IN WHAT has been described as "intellectual fascism", the Vajpayee government led by the right-wing Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has effectively banned the teaching of Marxism in schools from next year.
The Central Board of Secondary Education, which prescribes courses for schools across the country, has excluded Marxism from the list of "major political theories" in the curriculum for 2000-2001 but has retained fascism. Other theories which will continue to be taught include Gandhism and Liberalism.
The decision was made even though several major Indian states have communist governments - in West Bengal, communists have been in power for the past 23 years, a record for any political party or alliance.
The ban has created a furore in Parliament, with the opposition in both houses demanding that it should be withdrawn.
The main opposition party, Congress, and left-wing groups charged that this was a part of the BJP's "hidden agenda" to "subvert" the liberal and pluralistic thrust of India's school education. As the pressure mounted, the central board "clarified" that the omission of Marxism was a printing error, but critics are not convinced.
They point out that the curriculum was printed several months ago, and that a number of books on political theories, based on the curriculum, were already in the pipeline. Yet, the board remained silent until some Delhi teachers noticed it and spoke to the media.
The Vajpayee government is still facing pressure to explain its "real" position. The home minister, LK Advani, has pledged to establish the facts and report back to Parliament, which has just gone into recess.
Leading historians, such as Professor KN Pannikar of Jawaharlal Nehru University and Professor Sumit Sarkar of Delhi University, have described it as a show of "intellectual fascism" and a "preview" of the BJP's "authoritarian" academic agenda.
Last year, the Vajpayee government's move to rewrite textbooks in the name of "Indianising and spiritualising" school education provoked a strong reaction.
It was forced to drop the move after some of its own allies in the government protested and walked out of the education ministers' conference where the move was proposed.