Our way or the highway: the JNU story

Our way or the highway: the JNU story

By OUR CORRESPONDENT | NEW DELHI | 20 February, 2016
Student activists wearing the mask of Bhagat Singh along with other JNU students and supporters participate in a protest march in New Delhi on Thursday. PHOTO: Abhishek Shukla
‘Indira Gandhi and her father, whose name the university carries, were both socialists...the history of Congress rule in India is also a history of Congress-supported communist infiltration of the academic world.’
The Jawaharlal Nehru University, hailed as one of the best in Asia, is also the fortress of left, often radical-left, students and teachers. Ever since the 9 February incident of pro-Afzal Guru groups raising slogans seeking the destruction of India, has become public, the spotlight has been harsh for the university. Many see the recent events as a conflict between the entrenched left and a rising right on the campus. Not unfamiliar to controversy, JNU’s tryst with the left is not an overnight phenomenon. It can be traced back to its inception. 
A senior commentator, T.V. Mohandas Pai, chairman of Aarin Capital Partners, explained to The Sunday Guardian the roots of JNU’s leftist inclinations. “(Specifically), Professor S. Nurul Hassan, as Human Resources Development Minister in the 1970s, started the trend of converting JNU into a bastion of the left.” Eventually, left historians such as Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib and others carried forward that agenda. The Indira Gandhi government set up the Central university by an Act of Parliament in 1969. At the time, Congress was coping with a split in its ranks, and the left was supporting Indira Gandhi. Giving the left the control of JNU was a “quick-fix reward” of sorts, say some who are aware of the university’s history. According to Saumyajit Ray, Associate Professor of American Studies at the School of International Studies in JNU, the university was envisaged by Indira Gandhi as a bastion of leftist scholars and intellectuals. “She and her father, whose name the university carries, were both socialists and as such more tolerant of Marxists. In fact, the history of Congress rule in India is also a history of Congress-supported communist infiltration of the academic world.” “Indira Gandhi allowed a very classical capture of the educational institutions by the left because she wanted to fight the right,” said an educationist, who did not want to be named. In the process, he said, the left historians re-wrote India’s history in the name of “national integration”, while keeping out the right. Respected historians like R.C. Majumdar were sidelined, because he did not subscribe to their views. 
Throwing light on JNU’s past, Pai said that “Anti-India slogans have been a regular feature in JNU, but it’s only now they are catching attention due to the presence of the ABVP (RSS’ student wing, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad) in the university.”
“JNU is not a truly liberal university as it is dominated by leftist ideology. There is no healthy debate there, as alternate views are not commonly heard. Student unions owe allegiance to extreme units like CPI-ML (Maoist). The faculty that supports these students and the CPI-ML cannot be liberals by any account. In JNU, they don’t allow outsiders to come and lecture if you don’t share their own ideology,” he added.
In fact, a press conference called by a group of professors on Tuesday confirmed this charge. Professor Ram Nath Jha of the Special Centre for Sanskrit Studies, described the JNU Teachers’ Association (JNUTA) as “an oppressive body which is run by a few people who have their own way of decision-making and use their power to oppress alternative opinions.”
Reiterating this, Amita Singh, Chairperson, Centre for Law Studies, said, “It has been known for long that in this university if you are a teacher with an alternative opinion you will be targeted and labelled as right-wing sympathisers. For this reason, you see very few of us speaking out. But this (Afzal Guru) incident has become too big for us to ignore.”
Singh, who has been teaching at JNU since 2001 said, “The people who control JNUTA have been doing this for a very long time. They face very little resistance from other members of the teaching community because all of us have to live on the same campus. If one subscribes to different opinions there will be demonstrations, posters and candlelight marches outside one’s house. So it is not a happy environment and one has to struggle for identity.”
As Saumyajit Ray put it, “‘Apolitical’ is synonymous with escapism on this campus.” Ray shared experiences from his student days in JNU when he was isolated by the left. “During my student days, the CPI(M)-affiliated Students’ Federation of India (SFI) was the leading left party. Today, it is the radical left organisations like the pro-Maoist All India Students’ Association (AISA) and Democratic Students’ Union (DSU) that are on the rise. During my time as a student, non-left students were identified and hounded. It is the same today.”
According to Professor Mondira Dutta of the School of International Studies, who first came to the university as a student in 1973 and as a teacher in the 1990s, “JNU has always been a politically charged environment to be in, but this is the first time that we have seen such anti-national elements in the university. This is benefiting neither the teachers nor the students. A very small fragment of the student community and the teaching staff is involved in politics. But they disrupt the whole campus and all of us have to suffer because of them.”
“These political camps find ready recruits in the students coming from underprivileged backgrounds, who they manipulate with false hopes,” added Dutta.
This view was shared by many students who said that they were politically neutral. They said that it was only the science stream—but not social sciences—that was somewhat detached from the politics part of the university.
When asked about the arrest of JNU Students’ Union president Kanhaiya Kumar, Professor Saumyajit Ray said, “JNU is not an independent entity but a part of this country. The slogans that were raised that night challenged the sovereignty of the nation. That is why the police got involved.”
