Union Human Resource Development minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank has his hands full. As if the ongoing unrest in the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) was not enough, discontent has now boiled over in the Delhi University campus with the teachers laying a siege of the vice-chancellor’s office.
In the present turmoil in the two campuses, there is one commonality: the utter failure of the two vice-chancellors—Mamidala Jagdeesh Kumar of the JNU and Yogesh Tyagi of the Delhi University—to encourage dialogue.
In both the cases, the charge against the establishment is of unilateral decision-making without taking into account the views of the students and the teaching communities.
Without going into the merits or demerits of the decisions taken, let’s take a look at what Nishank had to say in the Parliament on the ongoing crises on the two premium education centres of the country. “All administrative and academic decisions, including fee revision, are taken by the university with the approval of its statutory bodies such as the Academic Council, Executive Council and the court. However, no information is maintained centrally in this regard,” Nishank had replied to a question in Parliament earlier this week.
This statement is a testimony to the government’s denial to look at the crises engulfing the campuses as largely being a part of their failing policies with reference to higher education. It’s true that the university system in our country has in place a system of autonomous functioning but there is no denial of the fact that universities largely exist on the grants from the government.
While de jure a university vice-chancellor reports to the University Visitor, the president in the cases of the JNU and the DU, but de facto their tail is continuously twisted by a joint secretary level officer of the HRD ministry. This tail twister could be even of a lower level in case of the other central universities.
In the given situations, the best bet for the vice-chancellor’s post is an eminent scholar from amid the university faculty or at least somebody who is clued about the how these two educational behemoths function. The eminence of the scholar and the person’s grounding in the particular campus’s ethos and cultures makes the functioning of the autonomy meaningful.
The perception about a person being an academic giant in a way helps in modulating if not controlling the aggression of the bureaucracy vis-à-vis the matters on the campus. If the person in the hot seat is from the same campus, it also helps in keeping an ongoing dialogue part of reforms process.
The two campuses have seen many a reforms being introduced despite stiff resistance from the teachers and the student community in the past two decades. This could happen because the vice-chancellors, through a team of academicians, could manage to keep the dialogue going with different ideological and political factions on the campus.
The same cannot be said about the two present incumbents – Yogesh Tyagi of Delhi University and Mamidala Jagdeesh Kumar of JNU, both of whom have not been part of the academic communities which they are leading today. Tyagi has functioned all these years as DU V-C without ever constituting a proper team of academicians and pushed his agenda through intellectually less capable deputy and assistant registrars.
The same could also be said about Jagadeesh Kumar. He may have constituted a team which has members from JNU’s teaching community but seldom provided them enough space to function or influence the decision-making process. No wonder, in both the cases, there has been a total lack of dialogue with the people whom the reforms are going to affect.
In his reply in Parliament, Nishank said that JNU has informed him that in order to meet the increased expenditure on the maintenance of hostels and to run them on a no-profit-no-loss basis, it has increased room rents after about 40 years. If the matter was so simple, what made the vice-chancellor push the ‘minimal’ rent hike in a most undemocratic manner without entering into a dialogue?
This is a question the minister should be asking the vice-chancellor. Can a yearly financial loss of Rs 250 have the students out on the streets risking their career? Certainly, the JNU students are intelligent enough not to agitate on as ‘trivial’ a matter as the financial loss of Rs 250 per year. There is more to it and the government is refusing to look into it.
In Delhi University, the past four years of functional paralysis has ensured flight of talent from the campus both in the terms of faculty and students. The beneficiaries have been the private universities which have come up in the national capital region and also some of the central universities which have come up in the states.
The supply of talent from DU would have been acceptable if there remained a surfeit of talent in the university’s own treasure chest. The shortsighted government policy of destroying JNU is justified by its supporters by appending on it the ‘crime’ of being a hub of ‘anti-nationals’; no crime has yet been affixed on Delhi University but the process to emaciate and enfeeble its intellectual capabilities is well underway.
The government of a party which espouses the celebration of intellectual prowess of Mughal prince Dara Shukoh should not be known in history as one having wrecked centres of higher learning of modern India. Nishank would certainly like to be remembered not for the endless unrests on the campus but for empowering them.
(The author is a senior journalist and political analyst. Views expressed are personal)