On February 16, 2018 hundreds of students seated in the Talkatora Stadium in Delhi and lakhs of others across India listening intently via TV, Radio or the internet had their tryst with destiny as perhaps for the first time in the history of independent India, the Prime Minister interacted with them on the issue of stress in life due to the upcoming board exams and how to be free of the same. The program was called “Pariksha pe Charcha”. This is the second initiative by the Hon. Prime Minister Narendra Modi on examination stress, after his book ‘Exam Warriors’ released recently and goes on to show how well connected the PM is with the issues faced by different sections of the nation and is trying his level best to be of help to them.
“Pariksha pe Charcha” was an hour and a half long interactive session, in which the Prime Minister answered questions from students from across the country on issues as varied as beating exam stress to improving time management and optimal career choices. His answers, like much of what he speaks, were lucid and simple enough for everyone and anyone to easily understand the message he wished to put across and drew heavily from examples of day to day life, his own experiences and traditional Indian culture and wisdom. At the very outset he made it clear that he was not speaking to them as the Prime Minister but as their friend, and by the end he told the students that while they had gained a single friend in him, he had made lakhs of them his friends today.
Among the messages he gave the students in “Pariksha pe Charcha”, the most important one was to be honest to themselves, have faith in themselves and compete with no one else but their own track record. To elaborate on the issue of self-confidence he quoted Swami Vivekanand’s saying that if you pray to all 33 crore Indian Gods and even if all 33 crore them bless you, without self-confidence there isn’t much you can achieve. He also advised students to learn to defocus in order to be able to concentrate on the thing at hand, meaning till and unless they cast aside worries about performance, future prospects etc., they would not be able to give 100% of their mind to whatever it was they were trying to study. Another example of how Sachin Tendulkar forgot how the last ball was or how the next one would be while playing the one being bowled was used to underscore the point.
He advised students to forget that they had to make a career, instead of thinking of ‘becoming something’, he advised them to look forward to ‘doing something’ in life. Moreover, he also touched upon the importance of leisure and recreational activities even before exams, adequate sleep, yoga and pranayama for stress relief etc. He requested the parents to stop passing on the burden of their own unfulfilled dreams and expectations onto their children and asked the teachers to ponder over whether they could revive the age old ‘Guru-Shishya Parampara’ and become like second parents to their students.
Prime Minister Modi speaking about Guru Shishya Parampara in “Pariksha pe Charcha”
No one can deny that this kind of an interaction was much needed and its success in touching a chord with students was evident from the fact that they listened in rapt attention for the entire duration and when asked by the PM himself to rate his performance for the day, 10 on 10 echoed in unison across the stadium. What is equally important is to see Modi the politician at work behind the scenes as Modi the Students’ Friend worked in front of it.
As is well known, the student of today, is the citizen of tomorrow and in a youthful country like India, it is this young voter who is going to play a crucial role in the upcoming elections including the very next Lok Sabha election of 2019, considering the fact that most of those appearing in the 12th board exams are 17-18 years old. Modi, being unequivocally the smartest politician of his times, understands it better than anyone else. If one digs up his speeches in the past, a very clear pattern emerges. In his very first speech post victory in 2014 elections, which he had made in Vadodara, he had announced that he was not interested in 5 years or 10 years, but the toddler who was singing along ‘Abki Baar Modi Sarkar’ was his hope for the next 20 years or more as well. Then in several episodes of Mann Ki Baat he focused on exams and other student centric issues. In his speech (which I had the fortune of listening to in person) on the 125th Anniversary of Swami Vivekanand’s historic New York Speech, he had cleverly hinted at how he did not approve of blind opposition to Valentine’s Day and similar celebrations in colleges, as such celebrations were vital to keep the creative spirit of the youth alive. In his address to the nation on New Year’s Eve 2018 he had again mentioned how those born in the new millennium would soon turn 18 and be eligible to vote.
Taken in series with the above mentioned events, the launch of the book and the “Pariksha pe Charcha” event makes it clear how very ahead PM Modi is when it comes to wooing the youth when compared to his more youthful contemporaries like Rahul Gandhi (Yogi Adityanath is perhaps the only one who comes close to Modi in this aspect as made evident by his eagerness in launching the Hindi edition of Exam Warriors and stringent steps to curb cheating in UP Board Exams). “Pariksha pe Charcha”while focusing on the issue of exam stress, was a masterclass in subtle messaging and subconscious moulding of the listener’s mind in favour of one’s ideology- from Saraswati, Hanuman, Vivekanand and Yoga in the beginning and Guru-Shishya Parampara in the middle, towards the end PM Modi effortlessly brought in Vajpayee and the Jan Sangh as examples of the never say die spirit. This is the perfect antidote for years of super effective Congress led mind manipulation of every aspect of education from textbooks to Children’s Day Celebrations (aka Birthday of Chacha Nehru). The message was delivered in a manner which did not make it sound patronising, narrow minded or outdated, it was sprinkled with simple analogies and language of today’s youth like ‘online-offline’ etc.
Not only would this innovative messaging help in the short term (for e.g. the upcoming LS elections), if he manages to create a favourable impression of himself and his ideology on the budding young citizens, it would earn their lifelong loyalty (somewhat akin to how the previous generations were steadfastly loyal to the Congress, which in their teens was seen as the party which got India independence). A lot more needs to be done on the educational policy front, especially with regards to radical (but rational and scientific) reforms in the curriculum from playschool to Ph.D. level to undo the damage wrecked by the current education policy which manufactures West loving clerks and not proud Indian thinkers, leaders and innovators.
Another tactical political step was to acknowledge at very onset, it was his limitation that he was not familiar with all of India’s languages and hence requested the officials concerned to translate and make the “Pariksha pe Charcha” speech available to every child in his or her own language. Questions were asked not only by children from Delhi sitting in the stadium but also by students from every nook and corner of the country including the often ignored regions like Ladakh and North East India using digital means. Towards the end also PM Modi paid his respect to Tamil, which he called one of the oldest languages and again apologised for his lack of familiarity with it. This brilliantly pre-empted the likes of Stalin and Siddharamiah from painting the PM and the BJP as a party of the Hindi speakers out to annihilate all other regional languages.
While the PM surely managed to win the students’ hearts with “Pariksha pe Charcha” initiative, only time will tell how successful he is in his strategy of depending on such intimate connections with the youth of the nation to win over their votes.
PS.: Ram Guha wonders whether PM Modi is competent enough to give out exam tips and feels his predecessor Dr. Singh was a better role model for students. He only needs to hear PM Modi’s speech carefully once again, where he speaks about the contribution of EQ (Emotional Quotient) and IQ (Intelligence Quotient) in success. And then ask himself if Manmohan Singh could have held the students’ attention for 30 minutes, leave alone 1 hour 30 minutes. There Mr. Guha lies the difference between the EQ’s of the two men and as a student said in her question itself, EQ contributes 80% to one’s achievements and success. QED.