Clean up or close down JNU, now

Never before in its checkered 50-year history has there been a more pressing need to clean up or close down an institution of apparent academic excellence than the government funded Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). For even by the varsity’s own standards of indiscipline and regularly irregular bouts of rowdyism, gheraos, sit-ins, strikes, and political intrigue, implicit in the vicious goings-on of the last few days is the reality of its untenability as a center of higher education.  The dirty graffiti splattered walls are enough to tell you that the pursuit of scholarship is incidental to its inmates, a necessary nuisance to retain their identity as students.

No nation, howsoever deep its commitment to democratic values, can afford to churn out a breed of students who openly advocate sedition or challenge the basis of its ancient socio-cultural roots. There is ample reason to believe that the radicalized sections in JNU are far outnumbered by those who wish to stay out of campus politics. A few rotten fish have poisoned the pond which is now sorely in need of being cleansed.

JNU Abusive Graffiti
Abusive graffiti at JNU underneath a Swami Vivekananda statue, and in the admin block against the VC (Source: Organiser)

JNU boasts having given the country a string of successful alumni in virtually every sphere of human endeavor, including a few ministers and bureaucrats in the current dispensation. But that may be an exaggeration. Sift through the list of notables who graduated from its precincts, most went on to make a career in left-leaning politics, championing minority rights, academia, or settled in jobs with politically active NGOs  where their anti-establishment (read urban Naxal) instincts could find untrammeled expression.

Men like Yogendra Yadav and Sitaram Yechury, not to speak of anti-nationals like Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid, Shehla Masood and others. JNU’s hurly-burly is designed to spark disaffection and dissension. It is not so much the fault of students as much as faculty members aligned to the hard Left. Most spend as much time politicking outside the university as in their classrooms. Engendering the virtues of nation building or inculcating pride in Bharat’s hoary traditions does not as much as exist in the remotest corners of their mind. Hindus and their dharma are dirty words in a campus choc-a-bloc with secular atheists. Their worldview spins on the axis of opposing anything remotely connected to the established order. All the more to a regime determined to protecting the national interest by rooting out the last vestiges of a fake Nehruvian consensus.

JNU wasn’t exactly created to produce homemade clones of Jean Jacques Rousseau whose freewheeling ideas on a social contract with nature influenced aspects of the French Revolution. Freedom of thought and expression has its limits. The varsity has clearly overstepped the fine line several times over in the last few decades. In November 1980 it was shut down for 46 days after a student was suspended for abusing the vice chancellor. Back in 1977 the JNU Students Union led by Sitaram Yechury compelled Indira Gandhi to quit as chancellor after losing power the same year. In 1983 Mrs G as prime minister was again the object of students’ ire. She was heckled while addressing a function. Result: 300 students were arrested and charged under various section of the Indian Penal Code.

The very name of the varsity symbolizes all that has gone wrong with the country since Independence. The main reason why its affairs find so much media space is because it is situated in the country’s capital, and that too spread over 1,000 acres of prime urban land. Conceived as a world class university in 1969 just when the Naxalite upsurge in Bengal was peaking, its slow descent into the hellhole of extreme Left politics does not seem surprising in retrospect.  JNU’s first faculty batch was a direct import from Kolkata’s premier 203-year-old college (now a university), Presidency. The latter was the virtual headquarters of the Naxalite movement from the mid-1960s till the early 1970s.

What transpired at JNU on January 4-5 of the Gregorian new year bears a striking similarity to the happenings inside Presidency on April 2013 when armed louts of the Trinamool Chhatra Parishad cut the lock of the university with a gas cutter, roughed up, abused students and professors in protest against the alleged assault on chief minister Mamata Banerjee at a rally a day before.  They barged into the physics laboratory, smashing furniture and equipment on the way. For once it was the hooligans of the Students Federation of India (SFI) who were at the receiving end. But in JNU the SFI’s influence has remained unchallenged along with that of its more extreme ally, the All India Student Association (AISA), an adjunct of the CPI (ML).

Between 1974 and 2017 SFI nominees were elected president of the JNU Students’ Union 22 times; AISF 11; and other socialist platforms eight.  The Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) got its candidate elected just twice in 1999 and 2001. Unlike Bengal where the SFI was cut to size on college campuses after the ouster of the CPM in 2011, the Parishad has singularly failed to increase its support base within JNU, despite the election of a Rightist government in 2014. Such is the vice like grip of Leftist unions. The ABVP does not have the desired backing of students and teachers to kick up a flash protest on the lines of the “tukde-tukde” flare-up in 2016. What it may have found in the last seven years is the will to retaliate when pushed to a corner. Which is possibly what it resorted to on January 5 after the events of the previous day in which the server room was vandalized and freshers prevented from registering.

Romantic liberal notions that the current round of student protests could bring about a power shift are absurdly misplaced. JNU, Jamia, AMU or Jadavpur represent a minor fraction of the student community spread across 800 universities and 40,000 college campuses. The communal color of the theatrics has found limited traction outside a few TV studios periodically inclined to stir up storms in tea cups. A sizeable section of students are free loaders who have no desire to make an honest living, preferring to hang on as “PhD scholars” doing research on inane subjects like sexual relations in Mughal India or the “Savita Bhabhi” phenomenon.

Recalled by some is the 1974 Nav Nirman Andolan in Gujarat which was also sparked off by the decision of an engineering college to raise its food fee in hostels. The statewide disturbances which followed brought about the fall of the Chimanbhai Patel government. But this was more because the movement snowballed into a middle class rebellion against rising costs and corruption. The Assam Agitation between 1979-85 was also student led but the issues had the emotional backing of the entire local populace.

JNU protests can usually be summed up in four words: All smoke, no fire. The current round of chest beating is no exception.


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About the Author

Sudhir K Singh
Sudhir K Singh is an independent journalist who has worked in senior editorial positions in the Times Of India, Asian Age, Pioneer, and the Statesman. Also a sometime stage and film actor who has worked with iconic directors like Satyajit Ray and Tapan Sinha. He will be writing regularly for the Hindu Post as consulting editor.