I’m suddenly reminded of some “competitions” I took part in back when I was in school, which in hindsight seem like indoctrination methods. The basic structure of the competition is this. An organization announces an inter-school competition – either a quiz or an essay writing contest, or even a debate. These weren’t “normal” quiz/debate/essay competitions, though. All of these had a pre-requisite, and that was reading a certain book that was prescribed and marketed by these organizations. I don’t know if one had to pay for these books – if I remember right, they were given away “free” once you paid the nominal fee to register for these competitions.
It was an easy way to indoctrinate over-enthusiastic kids, or kids of over-enthusiastic parents, who wanted to win every competition in town, and gather as many “bullet points” as one could (though this was far before anyone really thought of careers and the like). All you had to do was to announce a competition, with the promise of a certificate and nominal prize, and thousands of kids would sign up, and do anything in their capacity to win the contest.
I remember two such competitions well. One was organized by the Ramana Maharshi Ashram, where we had to mug a book about him, and then had to write an essay. I remember the topics well. It was something of the kind of “my thoughts after reading about the life of Bhagavan (sic) Ramana”. I don’t remember reading the book too well (I’d forgotten to collect it, I now remember) and wrote some random stuff. I didn’t come close to winning that.
The other was by ISKCON, and this included both a quiz and an essay, if I remember right. Again we had to mug a standard-issue ISKCON book. I remember less of this than I did of the Ramana Maharshi thing (I don’t know why), and again I didn’t do too well, and that hurt my pride as that was around the time when I used to be pretty good at quizzing (and still didn’t know to distinguish between a good and bad quiz, and not worry much about my performance in the latter).
Organizations like ISKCON or the Ramana Maharshi Ashram are incentivized to get more “followers”, and one way of gaining followers is to feed impressionable young minds of material that shows the organization in positive light. And then make them undertake activities that hammer in that message. In that sense, events such as these that tap in on students competitive spirits are a big win for these organization. It’s an easy way to reach a large unsuspecting audience, and even a “small” conversion rate is enough to drive “membership” signficantly.
On a similar note, I remember Gaurav Sabnis writing about debates that the VHP used to organize in Pune in a similar sort of effort. The only difference there was that there you didn’t need to mug any boooks.