I've waited five years for this. Well, not quite: the five years are actually up only at the end of this week; but given that I'm off travelling in a few hours and I'm not sure where I'll be on the precise anniversary, this goes on air now.
The scene: Lucknow. The date: February 26, 2000. The person concerned: a then Prime Minister, name of Atal Behari Vajpayee. He gave a speech there, to the "State Convention of the Secondary Teachers Association." And when I found a report about this in the next day's paper, I cut it out, telling myself I had to keep it five years and refer to it again then.
The report is titled "Defence budget needs to be increased: Vajpayee", and it is from The Hindu, February 27 2000. According to it, Vajpayee said that "despite constraints, allocations for the defence of the country had to be adequately increased. The way people, including children, donated money in the wake of Kargil conflict, showed that the nation was willing to bear the additional burden."
So far, so good.
Then he reacted to Amartya Sen's "observation that primary education was a prerequisite for economic development." Yes, and how did he react? By saying that "the lack of education could be attributed to discernible underdevelopment in many parts of the country."
Teasing out the logic in that, I shall leave as an exercise to you. Five years, and I haven't managed it.
Vajpayee went on. "He said presently he was not in a position to announce compulsory primary education in view of the stiff resource constraints." You see? Defence spending must be increased "despite constraints", but primary education must be left by the wayside "in view of the stiff resource constraints." Those troublesome constraints!
Besides, regarding compulsory primary education, Vajpayee offered this: "It was easier ... when the country had attained Independence."
Teasing out the logic in that ... yes, you go do it.
But Vajpayee did show that he is nothing if not an optimist. "He expressed hope that within a period of five years, [compulsory primary education] would become a reality."
Now you know why I kept that clipping these five long years. So now, five years later, four of which saw the same Mr Vajpayee running this country, may we assume that compulsory primary education has in fact "become a reality" in this country?
Funny funny. But gorge yourself on then-Prime Minister Vajpayee's final pronouncement from the podium at the convention. He "urged NRIs, particularly those in the US, to explain to the Senators about the greatness of our country, its heritage and democratic traditions."
Of course. If we can't have primary education, give us greatness.