Modi’s educational qualifications — An unnecessary controversy

By Rajiv Shah
Ever since the controversy – if can be called that – broke out last year about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BA and MA degrees, I had been informally telling some of those involved in questioning his educational qualifications, including Ahmedabad-based political activist Roshan Shah and a few scribes, that, what I know for sure is, he was an MA student in Gujarat University. I am naming Roshan – whom I have found to be a fine person with good insights into local Gujarat issues, and a keen campaigner against Modi and Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel on social media (something Modi’s opponents utterly lack) – because he was a kingpin in raising this and similar such controversies, citing RTI pleas and complaints.
Not that doubts about Modi’s educational qualifications did not exist earlier. They did exist even in my mind after he became Gujarat chief minister. Yet, these doubts seemed to have got cleared, when during an informal gathering, I asked Dinesh Shukla, a veteran retired professor of political science at the Gujarat University, what the reality was. I vaguely remembered what Professor Shukla told me more than a decade ago: “Modi was my student in MA political science, he used to attend classes, but I don’t know where he disappeared later.”
Following the latest controversy, I decided to again approach Professor Shukla, just to be doubly sure. After all, I have always respected him as one of the handful Gujarat-based academics with a strong human rights slant. And this is what he told me: “Yes, it is true, I told you that. Modi did attend MA part one classes, but was irregular. He lacked attendance, as did many other students in the class, hence I and my colleagues decided to complete their attendance registers in such a way that they could appear in the examination. However, never saw him in MA part two. There are now newspaper reports which say that he became an external student.”
On Sunday morning, I thought, the controversy had ended. Even as Arvind Kejriwal awaited facts on Modi’s educational qualifications, “Ahmedabad Mirror” carried a story that Modi “completed his masters in political science with a score of 62.3 per cent in 1983” from Gujarat University, citing official records. But I was proved wrong.
In my eagerness to prove that I was right, I posted on Facebook, saying the “unnecessary controversy should end” following the “Mirror” story. No sooner came a reply from Jawaharlal Nehru University’s well-known Prof Kamal Mitra Chenoy, a very insightful academic whom I have known since my student days: “It is elementary that in such controversies, one cannot rely wholly on one article from a prominent newspaper from the same politician’s state.” It sounds strange, I thought. Why doubt a Gujarat-based daily just because it happens to be from Modi’s state? He added, “Especially when there has been a lot prior effort to ferret out the facts through the chief information commissioner (CIC), etc. the university/college certificates/records are most important.”
I decided to chat with Roshan, something that I do with friends during morning tea. And this is what he told me: That the image the “Mirror” story carries, of Modi’s roll number, has a different data of birth, August 29, 1949, than the one Modi has officially declared as his own, September 17, 1950, and that this was the “new evidence” suggesting documents had been “recreated”. He chatted on: “It looks like records that didn’t exist are fabricated now.” Soon, a well-known media site “broke” the story of “different birth date”, quoting Roshan.
And this was followed by Congress spokesperson Shaktisinh Gohil hurriedly calling a press conference on Sunday in Ahmedabad, questioning Modi’s real birth date. “Does it befit a Prime Minister that he lies on such issues?”, he asked, wondering, “His family claims that a wrong birthday was entered into his school records because his mother was not educated does not make sense, because Modi’s family has consistently claimed that Modi’s birth date in janma patri also is 1950. Why were different birth dates used by Modi at different periods of his life?”
The date of birth struck me, August 29… Wasn’t August 31 the cut-off birth date for admitting children in Gujarat schools during the good old days when Modi may have been got enrolled in school? Confirmed an expert on primary education, “True, August 31 used to be the official cutoff date of birth for admission under the Bombay Primary Education Act, 1949. This Act was in force in the Bombay State before Gujarat became a separate state in 1960, and remained in force thereafter, too.”
A veteran commentator on social issues suspected that Modi’s parents “may have” got entered August 29 as the date of birth in their enthusiasm to get him admitted before he actually acquired the age to be enrolled in school. “There’s nothing unusual here, it was common, especially in regions which, before Independence, were under the Gaedwad rulers’ Baroda State, where primary school admission was compulsory”, he added.
Meanwhile, I can already notice a simmering discomfort among Modi’s critics in Gujarat over what they term as “unnecessary controversy” on Modi’s academic qualifications and, now, date of birth. Sukhdev Patel, whom I respect more as a child rights activist despite his recent meanderings into politics, said, “I don’t understand why such issues are gaining so much publicity when there are so many issues to agitate on – failure of public distribution system, right to food, rising unemployment which has led to the recent Patel agitation, to name just a few.” Well-known political analyst Achyut Yagnik, taking a similar view, said, “Congress people seem to be have stopped applying their mind. That’s why they are coming up non-issues.”

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