As an anti-thesis to Sibal's aggressive ways of working, M M Raju's conciliatory demeanor will come in handy in convincing parliamentarians
Will the new leadership at HRD ministry bring about a new policy direction?
There are 20 bills pending (11 on higher education and 9 on school education) for passage in Parliament including the crucial National Accreditation Regulatory Authority Bill, Foreign Educational Institutions Bill, Prevention of Malpractices Bill and Education Tribunal bill. However, the HRD ministry – the custodian of the country’s education system, has rarely been in news for either failing to muster the necessary political support to push forward the bills or how it intends to end the logjam. Two instances where the ministry did make some buzz in the media and the intelligentsia were entirely for the wrong reasons – the cartoon controversy (a 1949 cartoon depicting Pandit Nehru and Dr B R Ambedkar by Shankar) when the then minister Kapil Sibal apologized in Parliament, and second being the reshuffle in the ministry which was more or less sabotaged by Modi-Tharoor-Naqvi-Raju comments. The reshuffle was much needed, as Sibal, donning two hats (Telecom and HRD), had little time to spare or prioritize for India’s education ills, burdened as he is with the scam ridden Telecom ministry and defending his ‘zero loss’ argument. There is immense optimism that the new leadership in the ministry would push for reforms and expedite work on long frozen bills.
There are reasons that the new team would make sincere efforts in seeing to it that a few of the pending bills are passed before the 2014 general elections. People in the political circle reason that as an anti-thesis to Sibal’s aggressive ways of working, M M Raju’s (the new HRD minister) conciliatory demeanor would come in handy in persuading, creating consensus and convincing parliamentarians across the political spectrum. Former UN Diplomat Shashi Tharoor, who is back in the cabinet, along with Jitin Prasad, is expected to infuse fresh ideas in the ministry. While it is true that the education portfolio is new turf for the trio, it seems that they are well aware of the problem at hand, are ready to take on the challenges and make a mark before the general elections.
As the new team works towards putting the reform agenda back on track, it will be interesting to see whether they will bring about new policy direction in a short span of 15 months or so, or will they continue to focus on policies laid down before the reshuffle. If the latter is true, it will be a big disappointment, especially given the credentials of the three ministers at the helm of HRD ministry. M M Raju, in a press briefing outlined that he would continue and consolidate the good works done by his predecessor in the ministry. Thus it will become all the more interesting to see as to how they will make a case for allowing foreign universities set up shop in India. Will they muster the courage to make way for greater investment in education to improve quality (at present the government spending on education is a mere 1.2% of the GDP)? Can the team led by Raju, Tharoor (both with global experience) and Prasad play a critical role in transforming the research environment in the country? Will they expedite the recommendations of committees headed by Narayana Murthy and Kakodar? And more importantly, can they bring RTE (the flagship legislation of UPA II that has woefully fallen short of its promise to ensure free and compulsory education to all children up to 14 years of age) back on track?
In their interactions with the media, the team has outlined their intent to make a mark. While time is a constraint, the greater impediment to the reform agenda could be the lack of political will by the leadership and a greater focus on myopic gains based on electoral politics.