When asked, Professor Amita Singh said, “Kanhaiya is a very naive person. I have known him personally and we had warned him that he would be manipulated by the bigger left parties. They just could not digest the fact that a guy from AISF (CPI’s students’ wing) won the president’s post. He came here from a poor background, and was given a great platform. It would have been very easy to manipulate him.” 
Left leaders including Brinda Karat (top centre), Md. Salim (bottom left) And D. Raja (bottom centre) protest at JNU.
On the other side of the debate, JNUTA refuted accusations of bias and anti-national activities on campus. JNUTA secretary, Bikramaditya Choudhary said, “The JNUTA is a democratic body. There can be differences of opinion in any teaching community. The association is not controlled by a select few. In fact, the last elections saw 93% voting. I can understand that some colleagues have differences with others. But if it is taking place, we condemn personal attacks.”
Responding to allegations of the left’s high-handedness, he added, “In JNU we have six factions of left, then we have the centrist and then we have the right. So it is clear that we have a wide range of voices that can be heard. The JNUTA leadership does not brand anyone anything, at least within the confines of a meeting. Outside that meeting, we cannot issue gag orders upon opinions.”
He also said that the hasty probe of the matter, both by the university bodies and the police, has led to a lot of misinformation. He described the current anger against JNU in the popular discourse as a carefully planned attempt to discredit the public education system for the benefit of large private institutions. “It is clear that a large section of the media is running a smear campaign to malign JNU. There seems to be a careful design to subvert the public educational institutions, so that once these big institutes are taken down, people will flock to private institutions. JNU has given a number of Planning Commission members, bureaucrats. Moreover, the defence academies of the country get degrees from JNU. So those who call us anti-national should keep this in mind.” When commenting on the 9 February incident, he said, “We should let the country decide on our nationalism or lack of it. We must not base our views solely on what we see on news channels. People are normally peaceful, but their national passions are being aroused by a few vested interests. I find it hard to believe that the police or intelligence forces would be unaware if anti-national activities had been going on on this campus for years, as has been alleged.”
The 9 February incident has exposed JNU students, regardless of their political affiliations, to a barrage of criticism by the general public. Students complain that there have been incidents of minor harassment of day scholars by their landlords at their place of lodging, as well as all out attacks on them outside the Supreme Court. One girl student was asked to go to Pakistan by an auto-rickshaw-driver when she asked him to take her to JNU. “Aap Pakistan kyu nahi chale jate (why don’t you go Pakistan)?” he asked. There is also immense anger against the students for “playing politics” while being funded by taxpayers, at times for years. 
The fact that many students in JNU end up spending a decade on campus underlines their desire to leave their ideological imprints. “Once in, they never want to leave”, is the public perception about the students in JNU. “Normally, people end their formal education by the age of 25 or maybe take a break after graduation to work and then again go to school for a professional course to improve their job prospects. But in JNU they get in at the undergraduate or the masters level and get out when they are over 30 and some stay on even then,” said a PhD student at the University of Delhi on the condition of anonymity. 
Professor Ramnath Jha explained: “A student who gets in at the undergraduate level and wants to stay in the university can stay on for 12 years doing a BA, MA, MPhil, and a PhD back to back. It is not uncommon for students here to do double MAs or MPhils or getting a one-year extension on their PhD, which should be completed in four years.” Jha added that generous facilities provided by the government make students stay for long. “The university provides a lot of facilities at very small costs. Because of this often students do extra courses, sometimes even in two completely different fields. This is also because of the scarcity of jobs in the market and sometimes because they have vested interests in the politics of the university,” Jha said.
JNU, among other things, is famous for its marginal cost of education and lodging. A student at JNU can complete under-graduation or post-graduation degrees in under Rs 500 (minus hostel) with the current subsidies. The university hostels provide a comfortable lodging with the cheapest rates by any standards. A student at JNU is charged Rs 240 annually for a room with one bed and Rs 120 annually for a room with two beds. Apart from this, the miscellaneous charges, according to JNU website, amount to Rs 1,620 of which Rs 800 are refundable. But without the subsidies, the unit cost of educating one student per year at JNU amounts to roughly Rs 3.5 lakh.
The current turmoil in JNU, many believe, is an extension of the right vs left politics that has been simmering ever since ABVP started making inroads in this left fortress. The left students of JNU had recently opposed the appointment of Dr M. Jagadesh Kumar as the vice-chancellor without offering any valid reasons. Kumar was chosen by the Ministry of Human Resources Development on the basis of his academic record and his noticeable career graph as a professor of Electrical Engineering at IIT Delhi. But the left leaning students created a controversy and missed no opportunity to spite Kumar and question his integrity. Professor Amita Singh feels the left is guarding its flanks and is apprehensive of the rising might of the ABVP on campus. “At this point, with Narendra Modi in power, they (the left) really want to have complete control over JNUTA, JNUSU and over the lives of students here,” Singh told this newspaper. “They have been resisting the appointment of this VC since he was directly chosen by the HRD Ministry. I think, to an extent, this incident has been blown out of proportion just to spite him and to show him to be someone who cannot contain such situations,” she added.

