Rahul breaks no-entry sign to family at JNU

He received a warm welcome from many students, barring the protesters

In truth, stepping into the university named after his great-grandfather should have been like homecoming for Rahul, but crossing its threshold proved a political milestone of sorts, considering that JNU has remained the bastion of Leftist thinkers and academicians for several decades where Congress leaders would never have felt at home.

Rahul spent over three hours in the university campus interacting with students, including a few from Leftist students’ bodies who brandished black flags at the Congress general secretary on Tuesday night.

 For the records at least, Indira Gandhi, the then prime minister, paid a visit to the JNU in 1982, to take part in the silver jubilee celebrations of School of International Studies. The function, however, was held at what was known as the “down campus”, which is much outside the main campus area and which now houses a different organisation.

Gandhi had to leave in a huff, as Left bodies held a massive black flag demonstration to condemn the emergency she had imposed on the country in 1975. Though her son and successor Rajiv was popular with students, he did not pay a visit to JNU, possibly as a consequence of the fierce opposition that had greeted his mother.

“There were even pelting of stones and bricks, necessitating Indira Gandhi's departure on security grounds,” recalls Mohammad Shamim Akhtar, a Congress functionary who was the first NSUI activist to get elected to the powerful student faculty committee around that time and an eye-witness to the incident.

Rahul’s reception, by comparison, was a whole-hearted one. He received a warm welcome from many students, barring the protesters. The Congress leader tried engaging even those flashing black flags at him, but found it hard to satisfy them as they found him evasive in addressing certain crucial issues.

Akhtar, who was also present on Rahul's visit, noted the change in the political atmosphere on the campus, as the young Congress leader received acceptance even from those who didn’t agree with him ideologically. 

“Rahul came as a political leader, unlike Mrs Gandhi, who visited the campus as the prime minister. He mingled freely with the students and patiently answered all their questions. The protest against him became muted as he spoke with students from Left bodies. Rahul developed an instant rapport with all students,” Akhtar said.
Dressed in dark grey trousers and a white shirt, Rahul had dinner at the Jhelum Hostel and then proceeded to the Kendriya Vidyalaya grounds to interact with a large gathering of students.

Though NSUI, the students’ wing of Congress, has been having a presence in the JNU for many years now, it has been outnumbered by the Leftist bodies dominating the high-voltage student politics at the university, fought almost always at an ideological level.

Impact on students

Rahul’s instant impact on students at a place considered a politically unfriendly territory for Congress leaders has quite palpably lifted the spirits of the party.  
Party spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said Gandhi's “objective” behind the visit was to “test the ground”.

 Singhvi said: “It is important to see Gandhi’s dialogue at JNU as part of a larger movement to unfold his vision of participatory democracy. It was indeed a radical step.”

Rahul answered questions from students on issues like dynastic politics, his visits to Dalit households, reforms in the education sector and the economic situation.

Even Nationalist Congress Party leader D P Tripathi, himself a product of JNU and a former students union president, sees Rahul's visit as a great political manoeuvre.  
“I want to congratulate him on going for an open and frank interaction with JNU students, and also the students for carrying on with the tradition of critical inquiry that JNU is famous for,” he said.

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