance of the campaign at the level of the gram panchayats, as well as the strategic alliance it had with leaders of the sizeable Catholic minority. However, after coming to power, the party has struggled to reconcile the two seemingly contradictory positions. The RSS and the BBSM have grown increasingly militant — with the RSS leading its familiar outcry against “minority appeasement” and warning that if the state government didn’t stop grants to English-medium schools by June 1, it would “find an alternative to the BJP”. The BJP, on the other hand, has alleged that many who are at the forefront of the agitation are “hypocrites” whose own children studied in English-medium schools, but who wanted other children to be taught in Konkani and Marathi. The government wants to bring a Bill on the issue of the grants, a move that has been vehemently opposed by the Sangh. As of August 2015, 134 primary schools had English as MOI in Goa, with around 30,000 students in all.

What has been the government’s position on this issue so far?

Soon after the BJP came to power in 2012, the Cabinet decided that the government would support and aid Konkani- and Marathi-medium primary schools, including offering special, one-time grants for start-up institutions. It refused to allow instruction in English medium at the primary level; however the government clarified that minority institutions that had switched from Marathi/Konkani to English MOI prior to June 10, 2011, would continue to receive grants. The government also set up a Select Committee to look into the Goa School Education (Amendment) Bill, which focused on promoting Konkani and Marathi at the primary level, including providing bilingual textbooks (Konkani/Marathi) in English-medium schools. The committee had had three meetings until February, but had failed to reach a final decision. Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar told The Indian Express that his government supported regional-language MOI at the primary level as demanded by the RSS and BBSM — and had, in fact, set up 86 new schools with Konkani and Marathi as MOI in the last four years. “But it is unfair to withdraw grants to the 130-odd institutions that have already been granted permission to teach in English,” he said.

How did previous governments in Goa deal with the question of Konkani/Marathi vs English as MOI?

The question was considered by Goa’s first Chief Minister Dayanand Balkrishna Bandodkar, whose government set up government primary schools in the Marathi medium across villages in the state. In 1983, Congress Chief Minister Pratapsingh Rane made Konkani or Marathi a compulsory subject even in English-medium primary schools. In 1990, the government decided that primary schools that switched to a “regional language” as MOI would receive grants. At the height of this financial stimulus, the number of Konkani-medium schools rose to 103, and the number of English-medium schools fell to 22. Also, then Education Minister Shashikala Kakodkar decided not to allow new English-medium primary schools — a decision that was, however, reversed by later governments. In 2011, out of the 1,283 schools in Goa, 139 were private unaided English-medium schools. The state governments took the view that English-medium institutions needed to be supported in order to provide global opportunities for Goans.

How many primary schools does Goa have? How important or emotive is the MOI issue for the people at large?

Until 2014, the government had reported 1,091 schools in all. NGOs and groups such as BBSM play a significant role in moulding public opinion. The NGO FORCE — Forum for Children’s Right to Education — has questioned the attempts at withdrawing support for English-medium primary institutions. “It is up to parents and children to decide the language of education, the government must not impose… Minority institutions have their limits; therefore, not only Catholic-run institutions, but others too must be granted aid for running English medium primary schools… How else will the lower income groups have access to English education?” Savio Lopes of FORCE told reporters against the backdrop of the agitation. On the other hand, the RSS’s state chief Subhash Velingkar has said: “The people will show the BJP government its place in the 2017 election if it continues its support to a non-regional language.”

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