Back in school, Independence Day celebrations began with a flag hoisting ceremony, singing national songs, a parade by National Cadet Corps (NCC), ending with some savoury food. My school witnessed a turnout of 90 per cent to the celebrations every year. It was a matter of joy, pride and fun to participate in the celebrations.
So it’s a bit strange to read that the Centre has directed states in India to follow a format prescribed by the Union HRD ministry. The Mamta Banerjee-led government in West Bengal refused to issue the directive to its schools and has rejected the Union-prescribed format. According to a report, the WB government felt it did not want to be told “how to feel patriotic or how to celebrate Independence Day”. The circular issued by the state specified that schools should begin “promotions” for participating in Independence Day. It also urged schools to create a “patriotic mood”.
According to the format, schools are to conduct quiz contests, lectures and debates about India’s struggle for Independence and martyrs of Indian soldiers. The questions for these quizzes will be available for download on the Narendra Modi App or on the government’s official website. (Umm, George Orwell’s 1984, anyone?). The schools were also advised to submit video recordings of the celebrations to the office of Sarva Shiksha Mission (SSM) by August 31, 2017.
But Banerjee has squashed the centre’s directive by instructing schools in West Bengal to not follow the format. According to a report, Partha Chatterjee, West Bengal Education Minister, says, “We are not necessarily opposing the centre’s proposal. But we have said that we will celebrate in our own way. We will not take lessons on patroitism from the BJP. The party at the centre has no right to give whip and dictate others about patriotism.”
Another report stated that the instruction to not follow the format came directly from Banerjee.
There were no education-centric directives meted out by the previous government. It is possible that Banerjee’s opposition is a political move against the BJP. But the fact remains that Banerjee has taken a secular stand against directives that makes Independence Day sound like a corporate festival with its series of “instill patriotism” PR campaigns. More importantly, more than a PR campaign, it’s just very authoritatively nationalistic.
Irrespective of political gimmicks, Banerjee standing up to the centre amid controversy surrounding I-Day celebrations is a bold move. You know how during Independence Day, everyone from restaurants to fashion designers make everything resemble a flag? Is that what the Centre wants? Our hearts and the liberty to celebrate democracy in a flag? In the light of I-Day directives made in bad taste – the Uttar Pradesh government having mandated that madrasa students compulsorily sing ‘Vande Mataram’ – Banerjee’s move is a good reminder of the need for less enforced and more inspired celebrations.