Politicisation of Education in India


As Marx had argued, the base and superstructure are two interlinked concepts, with the superstructure growing out of the base. Base, here refers to the productive forces, or the materials and resources, that generate the goods society needs. French theorist Louis Althusser in Ideology and the State (1970), expands this idea and explores the ways in which the state is more pervasive when it functions massively and predominantly by “ideology” with his concept of “Ideological State Apparatus (ISA)”. Althusser argued that the ruling class tends to maintain a degree of control over ISA to ensure a level of stability in its rule.  “To my knowledge, no class can hold State power over a long period without at the same time exercising its hegemony over, and in the State Ideological Apparatuses” (Althusser, 1970)

Education as an institution is also a part of Althusser’s ISA, and politics has influenced and shaped the educational policies of countries. Although education and politics are two different institutions, various studies and research have highlighted the symbiotic relationship between these two. The impact of this relationship varies from case to case, where, in some cases, they have added value to each other and in most cases, politics have used education for purposes such as promoting an ideology or institutionalizing a particular belief system. Ruling classes have politicized education in order to produce a population that follows its social, cultural and religious ideology. The government at various levels in a country exercise a certain degree of influence on education by deciding curriculum at various levels of education, appointing its members or sympathizers at the influential posts in educational departments and controlling the scale of socio-political activism permitted to students and staff.

With this essay, I try to present the Indian experience of the relations between politics and education by starting with colonial India and ending with the ways and reasons of the central and state governments in present India, for the Politicisation of education, tracing Nehruvian-era, post-Nehruvian era, and the era of globalisation along the way.

Politics and Education in Pre-Independence India

The Indian education system underwent a political change following the principles and needs of the British under the East India Company and later the British crown. The Company came to India as a business firm but gained strength and political control over the years, and later Indian territory came directly under the rule of the British crown. Before gaining much control over the sub-continent, Britishers started with the expansion of Indian Education without influencing its pattern and organization[1]. This was partially to avoid any backlash or fatal reaction from the Indian population, and majorly due to the controversy between the orientalist propagators and the Western propagators of education for India.

Thomas Babington Macauley also known as Lord Macauley is known for bringing English language and British education to India around 1835. His approach of introduction i.e., by minimalizing the use of vernacular and traditional languages was opposed to and debated at lengths by the Orientalists. Macaulay circulated his Minute on Education to offer his arguments and reasons for this change in the education system which was later formed into a policy and was signed by William Bentinck[2]. Macauley in his Minutes was clear on putting an end to Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian education in India and introducing the English system, “a fatal policy for Indian culture, language and education system” (Sharma, 2006).

Macauley’s aim behind the introduction of Western education was to create “a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect”. Britishers knew it was necessary to destroy Indian culture to strengthen their empire and to maintain superiority. And for this purpose, they destroyed Indian system of education, and replaced it with the western system. People with English education were given preference in government services which further reduced the presence of Indian language and education (Seed, 1952).

In his Minute, Macauley aimed at indoctrinating the idea of ‘White Man’s Burden’ through education, by establishing not just scientific but also moral supremacy of English language and culture, “A single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia,” – Macaulay (1835) wrote in the Minute. He was a British bureaucrat, charged with the formation of a “loyal local herd that would be indebted in serving the colonial administration” (Rajan, 2017) and he politicised the Indian education system to achieve that.

Eventually, the policy of repression adopted by the Britishers to suppress the first war of independence in 1857 hurt Indian feelings, and a process of rethinking started among the local population for the Indianisation of education. To maintain their influence and strength, Britishers adopted the divide-and-rule policy for education, special education was provided to the Muslims to array them against Hindus. Lord Curzon noticed the nationalist light among the local population regarding education and in his capacity as viceroy, he set up the Indian University Commission to encourage higher education with the mother tongue as a medium of instruction.

These instances reflect how Britishers used the educational system to influence the local population through political actions. This practice of politicisation of education was started by the Britishers to justify colonial rule in independent India, the indoctrination was colonialism in that era and is nationalist in today’s era.

Politics and Education in Post-Independent India

India got independence from British rule on 15th August 1947, and the government of independent India established several education commissions to suggest educational reforms and recommend comprehensive policies for education. The University Education Commission of 1948 was the first committee which was set up under the chairmanship of Dr S Radhakrishnan “to report on Indian university education and suggest improvements and extensions that might be desirable to suit the present and future needs and aspirations of the country” (University Grants Commission, n.d.). Mudaliar Commission of 1952-1953 was appointed next for the development of secondary education in Independent India. The commission stressed the need to train Indians in a democratic way of life.

