Interview : Anil Swarup

Former Education Secretary
MHRD, Govt of India

Q.1
Tempted to begin by asking if writing a book is now a trend for all civil servants? If yes, is it fiction or non-fiction that reigns and what could be the reasons for the genre preferred by these writers?

A. Each one would have a different reason for writing a book and it would unfair to guess the reason. Only the person writing the book can explain why he is doing so. I wrote the book to convey a message to the fellow civil servants and those that want to get into civil service that irrespective of the problems, if a civil servant so desires, he can still perform and do a lot of good. Fiction can easily be written while in service but you can’t be critical of the government while in service.

Q.2
You have been a policy maker as well as a creative writer. Why is it that education in India is looked down upon by those in the West? It is always rote learning vs perceptual learning and Indian students lose out in more than one way when they apply for higher studies abroad or for jobs.

A. I don’t think education is looked down upon even though it is true that it has not been given the desired focus. Consequently it suffers in our country. Indian students have performed marvelously all over the world. However, the quality of education leaves a lot to be desired for the masses. So, there is enormous potential to improve as there are indeed centres where quality education is being imparted. We have to understand, appreciate and replicate these models.

Q.3
What is the probability of creative writing becoming a serious partner in school education in the country? Please remember that our class X board exams focus on an objective layout and aim to get brownie points for having high pass percentages. As a result we come across students who score 100 out of 100 in English but cannot write an application that they weren’t asked to learn-by-heart by the curriculum. Do you think we need to explore the validity of long answers and creative expressions now?

A. This needs to change. We cannot have objective questions in English literature and other social sciences. The tragedy is that all the stake holders seem to be happy with this “delusion” of high marks.

Q.4
Education policies devised at the centre vs what the states/UTs prefer, particularly if the political masters are from different parties, for instance in Delhi… is conflict necessarily present? How easy and how time-affected does conflict-resolution remain so far as education is concerned?

A. Our obsession with policies has to go. India is too diverse a country to have a single policy that is defined in Delhi. What we need is a well defined action plan for each region clearly outlining what needs to be done, how will it be done, who will do it and by when it will be done?

Q.5
Why is it that whenever governments change, the first casualty is always the syllabus? Why it that the core of history is quite is literally figured out-of-shape? Where and when does this stop?

A. I don’t think this is true. There have been marginal changes now and then but there hasn’t been a wholesale change in the syllabus.

Q.6
Why is it that even in the civil services examination it is the marks scored in theory papers that have the ultimate power in deciding the rank an aspirant gets?

A. I am personally of the view that the civil service entrance examination should also undergo a change. Attempt should be made to find leaders and not only those that are good at academics. There are tools available these days to assess leadership qualities of an individual. These tools should be used.

Q.7
Has the cult of intolerance finally found a foothold in the genetic make-up of our civil servants… considering the way dissent, freedom of speech, and creative license is dealt with in the country? There are cartoonists arrested, people held for questioning the government on the social media, and even books being banned — and all this happens even as really harmful fake news gets political patronage. Why can’t the civil servants stop kowtowing to their political masters, if I may say so?

A. I would believe what is happening now is a temporary phase. It has happened in the past and the country recovered from it. Ours is a resilient democracy and has stood the test of time. Difference of opinion is the essence of democracy. As far as civil servants are concerned, their commitment has to be towards the constitutional values. There are all types of civil servants and a large number of them do not kowtow to the politicians. That is the reason why the constitutional norms do get restored periodically. There needs to a greater recognition of such civil servants. Society needs to stand by such civil servants. Once that happens the number of such civil servants will grow.

Q.8
Do you think retirement makes a civil servant bolder and more open to voice the truth?

A. It is inherent in the nature of each individual to be outspoken or not. Before retirement the outspoken ones, bound by the code of conduct, do not go to town with their views but express them on files. However, post retirement they are not bound by such rules and are able to express their views in public. It is not that they suddenly start expressing their views though there could be a few exceptions.

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