Published: 21st February 2019
Every Indian who can, must visit Kashmir and make friends: Farooq Abdullah
The seasoned statesman from Kashmir spoke to Blessy Mathew Prasad about how tolerance and sense were needed to bring peace and of course, education held the key to a better India
I have travelled the length and breadth of this world, but I have never, ever seen a country like India, began Dr Farooq Abdullah, former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir and Chairman of the JNC, his voice resounding with true patriotism. It got me thinking — Here's a man who undoubtedly loves his country, whatever his political affiliations or ideologies are. So why does he or the other people in his state have to constantly prove their loyalty to the country when the rest of us are spared? Why is it that an entire community has to fight for their right to be recognised equally? Apart from political solutions, is there anything that the education system can do to preserve diversity and equality in this country? Seated in his room while at the ThinkEdu Conclave in Chennai, Dr Abdullah answers this and much more. Excerpts...
In an environment that is becoming increasingly intolerant, what role do you think education can play?
Intolerance has certainly increased since 2014. There is no doubt. You saw the lynching of Muslims. You see the attack on the institutions. Even the CBI or RBI, they have been more or less made part of the government. They are no longer independent institutions. Education can be a solution. Education should be above politics, whichever government comes to power. They should not play with the history of India. Our history is complex. We can't play with Mahatma Gandhi's role, Lal Lajpat Rai's role and all the others who fought for freedom, many whose names we don't know. That history must be preserved. Education must be neutral.
(From left to right) Union Textiles Minister Smriti Irani, The New Indian Express Editorial Director Prabhu Chawla, Former J&K CM Dr Farooq Abdullah at the ThinkEdu Conclave
What role do you think minority institutions have in building the country?
Minority institutions have two roles. While imparting religious education, they must also impart modern education, and teach students to become good students. They should teach them that everyone has a right to survive. I studied in a Christian school and I studied the Bible, but I didn't become a Christian. I was just taught the values they followed. You have madrasas, which might teach religion. We must give enough funds to these schools so they can also teach Science, Math, English, Physics and Chemistry. While religion is important, these subjects are also important. Everyone is not going to become an Imam. They might find other jobs, and for that they need education. Similarly, there are Hindu schools where only religious training is given. They should also be given funds so that education goes deep down. We are a diverse culture, our food habits, our marriage rituals, everything. But what unites us is that we all belong to one nation. We have to protect Tamil, Telugu, Kashmiri...everything. That can be done by education — by first educating our children in their mother tongue with all the modern knowledge. Government school teachers get more money, but private schools produce better results because the government school teachers don't have it in them. So you need to build teachers, that's the first priority. Today, children don't know how to respect others because we are not building human beings, that has to be done first at home, then at school.
How far should the government have a say in education policy?
Government is important. You can't bypass the government. But government must be accommodating and flexible, not dictatorial. It should see what the local compulsions are and blend with it. Only when you give and take, you will do well.
Former J&K CM Dr Farooq Abdullah speaking at the ThinkEdu Conclave 2019
What can youngsters do to close the gap between J&K and the rest of the country?
There is so much of mistrust on both sides created by the government for the vote bank. That's what we're suffering from. When we can build friendships with the Arab world, talk to students in Australia, have pen friends, why can't we do that with people from our own country? Everyone who can, must visit Kashmir and build friendships.
Do you think coalition politics can take India forward?
In the coalition government during Vajpayee's time, there were 23 parties. India didn't go backward. Anywhere you go, you see roads as good as in Europe. This was done by the coalition government. Coalition politics is not bad, it is how you handle it. 23 parties had their differences, but they had one common goal - the good of the nation. As long as the leader can hold everyone together, it can take the country forward.