The central government continued to assume responsibility for the maintenance of standards in higher education, research, and scientific and technical education, and the Indian state post-independence empowered itself with the prime responsibility of education, and controlled the entire “educational ISA”. Several ‘autonomous’ educational organizations, like the All-India Council of Technical Education, 1945 (AICTE), the University Grants Commission, 1953 (UGC), and the National Council of Educational Research and Training, 1961 (NCERT) were directly attached to the Department of Education headed by the Human Resource Development Minister of the government. Different Indian governments over time have used educational ISA to promote and indoctrinate particular ideologies.

Nehruvian-era and Education

Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, was influenced by socialist experiments and movements from other countries and after the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent, there was an underlying consensus on adopting socialism as a preferred way forward for India.

“The 1947 partition set the perspective in which India rose as a free nation. The Constitution that was adopted in 1950 was the product of two conflicting cultures: one representing the national leaders’ normative concern for India’s multicultural personality, shaped by her unique history and geography; and the other underlining their concern for unity, security and administrative efficiency. The former led to the articulation of secularism and federalism in the 1950 Constitution and the latter resulted in the retention of the very state machinery that had consolidated the colonial rule in India.” (Chakrabarty, 2008)

Nehruvian agenda of nation-making was the leading ideology in India, post-Independence and as the first Prime Minister of India, he emphasized the need for a scientific temper and wanted to create India free from religious and communal violence. Nehruvian ideology was almost hegemonic in India, at least till the late 1960s, due to his charisma and the organization of the Indian National Congress.

The impact of Nehruvian ideology in shaping the education of free India was clearly visible. New centres of learning like, IITs, NITs, IIMs, and AIIMS (Chikermane, 2018) were established under his leadership to create a modern/secular nation with the inculcation of scientific-temper and Indian cultural traditions in student’s minds. This socialist ideology in India reached its school textbooks. History textbooks, written by secular/left intelligentsia, during this time, which were intended to be modern and secular, came under a direct attack from nationalist historiographers, and were seen to be carrying a “Marxist imprint” (Nair, 2014) and were claimed to be reducing religious sentiments of the nation. Textbooks have since been a centre of controversy under various governments with allegations of historical revisionism.

The consensus over the Nehruvian agenda of nation-making and secular modernity started eroding in the early 1970s, with the shift in politico economy situation of the country after Jawaharlal Nehru’s death and the inability of the government to fulfil the promises it made during the formation of ‘new state’.

“Nehru had the understanding of primary education and was committed to it, but in terms of channelising resources, priorities or planning, there was a big failure,”- Amartya Sen (2011)

Post-Nehruvian era – Emergency and Janata Party Government

State and central governments during the first decade of independence were ruled by Indian National Congress, with time other political parties emerged victorious in state elections and this formed a problem for the central government to control education as it was a subject under the state list in the Constitution. Thus, education was made a concurrent list subject with the 42nd Amendment Act, 1976[3], also known as ‘mini constitution’[4] brought in during the emergency period by the then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi. This Act is known to be one of the most controversial amendment acts, for the nature of changes it made to the Indian Constitution. Janata Party Government premiered by Morarji Desai in 1978 aimed at undoing several amendments and excesses that were made to the Constitution by the 42nd Amendment Act with 44th Amendment Act, but the shift of Education from the state list to the concurrent list, which was also an attack on the federal structure by the Indira Gandhi government, was never undone. Janata Party government also intended to maintain the state’s control over education and wanted to promote its moral and religious ideological viewpoints through education. Lloyd Rudolph and Susanne Rudolph (1983) provide an engaging read about how in less than three months of the Janata party government assuming office, some of the textbooks were called “controversial and biased” with a “prejudiced view of Indian history”[5], the textbooks in question, Romila Thapar’s Medieval India and Bipan Chandra’s Modern India along with other historical works, were written by scholars from some of India’s most prominent intellectual institutions and departments. A committee set up in November 1977 to examine these ‘biased’ textbooks supported their continuance but the central government still withdrew R.S. Sharma’s Ancient India from the CBSE syllabus in July 1978. This can be described as an ideology of cultural nationalism, which emphasized the role of religious traditions and sentiments in the making of the Indian nation. The Janata Party government tried to promote the idea of a resurgent Hindu Nation, which would rest on cultural tradition.

