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In Punjab, politics over Class XII history books sets stage for a Congress-opposition spat

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Opposition parties in Punjab have termed the shift in focus from Punjab to India as a move to ‘belittle and insult the glorious history of Sikh gurus’.

Chandigarh: Punjab’s new Class XII syllabus for history, centred on Indian history instead of the state’s, has triggered an opposition onslaught against the Amarinder Singh-led Congress government.

The earlier syllabus prescribed by the Punjab School Education Board (PSEB) largely contained the history of Sikh gurus and the first Sikh empire. The new one enters the curriculum with the forthcoming session.

Opposition parties Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have termed the change a move to “belittle and insult the glorious history of Sikh gurus”. They have decided to launch an agitation to force the state government to retract the decision.

The government has hit back at the criticism, with Captain Amarinder Singh warning the opposition against “playing politics on an issue involving religious sentiments and sensitivities” and “jeopardising peace in the state”. He has said the syllabus for Class XII was reworked to bring it on a par with the one prescribed by the NCERT.

Explaining that the history of Sikh gurus would be taught as part of the new Class XI syllabus, the government said other aspects of the older syllabus were already dealt with in the curriculum beginning with Class IX, including the state’s physical features.

The earlier syllabus

This is the first time the state education board has decided to itself publish history textbooks for classes XI and XII. These are to be used in all the state government schools as well as private schools affiliated/recognised by the board.

So far, Class XII students used ‘reference books’ printed by private publishers based on the PSEB syllabus, which dealt with the history of Punjab from 1469 to 1849 — Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism, was born in 1469. Depending on the publisher, the number of pages varied from 400 to 500, but the syllabus was uniform and followed meticulously by each publisher.

The book was divided into two sections, further split into 22 units. In section one, six units were dedicated to the life and teachings of Sikh gurus, and one to Banda Singh Bahadur, a warrior who played a crucial role in Sikh history after the death of the last guru.

In section two, five units dealt with Punjab after the death of Banda till the advent of the first Sikh empire under Maharaj Ranjit Singh. Another seven units were devoted to Ranjit Singh’s reign, which ended in 1849 after the second Anglo-Sikh war.

The changes

The new history textbook has two sections divided into 11 units. Section one has six units on pre-modern India, with five units on modern India in section two. The final two units of the second section deal with Punjab’s history. Unit 10 contains the period from Banda to Ranjit Singh and till the Anglo-Sikh wars. This single unit of about 25 pages covers seven units of the old syllabus. Unit 11, covering 20 pages, is about Punjab under British rule, a new addition.

The new book has 189 pages with coloured pictures accompanying the text.

According to a chapter comparison chart issued by the CMO Monday, the units on Sikh gurus have now been added to the new Class XI history textbook. The book has 11 units divided into two sections. Section one has six units, four of which deal with the lives of the 10 Sikh gurus. The sixth is devoted to the life of the ‘char sahibzaade’ (Guru Gobind Singh’s sons), which the CM claimed had been done on his insistence.

Section two has five units devoted to world history, industrial revolution, colonisation, which were never a part of the curriculum earlier. The book has 184 pages.

‘An Akali intiative’

The Akalis have argued that in “spreading out” the syllabus, the content had been compromised.

Former education minister and SAD general secretary Dr Daljit Singh Cheema said, “What was covered as entire units in the old class XII books are mere paragraph-long references in earlier classes. Going by this strange logic, why is ancient, medieval and modern India taught in higher classes by NCERT, when these topics have already been studied by the students of classes VI, VII and VIII.”

The CM has said the decision to align the board’s syllabus with the NCERT was taken in 2014, when the Akalis were in office. He added that the board’s books were much cheaper and meticulously researched.

The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, the apex body for Sikhs, has objected to the government’s move too, but the CM said they had been consulted at the first and final stages of the preparation of the new syllabus.

‘Perfidy, skullduggery’

When the matter was first highlighted by Cheema through a letter to the chief minister Saturday, the CMO reacted immediately. “Not a single chapter, nor a word, had been deleted by the board,” said the CM, dismissing the SAD’s allegations as “malicious”.

SAD president Sukhbir Badal stepped in Sunday, and “challenged” the CM to publicly show the board’s Class XI book to prove his claim, and the CMO chapter comparison followed.

Presiding over a party meeting in Chandigarh Monday, Sukhbir said the government was covering up “perfidy with lies and skullduggery.” He has called a meeting of the SAD core committee on 3 May to formulate the party’s plan of action.

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