Vadnagar’s Kumar Shala Number 1 was a school not unlike many others, despite a long history since its establishment in 1888. But like the town itself, the school began to attract attention after Narendra Modi’s life and career came under minute scrutiny the moment he became BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in 2013. The interest in the school where Modi attended primary classes has led to the shala being developed as a “prerna (inspiration)” centre for schoolchildren. This will be part of a project to showcase Vadnagar as part of a 2,000-2,500-year-old civilisation. Several places in Gujarat have, over the past several decades, been identified as ancient heritage sites and taken up for preservation. As part of the project, two children from every district will visit the school every year for a week for an “immersive” experience in the school where Modi studied. The children will be given lessons about India’s history and heritage with the use of latest technology. The school, also known as the “Vernacular School”, has been restored by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), retaining its original architecture. It was declared a heritage property and renamed “Prerna Kendra” in 2017. The first batch of 30 students is expected to visit the school, which has eight classrooms, later this year. Last year, ASI announced that Vadnagar town and two other places—the Sun Temple at Modhera, also in Gujarat’s Mehsana district, and the rock sculptures of Unakoti in Tripura have been added to the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The government’s development project for Vadnagar, where excavations have also brought out the ruins of a Buddhist monastery, includes a state-of-the-art museum where 50,000 excavated artefacts will be displayed.
There was a time was when Atma Ram Sanatan Dharma (ARSD) College, located on Delhi University’s (DU) South Campus was synonymous with a ‘rough’ reputation. It was hardly a college of choice and students who gained admission there were often filled with dread about passing through its portals. It was, on the other hand, a roosting place for ‘students’ who had no interest in academics and were more inclined towards lawless activities. In the current National Institutional Ranking Framework, ARSD occupies the fifth spot just behind storied colleges like Miranda House, Hindu and Presidency College, and several ranks ahead of neighbour Sri Venkateswara College which has always attracted students who scored highly in their school-leaving examinations. ARSD’s rise, however, has not been sudden and has been reflected in previous rankings by government and other agencies. It has focused on an experiential approach to teaching which has been an important part of research methods used by the faculty. The ‘gentrification’ of colleges like ARSD is partly due to a rise in cut-offs or admission marks as the number of high scorers in board examinations went up and seats in universities like DU, despite additions, did not keep pace. But ARSD always had its strengths and has several eminent alumni. The college continues to suffer due to its old reputation deterring applicants but its fortunes seem to be changing.
China’s Blind Spot
Also at the Shangri-La Dialogue, a senior Chinese military delegate said India will not be able to present a “threat” to China as it lags in defence manufacturing and modernisation. According to media reprints, senior PLA officer Zhao Xiazhou said India was yet to make any of the major weapons systems like tanks, aircraft and warships its military uses. The military gap between India and China is certainly undeniable. But India has no intention of ‘invading’ Chinese territories. Its efforts are geared towards adequately defending its territory and deterring China’s aggressive actions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Beijing is aware that India’s success in holding China to a stalemate on the LAC in Ladakh and its insistence that there can be no normal ties unless the border is peaceful are being watched closely by Asian nations. Despite continuing deficits and vulnerabilities, India has started closing the gap on the border. Chinese military strategists, usually dismissive of India, have been forced to take more careful note of India’s changed profile than they would care to admit.
The recently concluded Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore is an annual event of considerable interest as it brings together leading defence ministers as well as senior spooks (whose interactions are not so obvious). The enhanced focus on the Indo-Pacific has made the forum even more relevant and this year, too, most participants were concerned with the region. To China’s discomfiture, despite the reluctance of smaller Asian nations to speak critically of it, the sentiment at the discussions did not favour the communist giant. Most nations in its neighbourhood are deeply disturbed by its unilateral and bullying behaviour, and worryingly for China, the US does not seem to have lost focus on the Indo-Pacific despite its preoccupation with events in Ukraine. Rather, the Quad model is being replicated with the US and Japan pulling in other nations, such as from among ASEAN members, into economic and security-related arrangements. A key nation in this context is Indonesia, an archipelago that straddles the Indian and Pacific Oceans stretching some 5,000km east to west. The geopolitical significance of the country has been obvious but it is only recently that India stepped up its engagement with Indonesia under President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) since 2014 when he won his first election not long after Narendra Modi became prime minister. Like Modi, Jokowi was a regional administrator with a reputation for transparency, and won again in 2019. Now, ASEAN nations are forming “mini Quads” and Jokowi’s description of the Quad and AUKUS as partners rather than competitors is not exactly music to the mandarins in Beijing.
Old And New Allies
BJP is keeping its options open in Andhra Pradesh where it is in a good place, with both ruling YSRCP and opposition TDP seeking cordial ties. TDP is keen on reviving its alliance with BJP, and while YSRCP leader and Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy is not looking for allies, he is not part of the opposition mobilisation against BJP. Now that elections are not too far off, and the Andhra Assembly is coterminous with Lok Sabha in terms of its tenure, the BJP brass is getting down to some serious thinking. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent advice to party leaders that they should make efforts to convey the message that BJP is not against regional parties is not a stray comment. On the one hand, it seeks to counter regional opposition parties that attack BJP as a behemoth insensitive to regional aspirations. On the other, it can also signal a readiness to do business with smaller parties, including those who parted ways with NDA.