New Delhi: Prakash Javadekar has been in his new office for only two weeks, but the human resource development (HRD) minister is already working to win friends and influence people that his predecessor had antagonized in the past two years.

There’s a method to the meetings Javadekar has held over the past two weeks. He has met and kept the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)—ideological parent to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—in good humour; felicitated opposition leaders from academic backgrounds; and visited IIT Delhi, the prestigious institution with which his controversial predecessor Smriti Irani had one of her earliest clashes. There are plans for better media management too.

If ministry insiders are to be believed, Javadekar is winning back friends, something that will be crucial for implementing education reforms in the country. He has also unveiled the new education policy report prepared by the T.S.R. Subramanian committee, in contrast to Irani’s outright refusal to do so.

“The former HRD minister was very straightforward and invited critics, thus provoking opposition from stakeholders in the last two years. The new minister has a method to his meetings and is making the right noises," an HRD ministry official said, requesting anonymity. “When you are heading a mass-impact ministry, you must take everybody along."

Soon after taking charge on 6 July, Javadekar said he “respects academia" and will make efforts to take everybody along. After four days, he met teachers in Pune, making his first public appearance as HRD minister in a highly symbolic move.

In Javadekar’s words, this event was meant to “respect his teachers", signalling better relations with teachers at various universities such as Delhi University, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Central University of Hyderabad, who were openly critical of the way Irani handled important issues.

Later, Javadekar met leaders of RSS affiliate organizations where he discussed the new education policy. Interestingly, the event was organized before the cabinet reshuffle in the first week of July and the RSS affiliate institutions had not invited Irani to it. It had invited junior HRD minister Ram Shankar Katheria instead, but he lost his portfolio in the reshuffle.

RSS affiliates Bharatiya Shikshan Mandal (BSM), an education body, and Bharat Niti, a think tank, openly mentioned this and said that Javadekar came to the function even though he was not the original recipient of the invite, indicating his rapport with these organizations. “Whatever happens, happens for the good. We are happy Javadekarji is the new HRD minister," said Mukul Kanitkar, organizing secretary, BSM.

At the 12 July meeting, BSM and Bharat Niti made a renewed attempt to put their stamp on the new education policy by making three key demands—a revival of Sanskrit teaching in schools and colleges, teaching in vernacular languages and a national education commission for administration of the sector. They also wanted a clear message that the new policy—the first after nearly three decades—should have a “nationalist character".

A couple of days later, Javadekar caught up with reporters at an informal session. Though there’s nothing new about a minister inviting reporters for informal meetings, this meeting had a bigger message.

“You have full access to my office and do reach out to me for any queries", he said, signalling his intent to make a departure from the past two years’ practice, when there were no meetings with the media and only restric-ted sharing of information.

Javadekar also asked each of the reporters present to give him a pain point of the ministry. He said he will work on each one as a priority—a smart way of dealing with a media that aggressively reported on the controversy over the previous minister’s educational qualifications.

“As a party spokesperson earlier, he has his way of dealing with issues and the media meeting was part of that design," said another HRD ministry official, who also requested anonymity.

On 15 July, Javadekar met students and authorities at IIT Delhi, the institution that clashed with Irani in the first few months of the National Democratic Alliance government over opening a research campus in Mauritius.

The institute’s director R.K. Sevgaonkar, who enjoyed strong support among the IIT community, resigned over his differences with the ministry before completing his tenure.

Apart from talking about academic issues, Javadekar’s message was clear. “We have just started the interactions and it will continue," he said.

IIT Delhi feels this is important for a better working relation with the ministry.

Last week, Javadekar felicitated several members of Parliament across party lines who were former teachers on the occasion of Guru Purnima, a Hindu festival to pay respect to teachers—both spiritual and academic. Among those who attended the event were Congress leaders Karan Singh, K.V. Thomas and M.V. Rajeev Gowda, Samajwadi Party’s Ram Gopal Yadav and Trinamool Congress’s Saugata Roy.

“You sum up the meetings, and you get the picture; how the minister has addressed key constituents before setting his education agenda on track," the second official cited above said.

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