This ideology of cultural nationalism spoke for the need for ‘value education’ and wanted the Indian education curriculum to arouse the learner’s belief and faith in Hindutva traditions. Propagators of this ideology rewrote school texts to alter the ‘errors’ made by secular scholars, and older texts were replaced with culture-sensitive texts during this time. (NCERT 2000).

Post-1990s: Globalisation and Education

The ideology of globalisation, which implies the principle of economic liberalization and privatization, was becoming increasingly influential all over the world in the late 1980s. Thirty years ago, i.e., in 1991, P.V. Narsimha Rao, the then Prime Minister of India made a landmark change in the nature of the economy in fundamental ways with the introduction of New Economic Policy (NEC) also known as the L.P.G. policy (Liberalisation, Privatisation, Globalisation). The ideology of globalisation is an indication of the state’s retreat from the economic domain.

The impact of the ideology of globalisation was bound to happen on education as well, and because of commercialisation, the educational domain in India started to be more commonly described as the “education industry, and not the service sector”. The greater emphasis on education was shifted to make students “ready to face the highly competitive world” (Pandey, 2021). A significant change was visible in the domain of higher learning, “universities were being pressurized to manage their resources, alter their curriculum and establish linkages with techno-economic empire”. A major focus of the new educational domain under globalisation was more towards the depth of knowledge in technological subjects suited for industrial progress, and a holistic perception of subjects and skill-set that equip students to face the real world was missing from the domain.

Rise of Right-Wing Hindutva Politics and Saffronisation of Education

The late-1990s saw a rise of “Right-Wing Hindutva” politics in India, religious fundamentalism and cultural beliefs became an influential force in national politics for the first time, and the voter base of Bharatiya Janata Party and other right-wing political groupings strengthened during this time in India. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) dominated the coalition governments from 1998 to 2004, the election manifesto of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in 1999 attacked the educational reforms carried by the previous governments and stated:

“The cherished goal of universal primary education enshrined in the constitution, which was to have been implemented in 1960, yet remains to be achieved. We hold that education is both a human right and means to bring about transformation to a dynamic, humane, thinking society.” (NDA 1999)

In the name of ‘Education for All’, BJP moved towards a new, nationalist agenda through education. Party hardliners Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti from BJP kept control of the two prominent posts in HRD Ministry, and as sponsored by the state NCERT and UGC, operated as organizations promoting the Hindutva-nationalistic educational philosophy of BJP. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and BJP sympathizers were appointed as members or heads of these educational bodies.

NCERT in 2001 issued its curriculum framework under the slogan ‘Indianize, Nationalize and Spiritualize’, with this framework foreign influence in Indian culture and history textbooks was purged and ‘traditional Hindu or Vedic science’ research was pushed for,

“State universities and colleges got big grants from the government to offer post-graduate degrees, including PhDs in astrology; research in… cow-urine and priestcraft was promoted with substantial injections of public money.” (Nanda, 2005)

A massive ‘saffronisation’ of education was carried forward by the BJP in the name of presenting an ‘accurate picture’ of Indian history and culture. The government argued that it was correcting ‘formerly one-sided interpretations of history, but went ahead to promote anti-minority and communal outlook through textbooks. Several pages from high school history textbooks were deleted and statements that “killing cows was forbidden in the Vedic period” were added.

A similar politicisation of education to promote a particular ideological narrative is seen even today, one of the incidences of this under the present BJP government headed by Narendra Modi (2014-present) was observed when NCERT made controversial changes in class XII Political Science textbooks by altering a heading related to 2002 Gujarat riots from, “Anti-Muslim Gujarat riots” to “Gujarat riots”.

To institutionalize hatred for ideologies other than that of the ruling party, ‘Institutions and universities across the country, which have consistently attained top National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) scores and rankings according to National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF), are being declared as “anti-national” spaces and grounds of seditious activities.’ (Gill, 2020)

The trend of setting up an ideological perspective through educational textbooks is also being followed by state governments; Vasudev Devnani, education minister of the Rajasthan state government (2003-2008; 2014-2018), added an extra ‘dose of nationalism’ in History textbooks of Rajasthan,

  1. By introducing the Hindutva ideologies of Veer Savarkar and almost removing Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi from these textbooks.
  2.  By rewriting the Battle of Haldighati, 1576; class X history textbooks of Rajasthan now state that Maharana Pratap defeated the Mughal emperor Akbar in this battle.

