Please Leave The Children Alone

By Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s rather frugal standards, this is going to be a marathon speech, lasting not less than 45 minutes. Since he would be addressing students – and more importantly their parents – of government and government aided schools across the state, one presumes he would speak (read out, to be more precise) in Odia. For someone who begins sweating even while reading out an Odia text written in Roman script for five minutes, this one surely would be a Herculean effort with the attendant risk of tripping at some hard-to-pronounce (by his standards, that is) Odia words and causing a guffaw in the process.

If the Chief Minister has still decided to go ahead with doing something he has never done in his 17-year long reign, there has to be some solid reason for it. While the Chief Minister or anyone else in the state government is unlikely to come out with the reason, one can always look for possible clues in the circular that the Principal Secretary in the School and Mass Education department has sent to Collectors of all districts on November 2. The circular asks the Collectors – who also happen to be the Chairpersons of the RTE/SSA of the district – to ensure that ALL students of schools listen to the Chief Minister’s broadcast on November 14, Children’s Day. To make sure that nobody opts out of the broadcast on grounds of non-availability of TV sets, the letter enjoins upon the school headmaster and members of the school management committees (SMCs) to ‘contact villagers/parents having television set with set up (sic) box facilities to watch the programme.’

More importantly, each school has been asked to send two parents, along with two students and a teacher, to attend the programme at the GP/block/district level with a cap of 200 participants at the district level function and the rest 1000 spread across GP/block level dos. That is not all. All schools have to organize SMC and Parent Teacher Association (PTA) meetings in the school premises on November 11 to finalise preparations for the D Day. The schools have to submit a report on the attendance of students/teachers/SMC members to the SPO by the next day, i. e, November 12 ‘for onward transmission to the government’ – just in case some headmasters try to act smart and hold a perfunctory meeting or, worse still, not hold the meeting at all! [The fact that November 11 happens to be Prathamashtami and the children, many of them padhuans (first born), would have to forego their holiday either did not occur to the mandarins sitting in the state secretariat or was not considered important enough!] SPOs have been asked to provide a detailed report on the attendance at the Children’s Day event by 3 pm the same day. Some reports suggest schools have also been asked to furnish photographic/video evidence of the attendance.

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The effort to involve the parents does raise eyebrows. Why on earth does the government have to force parents to attend a function meant essentially for children? The answer, as anyone with a bit of common sense can see, has more to do with politics than Children’s Day. The S & ME department circular itself gives the game away with its list of subjects for the debate competition to be held for students of Class VIII to X. As many as five out of the eight topics suggested for the debate have to do with the Naveen Patnaik government’s ‘sterling’ performance in various fields. Sample this. “The government is committed to the development of education”; “Odisha on the march; Odisha ahead in ALL programmes at the national level”; “Our government, Our Development: Various welfare measures of the state government”; “Proud Odisha: Chief Minister gets Best Administrator” award” and “Successful organization of 22nd Asian Athletics Meet: Matter of pride for Odisha”! Students now studying in Class VIII to X would be too young to vote in the next Assembly elections in 2019, but the idea perhaps was to create voters for future elections. In any case, the children can always influence the voting behaviour of their parents in the next election. [One must thank the government for the small mercy of sparing students below Class VIII this unabashed propaganda!]

A few years ago, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had earned a lot of goodwill when he decreed that school students need not wait to welcome him after a few cases of children fainting while waiting for him in the scorching sun. It is hard to believe that the same Chief Minister has now allowed something that would turn a day of fun and frolic to a blatantly political exercise they have no clue about.

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Given that he has everything going for him in the next election with no serious and credible opposition in sight, one wonders if he needed this ill-advised exercise to score some political brownie points.