Favouritism in constitution of school board raises questions over commitment to educational standards, autonomy
Baba Ramdev’s links with the BJP-led government at the Centre have invited unflattering attention. That the baba has an ideological affinity with the Sangh Parivar is not the problem. The undermining of due processes to favour the yoga guru, however, raises questions. An investigation by this paper has revealed that in 2019, the education ministry subverted its own norms and procedures and overruled objections by an autonomous institution under it, the Nagpur-based Maharishi Sandipani Rashtriya Ved Vidya Pratishthan (MSRVVP), to push a bid by Ramdev’s Patanjali Yogpeeth Trust to set up a “national school board on Vedic education” — the Bharatiya Shiksha Board (BSB).
The education ministry envisages the BSB as an alternative to the Central Board of Secondary Education — it aims to draft curricula, affiliate schools, conduct examinations, and issue certificates. Transparency should have been a non-negotiable principle in the constitution of a body with such a crucial remit. It was, in fact, the biggest casualty. In February 2019, a selection panel constituted by the education ministry decided that the trust headed by Ramdev was the best among the three outfits that had placed bids to set up the new institution. But official records show there was more to the selection than the bidding process. In the six weeks before its panel approved Patanjali’s proposal, the education ministry changed the meeting agenda arbitrarily and ignored legal and procedural concerns raised by MSRVVP. The decision to invite private bidders for the new institution was a volte-face from the ministry’s original plan to set up a school board for “Ved Vidya” under the Nagpur-based institution — a project scripted in 2016 after the ministry shot down an earlier Ramdev proposal to set up a school board on the ground that this could open the doors for similar requests by other private players. The plan was, however, put on the back burner only to resurface in early 2019. The government gave no reason for changing course and the approval process was rushed through in two months, ensuring the constitution of the Patanjali-run school board before the Model Code of Conduct for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections came into force.
Bending the rules to favour any player in a matter as critical as education would be problematic. But Ramdev is a particularly controversial candidate. Amid the pandemic, he has tried to exploit people’s anxieties by making unscientific claims for products manufactured by his company, Patanjali Ayurved. He has railed against the allopathic system of medicine, for which he was mildly chastised by the government. The government must urgently review the setting up of the Bharatiya Shiksha Board, and bring transparency into the process.
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