And by other changes like describing the Congress party as a ‘nurtured baby’ of the British. (Ahuja, 2017)

Many more such instances related to ideological interventions in education come from various states like

  1. MP where Shivraj Singh Chauhan government in 2007 removed sex education from school curriculum citing cultural and moral grounds; or from
  2. West Bengal where Mamata Banerjee’s government in 2017 added a full chapter on her Singur movement (Bhattacharya, 2017) and in;
  3. August 2021 when Mamata Banerjee accused the BJP government at the centre of influencing UPSC to ask CAPF candidates to write about West Bengal poll violence, and the West Bengal State Commission asks a question about the mercy petition written by VD Savarkar (known as Father of Hindutva) to Britishers.

where an interlink of politics and education was used or is being used by governments.


Education and politics as seen in the long history above, are interlinked and influence each other in a society. Governments have used education as a logical entry point to initiate a process of change or a particular indoctrination in society. The case of India is no different either, various governments over 74 years of independence brought in various reforms, bills, and changes in the education system to cater to their ideology and belief system. Such a practice of politicizing the education system goes against the democratic principles of providing freedom of thought and speech among the citizens. A biased education system does not let you think broadly and analyze matters in a non-partial manner. Thus, it becomes important to provide a non-biased education to follow in the footsteps of true democracy and produce intellectual global citizens.

[1] Warren Hasting established Calcutta Madrasa in 1780; Jonathan Duncan opens Banaras Sanskriti College in 1791

[2] Governor General of India (1833-1835).

[3] “Statement of Objects and Reasons appended to the Constitution (Forty-fourth Amendment) Bill, 1976 (Bill No. 91 of 1976) which was enacted as THE CONSTITUTION (Forty-second Amendment) Act, 1976”.

[4] The Amendment made changes to the Preamble, to 53 articles, and to the seventh schedule of the constitution, extended the tenure of Lok Sabha and attempted to override Supreme Court Judgement in Keshavananda Bharati case.

[5] P.M. Office U/O No. 40 (277) 77 PMS, may 28,1977.


Ahuja, Manoj. 2017. “In Rajasthan’s Revised History, Maharana Pratap Defeated Akbar in Haldighati.” Hindustan Times. September 23, 2017. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/in-rajasthan-s-revised-history-maharana-pratap-defeated-akbar-in-haldighati/story-GBxfXfh6kiRSnIQHMGLwAJ.html.

Althusser, L. (1970). Ideology and state

NDA. (1999). NDA MANIFESTO 1999ghosh.

Bhattacharya, Snighendu. 2017. “Mamata and Her Singur Comrades Walk into School Text Books.” Hindustan Times. February 20, 2017. https://www.hindustantimes.com/kolkata/mamata-and-her-singur-comrades-walk-into-school-text-books/story-Z6Nnx5t9aHo5D8oJbp03nO.html.

Chikermane, Gautam. (2018). 70 Policies that Shaped India: 1947 to 2017, Independence to $2.5 Trillion. Observer Research Foundation.

Ghosh, S. C. (1995). Bentinck, Macaulay and the introduction of English education in India. History of Education24(1), 17-24.

Nair, D. (2013). The other side of silence: Religion and conflict in Indian textbooks. In Controversial History Education in Asian Contexts (pp. 72-88). Routledge.

Nanda, M. (2011). The god market: How globalization is making India more Hindu. NYU Press. Nanda M. https://www.india-seminar.com/2005/545/545%20meera%20nanda1.htm

NCERT. (2000). National Curriculum Framework for School Education: A Discussion Document, New Delhi: NCERT.

Pandey, K., & Kumar, N. (2021). The Impact and Challenges of Globalisation on Indian Education System. International Journal of Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity12(1), 781-786.

Rudolph, L. I., & Rudolph, S. H. (1983). Rethinking secularism: Genesis and implications of the textbook controversy, 1977-79. Pacific Affairs56(1), 15-37.

Seed, G. (1952). Lord William Bentinck and the reform of education. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society84(1-2), 66-77.

Sharma, R. N., & Sharma, R. K. (2004). Problems of education in India. Atlantic Publishers & Dist. (ch 31 on page 324)

The Indian Express. 2021. “UPSC Asking Questions given by BJP: Mamata Banerjee on CAPF Exam Row.” The Indian Express, August 13, 2021. https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/kolkata/politically-motivated-questions-in-capf-recruitment-exam-west-bengal-cm-mamata-banerjee-7450990/

University Grants Commission ::Genesis. n.d. Accessed September 02, 2021. https://www.ugc.ac.in/page/genesis.aspx

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