With Delhi Police registering FIRs against the agitating students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and the JNU administration moving the High Court for a contempt of the court case against the students and the cops, it’s difficult to comprehend if its beginning of the end of the crisis, or the end of the beginning which was made a day earlier with the government constituting a three-member committee to look into the matter.
JNU, its students and faculty have been discussed variously for the past week in public domain with the dominant narrative being that they are anti-national and a burden on society; and JNU is an ‘adda’ (hub) of politics which should be shut down. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his HRD Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank have, however, shown signs of some benevolence towards the agitating students but the same cannot be said about the more stringent elements wedded to their common ideology.
Given the legacy of knowledge sharing and struggle for youth empowerment, it’s difficult to believe that a body like the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad could favour Tiananmen Square-like handling of the situation. It has been to the much relief of those not sympathetic to the Left but at the same time facing the dilemma of endorsing a high handed management of the issue, that some of the Vidyarthi Parishad functionaries have stated on record that they opposed the exceptional fee hike.
JNU is not only about politics of Kanhaiya Kumars, Shehla Rashids, Umar Khalids and Kavita Krishnans but of a very high level of scholarship pursued by several generation of students who have taken Indian politics, bureaucracy, academics and media to great levels. If there is a shutdown on the campus, it doesn’t affect the JNUSU leadership, most of whom are PhD students, but those faceless students enrolled in the under-graduate and masters programmes as Damocles’ Sword is hanging over their end-semester examination.
What we are witnessing on the television screens and social media is what once historian Ramchandra Guha defined the present ideological struggle on the campuses between the Right and the Left as a struggle between "Left's dogmatism and Right's bigotry". In fact, he goes to even say that the Right on several occasions has justified its unwarranted actions as a counter to the Left's obstinacy.
But not this time around. Right’s cyber army, given its extreme enthusiasm, following the abrogation of 370 and a favourable Ayodhya verdict, raw energy and most importantly ignorance, has allowed their Left adversaries play the victim card to the hilt. And in this internecine battle who suffers, the majority of the students, who would wish a peaceful negotiated settlement, and the image of the government.
Despite some media houses unfastening their hounds on the agitating students, those in position of power should not forget that there still exists a large portion of Indian media which would find hard to defend the savage police attack on unarmed students, as they found difficult to endorse the violence let loose by the lawyers against the cops.
As mentioned earlier, JNU is not only about politics, it’s also about a culture of academic rigour especially in the field of social sciences. In a country where even degree of PhD doesn’t command very high price, the degrees earned at JNU are priceless. Howsoever one may disagree with the world view of some of the student leaders mentioned above, they cannot be faulted for their scholarship.
It was this scholarship which the JNU administration should have respected before coming down on them. For those who take pride in the names of Chanakya and Vivekananda, and rightly so, should have taken cues from their lives and teachings. Lack of dialogue and non-engagement have always failed as tools of negotiation.
The protesters did not include just those living on the ideological nourishment provided by Karl Marx but also those who look up to Babasaheb Ambedkar and also there is a substantial minority of those inspired by Syama Prasad Mukherjee and Deen Dayal Upadhyay. Unfortunately, those trying to cleanse JNU of the anti-national elements in their myopic view did not see beyond Marx.
Vice-Chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar, who assumed office in 2016, unlike his predecessors, is not from the campus. His baptism took place by fire with the ‘tukde-tukde’ incident taking place within a few days of his taking over. It has been a difficult tenure for him and it’s to his credit that he has managed to remain in office and that too in good health as it’s a very high pressure job in present times.
However, to his discredit goes the inability to connect with the students, going beyond the ‘political class’. This is largely attributable to the fact that he belongs not only to a different campus but a different academic culture. The professional institutions like IITs and IIMs can never be and should never be compared with the universities.
For those working towards diffusing the crisis, a cue could be taken from a General, who was appointed Vice-Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia in late 1990s. The battle hardened Lieutenant General MA Zaki had managed to clean the Jamia campus of oncogenic elements using tools of education like a surgeon would wield a scalpel and not running amuck with a bayonet. The situation in JNU today is not even a patch on what was it in Jamia then.
(The writer is a senior journalist and political analyst. Views expressed are personal)