A Dangerous Trend

Saffronising Sainik Schools

Astha Savyasachi

Sainik Schools, run under the Defence Ministry’s guidance, send cadets to India’s armed forces. The new initiative however relies on ideologically slanted organizations to train future cadets.

In one of the holy cities in the country, Vrindavan, Hindu nationalist ideologue SadhviRitambhara runs a school for girls, SamvidGurukulam Girls Sainik School. Founder of DurgaVahini, Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s (VHP) women’s wing, she was a key figure in the Ram temple movement.

During one of the school events in June last year, the 60-year-old saffron-clad woman gets on the stage to address the students about ‘honour’, traditions, and rituals during a personality development camp. Her girls' school in Vrindavan and another, Raj LuxmiSamvidGurukulam in Solan, Himachal Pradesh recently joined the list of at least 40 schools that have signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with the Sainik Schools Society (SSS), an autonomous body under the Ministry of Defence (MoD), to run Sainik Schools under Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model.

In 2021, the Union government opened doors for private players to run Sainik Schools in India. In their annual budget that year, the government announced plans to set up 100 new Sainik Schools across India.

Any school having SSS-specified infrastructure–land, physical and IT infrastructure, financial resources, staff, etc–could potentially be approved as one of the new Sainik Schools. As per the approval policy document, infrastructure was the only specified criterion that made a school eligible for approval. This limitation enabled schools linked with the Sangh Parivar and organizations with similar ideologies to apply.
While the government expects the new PPP model to bolster the recruitment pool for the armed forces, the initiative that brings in political players and right-wing institutions into the military ecosystem has raised concerns.

In the history of the Sainik School education system, this was the first time the government allowed private players to get affiliated with the SSS, receive “part financial support” and run their branches. On October 12, 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi led a cabinet meeting that approved a proposal to run the schools “as an exclusive vertical which will be distinct and different from existing Sainik Schools of MoD.”

Until the new policy, 33 Sainik Schools housing 16,000 cadets existed in the country with SSS acting as its parent body. SSS is an autonomous organization under the Defence Ministry. Multiple government reports point to the importance of Sainik Schools in sending cadets to defense institutions. The Standing Committees on Defence have often emphasized Sainik Schools' role in preparing cadets for the National Defence Academy (NDA) and Indian Naval Academy. In one of the most sought-after military entrance exams to join NDA, according to the 2013-14 Standing Committee, nearly 20% of Sainik School students appear every year for the exam cut. According to data submitted in RajyaSabha earlier this year, over 11 percent of Sainik School cadets joined the armed forces in the last six years. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh credits Sainik Schools for contributing more than 7,000 officers to the armed forces.

Sainik Schools, along with Rashtriya Indian Military College and the Rashtriya Indian Military Schools, send more than 25-30 percent of the cadets to various training academies of the Indian armed forces.

According to the RTI responses, at least 40 schools have signed MoAs with the Sainik Schools Society between May 05, 2022, and December 27, 2023. A closer review reveals that out of the 40 schools, 11 are directly owned by BJP politicians or managed by trusts chaired by them, or belong to friends and political allies of the BJP. Eight are managed by RSS and its allied organizations directly. Additionally, six schools have close ties to Hindutva organizations or far-right rabble-rousers, and other Hindu religious organizations. None of the approved schools are run by Christian or Muslim organizations or any of the religious minorities of India.

From Gujarat to Arunachal Pradesh, a large number of these new Sainik Schools either see direct involvement of BJP leaders or are owned by trusts that they head.

Tawang Public School in Arunachal’s border town of Tawang is the sole Sainik School approved in the state. The school is owned by the state chief minister PemaKhandu. HitendraTripathi, Ex. Officio Secretary of the school managing committee, who also serves as the school principal, confirmed Khandu’s role as chairman of the school committee. Khandu’s brother TseringTashi, a BJP MLA from Tawang, is the managing director of the school.

