Bandra-based Rizvi Springfield High School courted controversy Wednesday for allegedly distributing BJP’s ‘Jansampark Abhiyaan’ forms among parents during an “urgent” Parent-Teachers Association (PTA) meeting. Several parents, who attended the event, expressed discontent over the event and said the meeting a “thinly veiled campaign” for the local BJP candidate.
While the school administration claimed that the forms were distributed as a part of an “election awareness drive”, BJP’s Bandra (West) candidate Ashish Shelar said he was “unaware” about the incident. Congress candidate Asif Zakaria, meanwhile, said the BJP’s bid to rope in a school to campaign for it exposed the party’s “insecurity”.
The form has ‘Jansampark Abhiyaan’ written on it and includes photographs of Shelar, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, the BJP’s lotus symbol and is signed by Shiv Sena’s Irfan Qureshi. It asks a person to fill in details like Aadhaar card number, whether the person is a registered voter, his/her voter ID number and details of other family members above 18 years of age. The Indian Express has reviewed the form that parents were reportedly told to fill.
Eyewitnesses recounted that around 100 parents were present at the meeting, some of whom tore up the forms and stormed out of the school. A parent, who did not wish to be named, told The Indian Express that they had received a message on a Parent Teachers Association Whatsapp group Tuesday night, which asked parents to show up at the school at 10 am Wednesday but specified no reason. “I had to go for work, but I delayed it for the sake of my child. There were around 100 parents who had come (for the meeting). Some forms were distributed and we were asked to fill them up. As I got the form, I saw it had photographs of BJP leaders and the party’s symbol. Fadnavis and Shelar hold posts in the government, but the form also had names of local party (BJP) leaders,” the parent said.
Many parents questioned the teachers about why where they being made to fill in personal details on a form that was “clearly political in nature”. “The teachers said they had no idea and were just doing what they were told to do. Another teacher said that it was part of the election awareness exercise. I asked her why did the form have photographs of the BJP leaders only then. She didn’t have an answer,” the parent said.
“And why were they teaching parents about voting? Wouldn’t we already know about it?” the parent asked.
Sources said a parent who had to come all way from Dadar for the meeting was told that the meeting was meant only for Bandra residents only. “This made us all the more suspicious as to why would it be only limited to the Bandra area. Clearly, they were trying to do something which would benefit Shelar, who is fighting from the Bandra (West) seat on the BJP ticket,” the parent said.
Another parent, who also did not wish to be named, said: “What was done was simply unethical. How can a school do something that is so clearly political? So many parents came (to the school) thinking they were changing the curriculum or their child had done something. Several parents were so disgusted for being called to fill this form that they tore it off and left in a huff.”
When The Indian Express contacted on the school on their landline phone, an assistant said principal Sangeeta Uniyal was “busy”, but she had said that the “exercise was just a part of an election awareness drive”.
While Uniyal was not present at the morning meeting, Shelar said he was unaware about the incident and is against using educational institutions for politics. Shelar’s rival Asif Zakaria said, “Clearly, the BJP is trying to intimidate educational institutes to work for them. If they were so confident of winning, why would they try such antics? This is a clear sign that there is insecurity among them that they may not win.”
Director of Rizvi Education Society, Rubina Rizvi denied the incident. “There are pamphlets of various parties kept in the classroom. Someone, who had problem with that particular party, spread such rumours in order to malign them and us. In fact, today at Rizvi college we had a programme where state election officers asked people to come out and vote (on October 21). We are an educational institution and would never have a political bias,” Rizvi said.