September 10, 2001


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The Rediff Interview/Mohammed Shafi Uri

'Centre cannot force J&K to adopt Vedic Astrology'

Mohammed Shafi Uri, education minister in the National Conference government in Jammu and Kashmir, was one of the voices from the National Democratic Alliance to criticise the saffronisation of education. A veteran of Kashmiri politics and twice education minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Uri who was in New Delhi recently, spoke to Basharat Peer.

You recently participated in a meeting of non-NDA parties to oppose the move by the BJP led NDA coalition to saffronise education. It is being viewed as the National Conference’s way of showing displeasure at the prime minister and home minister’s remarks suggesting that the polls in J&K have not been fair.

The election commission of India has been supervising and controlling the elections in Jammu and Kashmir. So it is not fair to say that elections have not been fair. If there was a problem they should have gone to the election commission.

It is not because the National Conference is angry that I joined the non-NDA parties meet. But singling out Kashmir that there were no free and fair elections, is not acceptable. If there are problems with the system, they are not just in Kashmir but in the whole country.

Reacting to the Centre's remarks that elections in Kashmir have not been fair, G N Shaheen, a provincial chief of the National Conference recently said elections should be held under UN supervision. Is the National Conference considering such an option?

Shaheensahib's remarks have been in the context of what the Centre said. True enough, if the Centre thinks the election commission could not conduct free and fair elections it should look for alternatives.

It may request the United Nations or the Commonwealth to send their observers. It has been a practice in many African countries, where observers from the Commonwealth or United Nations oversee the election.

Then what really prompted you to join the non-NDA meet criticising the saffronisation of education?

India is a multi-lingual, multi-cultural country. Any education policy that tries to impose the culture of one particular community over others through education is unconstitutional. Such moves are a slap on the basic democratic and secular nature of the Indian polity.

We are not for the saffronisation of education. That is why not just me but even Chandrababu Naidu has criticised it. Almost every state, where the BJP is not in power has severely opposed it.

If you implement such policies other communities in India will feel neglected. There is bound to be resentment that their part of history is being distorted. So any such moves are not acceptable.

Why are the NDA partners opposing its policies?

Things like the saffronisation of education, are not in the common minimum programme of the NDA. If they proceed with such things, no partner is going to accept it. It is against the principles of the coalition. There is no national consensus on the issue of saffronisation, not even a consensus amongst the NDA partners. How can you go about it?

Would you implement such a policy in J&K if it is carried forward?

The central government cannot force us to introduce Vedic astrology in Kashmir. Jammu and Kashmir still retains a bit of its autonomy.

As per Article 370, education in our case is not a subject on the concurrent list. It is a state subject for Jammu and Kashmir, so we are not bound to follow the Centre. We will not allow Vedic astrology or any such courses which are against the spirit of the constitution of Jammu and Kashmir.

In the recent reshuffle the National Conference MP Omar Abdullah was not elevated to a Cabinet rank but the BJP MP from Udhampur, Chaman Lal Gupta was. What kind of a message does this send?

The reshuffle in the Union Cabinet is not really important to us. The PM had to elevate some people from his party, so he did it. It is his prerogative. What is more important for us is the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir, the economic development of our state, not a Cabinet reshuffle.

Of late there have been media reports quoting intelligence agencies that the madrasas are a security threat, hinting at their involvement in anti-state activities..

No concrete evidence has come out against the madrasas. There are newspaper reports but there is no evidence that madrasas are involved in anti-national or illegal activities. As far as running such institutions is concerned the Constitution of India gives the minorities the right to establish educational institutions. Any move to restrict such institutions would be contravening the fundamental rights.

What about the madrasas in Jammu and Kashmir?

There are hardly any madrasas in Jammu and Kashmir. And those that are there, are purely institutions that impart religious education. We do not have any complaints.

Threats have been issued against women in Kashmir, directing them to be in veils by the Lashkar-e-Jabbar, what will you be doing to ensure their safety?

The fact is that students should attire themselves in what is acceptable to the society. But as far as the threats or coercion to enforce any particular dress code is concerned, it is not legitimate.We will take all the steps necessary to protect the students.

Till now nobody has followed these diktats and the religious organisations too have opposed it. But keeping in view the circumstances we will take all precautions.

Talking about the education system in Kashmir. What steps are you taking to bring Kashmir at par with the rest of the world in information technology?

I am conscious that we are lagging behind. Circumstances have been such. But this academic year (November) onwards we are introducing computer education in higher secondary schools.

We have a bachelors degrees programme in computer applications in some colleges and are going to cover the remaining ones. Apart from that we have industrial training institutes at district levels, where we are starting certificate courses in computers. Then, with the help of a World Bank sponsored Rs 70 crore project, we are upgrading, diversifying and increasing the intake in our polytechnics.

Are you taking any specific steps to provide educational facilities like boarding schools, scholarships to children who have lost their parents to the ongoing violence in Kashmir?

Our government has constituted a rehabilitation board, which is looking into the issue. Work is being done on it. But yes, there are no special boarding houses or schools for such children.

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