Frontliner or Trustee: Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank’s first year as HRD minister shows up the man than the ministry

Last year (2019), on May 30, when Narendra Modi took oath as the Prime Minister for the second time in a row after returning to power in  the May 2019 parliamentary elections, the induction of Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank into union cabinet came as no surprise. As a heavyweight from his home state of Uttarakhand, Pokhriyal for obvious past reasons had to be shifted to Delhi in the interest of party.

The near meticulous rise that his political career has seen from being a teacher at a RSS-affiliated school to one of the youngest but controversial chief ministers of Uttarakhand (2009-2011), was simultaneously helped by his much publicized journey of being a ‘cultural’ poet and author. Till he became the minister for HRD in Modi 2.0 government, his literary achievements were only famous within the confines of the parivaar, outside world knew him as a maverick and ambitious politician, who didn’t fit into the definition of a sanskari follower.  

No guesses why a person of his background was handed over the supervision of an important, core and strategic ministry like HRD despite his persona and thinking being largely seen in contrast with the aspirations of a youthful nation. When proficiency or possession of English language was being acknowledged as a huge national asset and the biggest contributor to India’s vast global footprint and engagement, the first thing he did was to replace working of his own office in English with Hindi. On the face value there can be two reasons for this. One, his comfort level with language, which can be understandable and he has every right for choosing his own language of work. The second reason going by his penchant for Sanskrit and ancient knowledge or at least a public display of it, could be pleasing his bosses or doing at their behest.   

The very day he assumed office, he released the draft NEP and one year in office, the New Education Policy is still in ‘formulation’. The draft NEP circling from 2015 for six years now, is a mirror reflection of the priority that education has received from this government. The ‘Parivaar’ who put its man in charge of the HRD ministry, has been eyeing a ‘Cultural Revolution’ through education and perhaps sees national policy an instrument to kickstart it! Therefore he is blessed!!

However, Pokhriyal is proving himself an intern than a leader. Covid19 pandemic is so vast and potentially devastating that any education minister of a country of India’ size will lose all his sleep over it. The minister instead has started behaving like a section officer or an under secretary (to be more respectful), who is just eager to see every official paper/briefing passes through his table. When he should have been on toes, reassuring, talking to people, motivating them, he has left it to bureaucracy which traditionally has a regimental outlook and a vision which doesn’t go beyond limited boundaries.

When every segment of students, their parents, teachers, institutions and the whole system is badly affected and needs an inspiring leader rooted in logic, science and possibilities, he has preferred to tweet his poetry.

The challenges that the country faces in this pandemic and in the post-pandemic period are already enormous and difficult. Our universities and other education institutions will have to be leading lights of change and overcoming these challenges. Country will have to come with its own solutions in many cases. The disruption and opportunities that the pandemic has created will need an ecosystem that will not only be resilient but intelligent enough help economy to recover. It will need a lot of research, dedication and hands on skills. Similarly, young students need hope and role models to navigate their future lives under difficult circumstances. There needs to be an atmosphere of trust and commitment for this to happen and our HRD minister could be well advised to lead in creating this environment than peddling his own agenda.