The law mandates the University Grants Commission (UGC) concern itself with all matters academic and administrative in the higher education ecosystem in the country.
The law mandates the University Grants Commission (UGC) concern itself with all matters academic and administrative in the higher education ecosystem in the country. The fact that it is to be soon replaced with the Higher Education Commission of India is proof of how spectacularly it has failed to carry out its mandate. It is, therefore, surprising to see it rush to prod universities and colleges to mark September 29, which the present regime has designated as Surgical Strike Day, to commemorate high-precision attacks by the Indian armed forces inside Pakistani territory. This has nothing to do with higher education, let alone be under the UGC’s remit. A circular to the vice-chancellors of the 900-odd universities regulated by the UGC asks them to ensure students “pledge their support for the armed forces” via paper and digital letters. All institutions with NCC units will have to organise a special parade, after which the NCC commander will address students on the modalities of border protection. Universities/colleges will have to organise interactions with former members of the armed forces who will “sensitise the students about the sacrifices made by the armed forces”. Even without getting into the merits of the said surgical strike, the contested history of surgical strikes conducted by Indian forces, etc, the UGC circular sets a dangerous precedent.
With the election season nearing, the decision to observe a Surgical Strike Day a full two years after the martial action seems geared more towards political ends than any loftier aim—more so, given the current regime had politicised the strikes from the beginning as proof of its “decisive Pakistan strategy” vis-a-vis its predecessors. Predictably, West Bengal, ruled by an opposition party, has already said its universities will not implement the UGC order. Those who support the UGC action argue that this makes students appreciate the role of the forces and how the privileges of citizenship for civilians and army-men alike flow from a robust defence apparatus. However, the fact is that such appreciation can be sourced through ways that don’t involve celebrating any particular military action. Surely interactions with jawans through field visits, for instance, are a more effective way to get the civilian youth to appreciate the armed and paramilitary forces’ sacrifices? Moves such as “walls of valour”, tanks in campuses, etc, amount to unwarranted militarisation of academic spaces. It conflates the nation and nationhood with the nation-state, one that breeds political allegiance more than patriotism/nationalism, and this, in time, stifles legitimate criticism of the nation-state.
It is sad that the UGC has yielded its independence in this manner—even as it acknowledges that there could be differences of opinion on the matter, it meekly submits that its instructions are in accordance with a “government directive”. Having failed to ensure Indian universities figure among the world’s—indeed, Asia’s—best, the UGC is signing off as a mere tool of competitive politics.