JNU over the years: Some reflections

JNU over the years: Some reflections

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The goings-on in the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) are a cause for serious concern and reflection. The issue has aroused national and international reactions because of the university’s premier status.

It may be recalled that then prime minister Indira Gandhi created JNU way back in 1969. The objective was to make it a novel institution of higher learning and research.

The intent was also to cherish and lend legitimacy to the anti-imperialist and anti-colonial orientations of our freedom struggle and also on the way Jawaharlal Nehru articulated India’s foreign policy goals and conducted it with a great sense of elan. 

Indira was ably assisted by the then education minister Nurul Hassan by bringing in bright scholars as faculty in the School of International Studies and School of Social Sciences, which became the pivot of JNU. The institution lent academic and intellectual legitimacy to India’s foreign and economic policies.

The journey of JNU from then on continued under the ‘left of the centre’ ideological framework. India’s proximity to the Soviet Union introduced a strong element of Communist influence by manifesting itself in the form of the rise of Students Federation of India (SFI) and the All India Students Federation (AISF) as the student’s wings of the CPM and CPI, respectively. 

This writer when he was an MPhil student at JNU, saw CPM leader Prakash Karat leading the students union in 1973-74, a powerful intellectual with his background from the University of Edinborough and in the early 1980s. Also, Sitaram Yechuri, as JNUSU president, another powerful speaker. Both became strong leaders of the CPM in subsequent years.

Indira Gandhi’s love and patronage for JNU continued but she became somewhat upset with JNU because of its opposition to Emergency. Also, her son Sanjay Gandhi was not allowed to enter the campus by the students’ union.

All these led her, later on, to support the rise of National Students Union of India (NSUI) as the students’ wing of the Congress Party in JNU. The NSUI slowly started making its presence felt in the university.

The ‘Free Thinkers’ group (not aligned to any group) too emerged over the years, posing competition to the left-wing SFI and AISF. It too produced strong leaders like Anand Kumar, who also became president of JNUSU for a term.

The rise of the BJP to power under A B Vajpayee and since 2014 under Narendra Modi, has led to steady growth of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) in JNU. This, in brief, is the evolution of student politics in JNU.

This writer witnessed fierce debates on national and international issues that used to take place in the Periyar Hostel (where he stayed as a student) invariably after 9 pm, going up to midnight most of the times.

The JNU schools brimmed with seminars and conferences with vibrant participation from the faculty and students and foreign scholars invariably. The debates and discussions were carried out in truly academic fashion, never resulting in the violence of any sort.

Even the protests used to be very peaceful, but the protesters always made their points heard by the powers be on issues of students’ concern and matters national and international. There was a sense of bonhomie between the students, faculty and the administration.

Diversity among faculty

As for student and faculty diversity, JNU tops the list. Even in terms of an institutional ranking published by the Ministry of Human Resource Development, JNU ranks as No. 1 university, next only to the Indian Institute of Science.

It is a matter of pride that JNU has produced Nobel laureates, outstanding academicians, diplomats, legal luminaries, journalists, politicians and civil servants. Simply put, its alumni are in every field.

This writer is deeply pained by the recent developments in JNU campus, specially the breakdown of communication between the students and the administration over the issue of hostel fee hike.

While there is a case for hiking the room rent etc, the matter could have been sorted out amicably in a spirit of give-and-take. The chasm between the vice-chancellor and the JNUSU grew to enormous proportions resulting in inhuman beating up of one section of the students by the other.

That the authorities did not even visit the wounded students in the hospital speaks of their inhuman approach to the handling of affairs.

Since there is a trust deficit among the JNUSU and the administration and the handling of the issue by the Delhi Police, it is only fair that a judicial enquiry be conducted over the entire developments and the V-C be asked to go on leave during the period of inquiry. In the interregnum, the media too should exercise restraint. The guilty must be punished.

In the meantime, academic activities should resume with students and teachers being able to work in a free and secure ambience. Everything should be done to help JNU retain its place at the national and international level.

(The writer is former Professor of Political Science, Bangalore University and an alumnus of JNU)

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