Concerns mount over ‘saffronisation’ of Sainik schools as RSS, allies take over

The Reporters' Collective has found that the Centre handed over 62 per cent of new Sainik Schools to Sangh Parivar, BJP politicians and their allies

Upon collating information provided by the Union government’s press releases and other data sought under Right to Information (RTI) Act, The Reporters’ Collective has found that the Centre handed over 62 per cent of new Sainik Schools to Sangh Parivar, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politicians and their allies.

The allocation of newly constructed Sainik Schools to the Sangh Parivar and BJP leaders has sparked massive controversy and raised concerns about the politicisation of educational institutions in India. 

According to reports, the Union government has designated Sangh Parivar members, including politicians and allies of the BJP, to be in-charge of a large percentage of the 40 new Sainik Schools established between May 2022 and December 2023. 

MS Education Academy

Making ‘generation committed to Hindutva’

“Data compiled from news releases issued by the Union government and responses to requests for information (RTIs) reveals an alarming pattern. According to the Collective’s research, out of the 40 Sainik School agreements that have been signed so far, at least 62% have gone to schools associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its affiliated organisations, BJP politicians, and allies in politics, Hindutva organisations, and other Hindu religious organisations.

According to the Reporters’ Collective not only were BJP office bearers on the list of approved parties but various Hindu right-wing groups and RSS-linked institutions were also granted permission to operate Sainik Schools. 

Seven of these schools were allotted to Vidya Bharati,  also known as Akhil Bharatiya Shiksha Sansthan, which is the educational branch of RSS. These seven schools are located in Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Kerala, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, and three of them are in Bihar. Among the groups in charge of the schools is Bhausahab Bhuskute Smriti Lok Nyas, a branch of Rashtriya Sewa Bharti, the social service arm of RSS. 

Frequently charged with historical revisionism, brainwashing, and anti-Muslim rhetoric as per the collective’s reports, Vidya Bharati is transparent about their purpose. In 1978, the RSS founded Vidya Bharati to oversee the increasing number of schools under its jurisdiction. With 3,158,658 children enrolled in its 12,065 schools, it is arguably India’s largest private school network. Their website states that they aim to “build a younger generation which is infused with patriotic fervour and committed to Hindutva.”

Concerns over saffronisation of Sainik schools

The decision to entrust the management of prestigious institutions to individuals associated with the Sangh Parivar has led to concerns regarding the potential influence of political agendas and propaganda on the educational system.

Critics have flagged concerns about handing over educational authority to these radical groups, which will influence the future of young students. The involvement of political figures and radical ideological groups in the administration of educational institutions raises questions about the neutrality and educational values that should guide the functioning of such establishments.

Taking to micro-blogging platform X, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor lashed out at BJP over the matter. Tagging defence minister Rajnath Singh, the senior Congress leader wrote: “How on earth can this shameless government compromise India’s national security *and* its education system in this manner? The #Agniveer scheme is already an assault on the professionalism of our armed forces. Now this compounds the shocking disregard for the standards that have made our sainiks among the most respected in the world. Please withdraw this decision, @rajnathsingh ji!” 

General secretary and national spokesman of Shiromani Akali Dal, Parambans Singh Romana also slammed BJP and wrote: “A brazen attempt by RSS to infiltrate the only institution (defence forces) untouched by politics till now. Ministry of Def chooses RSS affiliates and Hindutva groups to run over 60% of new Sainik Schools.@BJP4India.” 

Senior Congress leader Prithviraj Sathe wrote, “With BJP members overseeing 62% of Sainik Schools, concerns arise about the curriculum. Will children be taught unity or division, harmony or discord?” (sic). 

First time in history

According to the reports, this is for the first time in the history of Sainik School that the government has allowed private parties to join the Sainik Schools Society (SSS),  receive financial support, and operate the schools.

The Union government opened the door for private companies to take control of Sainik Schools in 2021. That year, the government announced plans to open 100 new Sainik Schools around India in their annual budget.

In a cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on October 12, 2021, a plan to operate the schools “as an exclusive vertical which will be distinct and different from existing Sainik Schools” was approved.

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