A political row broke out on Friday over the University Grants Commission communication to varsities to observe September 29 as “surgical strike day” with the ruling Trinamool Congress in West Bengal saying it will not be followed in the state and joined the Congress to allege the move was part of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s political agenda but the Centre asserted this reflected patriotism and not politics.
The Centre, however, said it is not compulsory for the universities and the higher educational institutions to celebrate the second anniversary of the surgical strikes on terror camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. An advisory not a direction has been issued to universities, said Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar.
Talk by ex-servicemen about sacrifices by the armed forces, special parades by the National Cadet Corps and visit to exhibitions are among the prescribed events by the University Grants Commission for the celebration. Colleges have been asked to organise parades by the National Cadet Corps and lectures by ex-army officers.
On September 29 in 2016, the Indian Army carried out “surgical strikes” on seven terrorist launch pads across the Line of Control as a response to an attack on its base in Uri earlier that month. The army had said its special forces inflicted “significant casualties” on terrorists waiting there to cross onto the Indian territory.
West Bengal Education Minister Partha Chatterjee criticised the BJP-led central government for trying to “malign and politicise” the army and said educational institutes will not abide by UGC’s directive.
“This is an agenda of the BJP and it is trying to push this agenda by using the UGC ahead of elections. It is a matter of shame that they are using the UGC to achieve their political agenda. We won’t abide by the directions of UGC,” Chatterjee told reporters in Kolkata.
“We would have understood it had they asked us to observe the day in the name of sacrifices made by our soldiers. We have full respect for our soldiers and their sacrifices.”
“The Indian Army has always been kept above politics and controversies. But now we are seeing that the BJP is trying to malign and politicise the Indian Army. This is not right and we won’t support it,” Chatterjee said.
BJP state president Dilip Ghosh said the TMC government has made it a practice to oppose each and every decision of the Centre.
Senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal sarcastically asked whether the UGC would “dare” to celebrate November 8, the day when demonetisation was announced in 2016, as ‘surgical strike day’.
“UGC directs VC’s of all universities to celebrate 29th September as Surgical Strike Day. Is this meant to educate or to serve BJP’s political ends?” Sibal tweeted.
“Will UGC dare celebrate 8th November as Surgical Strike Day depriving the poor of their livelihoods? This another jumla!” the former Union HRD minister said.
Javadekar said the UGC communication reflected “patriotism not politics”, and it is not compulsory for the academic institutions to organise any such event.
Javadekar, a senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader, rejected the criticism by opposition parties as “absolutely ridiculous and false”.
He told reporters in Delhi the ruling BJP differed with the Congress as it only gave advise to institutes to follow a programme while the opposition party made its decisions compulsory when it was in power.
“Where is politics? This is not politics but patriotism,” Javadekar said, adding that students needed to be informed about the surgical strikes, and military and civil works soldiers do.
He claimed that students and institutes had made suggestions that the second anniversary of surgical strikes should be observed.
Asked why it was not commemorated last year, he said a good suggestion can be executed anytime.