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Ramesh Pokhriyal, education minister who brought NEP to life, dropped in Modi cabinet reshuffle

Ramesh Pokhriyal was inducted in the cabinet in 2019, a decision that surprised many at the time given that he had not held a Union cabinet position before.

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New Delhi: Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ Wednesday was dropped from the Narendra Modi government in the first cabinet reshuffle undertaken in its second term.

Pokhriyal is the third education minister to have served under Prime Minister Modi since he first came to power in 2014; Smriti Irani held the portfolio from 2014 to mid 2016 and was succeeded by Prakash Javadekar, from 2016 to 2019.

Pokhriyal’s appointment in 2019 had come as a surprise for many since he had not held any cabinet position before being appointed the education minister. A PhD in Hindi from Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna University in Garhwal, he was only known as the chief minister of Uttarakhand, a position he held from 2009 to 2011.When inducted into the Union cabinet, he was one of 24 new faces.

Hailing from Pinani village in Pauri district, Pokhriyal is also known as a Hindi writer. His literary works include novels, short stories and travelogues. Many of his Hindi books have been translated into other languages as well.

Also read: Modi govt brings Department of Public Enterprises under Finance Ministry

A minister’s tenure

Pokhriyal held a two-year-long term as education minister, half of which was marred by the Covid-19 pandemic. His biggest policy achievement has been the release and initiation of the implementation of the new National Education Policy, which was in the works from early 2015. After the release of the policy in 2020, the implementation began with selected schemes being rolled out phase-wise.

Pokhriyal also enjoyed a largely controversy-free term, barring the fee hike issue at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) towards the end of 2019. The centrally-run JNU had increased the hostel fee manifold, generating a massive reaction from the student community. JNU students protested against the fee hike for nearly two months after which the hike was partially rolled back. While the central government formed a committee to look into the matter, Pokhriyal faced criticism for not meeting the students to listen to their grievances.

In March 2020, when the pandemic struck, he held regular interactions with students through social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, trying to resolve their apprehensions regarding school closure, delayed medical and engineering entrance exams, and the CBSE board exams. Last year, he held separate interactions with parents, students and teachers, and also answered their questions during a live chat.

This year, Pokhriyal’s interactions were considerably reduced after he contracted Covid-19 in April and was hospitalised. His latest interaction with students was held Tuesday, when he announced the dates for the third and fourth phase of the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) for engineering.

Pokhriyal has, in the past year, made sure he made all major announcements related to students — whether the CBSE board exam or the JEE and NEET exam. Earlier, these announcements were made by the respective bodies, such as the National Testing Agency. This was his way of ensuring that he was directly involved with students when it came to taking a call on exam dates.

Pokhriyal, however, did appear at odds with the prime minister when it came to the issue of conducting CBSE board exams this year. The minister had written an op-ed in favour of holding the board exams, though PM Modi later announced that they were being cancelled.

There was speculation that PM Modi was not happy with Pokhriyal’s work, especially in how the ministry played an indecisive role with regards to the CBSE board exams.

A man who always ‘listened’

Among the civil servants at the education ministry, and his own office staff, Pokhriyal has been known to be someone who always “listens” and is “open to ideas”. One change that the ministry staff made after Pokhriyal took charge was doing a majority of the work in Hindi.

Given his doctorate in Hindi, the minister communicated with his staff and officials in Hindi and even addressed students in the language. Even during interactions with foreign delegates, Pokhriyal stuck to the language, often using a translator to communicate with them. He made it very clear that his preference was Hindi and would rather not use the English language.

(Edited by Manasa Mohan)

Also read: Why Hindi is causing stress for officials in Ramesh Pokhriyal’s HRD ministry


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