In Mehsana, Gujarat, Shri Motibhai R. Chaudhary SagarSainik School is affiliated with Dudhsagar Dairy, which is chaired by AshokkumarBhavsangbhaiChaudhari, a former BJP general secretary for Mehsana. Last year, Home Minister Amit Shah had virtually laid the foundation stone of the school. Another school in Gujarat, BanasSainik School in Banaskantha, is managed by the GalbabhaiNanjibhai Patel Charitable Trust under Banas Dairy. The organization is led by BJP MLA from Tharad and the current speaker of the Gujarat Legislative Assembly, Shankar Chaudhary.

In Uttar Pradesh, Shakuntlam International School in Etawah is run by MunnaSmritiSansthan, a non-profit chaired by BJP MLA SaritaBhadauria. Her son, Ashish Bhadauria, who oversees the functioning of the school said, “We don’t have any experience in running Sainik Schools. We will be starting it from the coming session.” He claimed, “The selection process was very extensive.” When asked whether their application was favoured for party association, he said, “You should ask this from the government.”

The investigation found many of the people benefiting from this new PPP model include several BJP politicians. This long list has BJP leaders from different states.

In Haryana, Shri Baba Mastnath Residential Public School of Rohtak is now a Sainik school. Former BJP MP MahantChandnath founded it and is currently run by his successor MahantBalaknath Yogi, the incumbent BJP MLA from Tijara in Rajasthan.

Maharashtra's newly approved schools include Ahmednagar'sPadmashree Dr VithalraoVikhePatil School–an institution chaired by former Congress MLA RadhakrishnaVikhePatil who joined BJP in 2019. Former Sikar district BJP president in Rajasthan, HariramRanwa is the chairperson of the trust that manages the Bhartiya Public School. SK International School in Sangli, which got Sainik School affiliation, was founded by SadabhauKhot, a BJP ally who was a minister in the 2014 DevendraFadnavis-led Maharashtra government. In Katni, Madhya Pradesh, Syna International School which received approval is headed by Nidhi Pathak, wife of the BJP MLA in Madhya Pradesh, Sanjay Pathak.

Some of the above-mentioned schools are existing schools that have received approval to become Sainik schools. Sainik schools, like many other government-run schools in the country, primarily follow the Central Board of Secondary Education curriculum with a few additional subjects, such as moral values, patriotism, communal harmony, and personality development, among others.

A school run by a foundation under the Adani Group, which is close to BJP, was also given affiliation.

Adani World School, in Nellore district, Andhra Pradesh, was also affiliated. The school is located near the Krishnapatnam port, a deep water port operated by the Adani Group on the eastern coast. The school is owned by the Adani Community Empowerment Foundation.

Aditya Mukherjee, co-author of the book RSS, School Texts and the Murder of Mahatma Gandhi: The Hindu Communal Project, found it shocking that such schools received sponsorship and official support from the Defence Ministry. “In a democracy, Vidya Bharati kind of schools shouldn’t even exist because of the hatred they have been spreading against minorities. But at least they were only RSS schools. By affiliating them to national institutions, particularly defense, the government is bringing unspeakable danger to the country. This is bound to infect the defense forces with a majoritarian, communal outlook.”

Infamous for her speeches leading to the demolition of Babri Masjid in December 1992, historian Tanika Sarkar described Ritambhara and her speeches as “the single most powerful instrument for whipping up anti-Muslim violence.” The Liberhan Commission which probed the Babri Masjid demolition in Ayodhya, accused 68 people including Ritambhara of leading the country “to the brink of communal discord.”

She remains significant within the Sangh Parivar and close to several BJP leaders. Union Home Minister Amit Shah traveled to Vrindavan in December 2023 to wish her on her birthday. In January, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated an all-girls SamvidGurukulam Girls Sainik School. During the ceremony, Singh commended Ritambhara for her pivotal role in the Ram temple movement. “Didi Ma [Ritambhara] made a significant contribution during the Ram temple movement. She has considered society as her family,” Singh was quoted by the news agency Press Trust of India.

[Courtesy: The Reporters’ Collective]

Back to Home Page

Vol 56, No. 43, Apr 21 - 27, 2024