Two days ago I had been invited by a local private school to be a judge at an Inter-School debating contest. The alumni association of the host school had organized the debate. The students were to be chosen from Classes IX to XII. Ten schools sent their teams consisting of two students each. Four topics were proposed for the debate and the teams were asked to choose one topic. One student would speak for the motion while the second would counter it.
The four topics were:
A) Examinations are a hindrance to true education.
B) The population of India is an asset/liability.
C) Scientific inventions bring progress or destruction.
D) Is India spending too much of its resources on “Project Tiger?”
The Nilgiri district in Tamil Nadu is well known for the number of private schools that exist there. Quite a few of them are over a hundred years old, and have a history and traditions that have made them into institutions of excellence. I was, therefore, not surprised at the consistently high standard of the debate, and it was difficult, in the end, to decide upon the winners. Those who eventually carried the day were not winners by any significant margins.
During this event I also met the principal of the school, who was new to the district and had taken over just a few months ago. He had come from Mussoorie in Uttarakhand. I was startled when he told me that the standard of education in Tamil Nadu schools was rather poor, and did not compare favorably with that of Uttarakhand.
Judging by the quality of the debate I found that statement rather astonishing. When I asked him to elaborate, the principal said that the quality of education imparted by the government schools in Tamil Nadu was of a very poor standard and now the government was setting those standards as the norm for the state. What he meant was that the syllabus was being structured for all schools keeping in mind the low standards in government schools. He was of the opinion that in a few years from now the students of Tamil Nadu schools would be unable to compete with their peers from the rest of the country.
Today I came across this news item on page 4 of The New Indian Express (Coimbatore edition):
This, I am afraid, is the state of education in Tamil Nadu today. These small islands of excellence that exist in the Nilgiris, and maybe, in a few more places, are doomed towards extinction if no corrective measures are undertaken immediately. The greatest classical civilization of the subcontinent, that has existed for thousands of years and has survived through the dark ages of colonial rule with its rich heritage largely intact, is today facing a cultural and social impasse that has been brought upon it by its own people.
The Dravidian politics that have submerged the Tamil land for close to fifty years has now morphed into, what one may call the Talibanization of Tamil Nadu. With the deaths of Annadurai and MGR, political power has passed into the hands of the Karunanidhi family on the one hand and Jayalalitha on the other. Both the parties that they lead have left democratic norms far behind, and while the DMK is now a family enterprise, its rival, the AIADMK is a sole proprietorship of Amma. The Congress has long been consigned to the fringes and with its present comatose situation in the center; it is almost as good as dead in the state. Both the Dravidian parties have used their times in office to amass personal fortunes that would have been the envy of a Croesus.
In the singular pursuit of wealth, the governments of the state of Tamil Nadu have survived on bribing the voters with freebies and through the patronage of the rent-seeking classes. Tamil Nadu is perhaps the most corrupt state in the nation, and judging by what the principal of the school told me two days ago, it will soon be overtaken by Bihar and UP in the field of education.
The tragedy of Tamil Nadu is that apart from the DMK and the AIADMK there is no other political party that has the financial and manpower muscle to vie for a significant portion of the electoral pie. These two parties have alternatively ruled the state and brought it to its current sordid pass. The bigger tragedy is that with Jayalalitha convicted for corruption and disbarred from office, the state has effectively no CM, and therefore, no government. With the AIADMK enjoying absolute majority in the assembly there is no likelihood of a change in regime until the next elections.
Though Amma has appointed O. Panneerselvam as the CM; he is, at best, only a rubber-stamp. Deprived of any real authority, the CM and his cabinet can hardly be expected to take meaningful decisions. The drift in governance is acute and the state is caught in a downward spiral that seems never-ending. The DMK too is in a state of paralysis and can hardly mount any real political challenge at this time.
The only way this state can halt its ignominious decline is through the emergence of an alternative leadership within the AIADMK that can challenge the autocratic rule of Amma. I do not know if such a leader actually exists as most of the functionaries of the party have practically no base of their own and have been surrogates for Amma. But extraordinary situations throw up extraordinary leaders.
I hope there is someone out there who has the good of Tamil Nadu at his heart and who has the courage to stand up and be counted. The emergence of Narendra Modi at the center signifies a major shift in the political thinking of the voters, and there is no reason to believe that the voters of Tamil Nadu are any different. Freebies and bribery are no longer the only means to electoral success. People are demanding governance and accountability.
An alternative leadership that promises governance and accountability stands an excellent chance of winning against those who have only doles and empty rhetoric to offer. With Jayalalitha out of the reckoning, the AIADMK can redeem itself if a new captain emerges and takes over the ship’s command. By steering a course away from the shoals into which Jayalalitha was leading it, the captain can not only save his ship but also the people who are its passengers.
By: Vijaya Dar