Smriti Irani’s ‘Read India’ campaign evokes debate

New Delhi,Rohinee Singh: Read Gujarat is now Read India campaign. Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani is expanding Prime Minister’s Narendra Modi’s pet Vanche Gujarat to Read India.

Smriti Irani's 'Read India' campaign evokes debate

Vanche Gujarat was a universal literacy campaign adopted by the Gujarat government when Modi was serving as the chief minister of the state. The campaign aimed at creating reading habits amongst people and specially targeting the student community.

The HRD minister is now formulating guidelines to make it a pan-India reading campaign. The critics are however skeptical about the move and feel that it is an attempt to collude young minds towards a particular ideology.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) affiliates who had planned and conducted the campaign for Gujarat government when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat have been roped in by the HRD ministry to draw up plans for the national campaign. The Read India campaign is expected to take off in the next academic session.

“In the year-long campaign of the Gujarat government that took off in April 2010, 2.5 lakh students read one crore books over one year,” said, Harshad Bhai Shah, former Vice Chancellor of Children’s University, Gujarat. Shah has also been a former office bearer of the RSS and had steered the Gujarat campaign.

Targeting students group from class 5 to 12, students were given books to read and then were asked to give a talk on the books. These talks were organised not only in the schools, but also in residential areas and public spaces. While the school level students were given the choice of choosing their own books, the college students were asked to read about people who brought about social change. A list of 300 such books was then issued by the organisers.

Under the Vanche Gujarat program the students were first judged at school level, followed by district and at the state level. Funded by the state government, 15,000 sangh volunteers from Gujarat had then participated in the state wise campaign.

“During the campaign rallies were held across the state to encourage reading habits. Schools were asked to exhibit their books. Books that were gathering dust on the shelves were brought out. Members of the civil society were called to give talks to these students,” added Shah.

Shah also said that in his meeting with HRD minister Smriti Irani in November last year she had spoken to him about Vanche Gujarat. “She had expressed her desire to take the Gujarat model to the rest of the country,” he added.

Experts from Gujarat are now heading the Read India campaign. While in Gujarat it had been a one-year campaign, it is likely to be a longer nationwide campaign. “The challenges are different. Read India campaign has to be coordinated with states and to make it a success their participation is important,” said one of the planners.

The exercise is also a cadre-mobiliing exercise for the BJP and RSS. To take the campaign to the gram panchayat level, the sangh will be mobilising its resources. In Gujarat alone RSS-BJP had succeeded in activating its 15,000 volunteers. “To run a nationwide campaign we will need not just the state machinery, but also people who have been working at the grass roots. Many people will be asked to join the movement,” said a senior functionary.

The critics however view just developing reading habits cannot be a well conceived plan and is a plank to just collude the masses. “Reading has to come with writing and thinking. It is not just about reading the kind of literature the ministry wants the students to read. It has to come along with mathematical understanding, reasoning and logic. It is just a plot to compel students to read what this government thinks is readable,” said MM Ansari, former member of the UGC.