There are 11 Comments


Demolish the JNU fully and buld a temple on that land.Remove all faculties all teachers students to fend for themselves.They are harmful to national security unity integrity and sovereignty.

Very well analysed.Compliments.Film Insitute at Pune too has similar problems.Viz, students refusing to get out, students protesting against govt appointed officials.If JNU is extensively funded by govt, them govt MUST have a say in apppointments as well as conduct of both students and teachers.JNU can't launch debate on freedom of speech while not allowing similar liberties within their campus.JNU or Jadhavpore, they will have to mend their ways or govt should stop funding them.In case of JNU govt should not release ANY funds unless culprits are identified and proceeded against.

The word Left is used as a label which actually fails to bring out its intellectual contents. Communism, in all its variations, is a spent force in Europe where it held sway up to the 1991. A rising literature is appearing these days (e.g. Wolton Thierry's first 2 volumes on The Founders and The Victims) in France, for example, on the causes of the disappearance of communism. Concurrently a good example of Communism as a past fad is the claim of China bluffing its own population that it is a Marxist-Leninist nation while practising a form of what in Western Europe is called "savage" capitalism, in contrast with "social" capitalism. China does not inspire any idea of liberation except in Nepal and among the Naxalites. In India as a whole communism does not provide any intellectual guidance. It is as much a fossil as Indian Christianity which has not made any contribution to the sum of theological knowledge in the history of Christianity.The alienating characteristic of Indian communism was evident with its sympathy with the Fascist Muslim League in their support of Partition, and later with China in 1962. It is amazing that such solidarity with forces of violence contrary to India would still continue to function as a normal, officially recognized party in the elective democracy of India. The intellectual bankruptcy of the Communists and their sympathisers was evident in the supposed vindication of Guru as a victim of an errant judicial system is evident with its destructive power in a nation where there are no intellectuals, like Tagore, Sittaramaiah, KM Munshi, Madan Mohan Malviya, Tilak, Ranade, Rukmini Arundale, Sarojini Naidu, Annie Besant. That is the problem, not Modi, not the CPI and its historians as ersatz opinion distillers. The problem is the intellectual vacuum, the emptiness , the big hole filled by the trivialities of Kanhiyas and of those profs who should never have been selected to teach in any university worth its name, but who make a lot of noise at the JNU. JNU today represents the will of India not to produce first class universities as producers of high knowledge. There is, as a result, an urgent need to revisit the meaning, the purpose, of the ancients who conceived, with a classic simplicity, the four puruṣārthas - ARTHA, KĀMA, DHARMA, MOKṢA. If they had some semblance of self-esteem, of self-respect, of dignity, the Kanhiyas and the Leftists and the semi-literate politicians like the Lalus and Mayavatis, would cease cursing the Brahmans who gave to India the unique way of life based on the finality of jīvan-mukti. They should ask for the return of the real Brahmans - not the degenerate Twice-born Caste of power and wealth seekers - if any still exist today, why are they absent in the realm of Learning, why the best institutions in Delhi are still run by foreign missionaries, when their forbears forged a civilisation with Knowledge as its raison d'etre. There is a vital need of the authentic Brahmans, not less of them, for the abusers and denigrators of what was so noble and transcendentally superior are myopic blundering ignoramuses agitating frantically in the darkness of their own making, while crying for recognition as national reformers. There is a need to revisit the Mahatma, in his lectures on the BHAGAVAD GĪTĀ, when he had the immense courage to propose the sublime folly of transforming the struggle for svarāj as a struggle for mokṣa! Let the JNU and its mimics as industries of unknowing take up from where the Mahatma left off after showing what could be done.

Government should introduce compulsory military training prior to start of the degree courses. Only then students would understand real meaning of patriotism.

politic is important in the life of a university provided that there is a proper leader who can guide the people on the campus in a selfless way. It seems that the students lack the vision and are unable to focus on their objectives of being at a university. There is poor and damaging relationship between the gurus and the learners. the only motivation is greed for money and the wastage of government fund . there may be a lesson to be learned from the famous Indian man- Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda

Before all this I had very high opinion about JNU but going through very well eloborated article ,it looks it is institution where poor student on whom govt.spent lot of money to make them educated in real sence are targeted by vested interest in the campus ,even elements who are bent upon making India weak poision minds of innocent students,9th Feb incident is large scale conspiracy to weaken our govt.and country.

Communists or rather commies were never Indians - They have a notorious history 1924 - letter to british government about not giving Independence to India 1962 - celebrated chinese victory over India 1972-2010 - destroyed Bengal 1984 - till - destroying Kerala These leeches need to be cleared out of the country and kicked into the ocean


Left is still inflicting lot of anger in the student and hatred for others. Wish they change as the time is changing. Their ideologue has changed in different country. They try to imbibe in their cadre love for the nation not for the party only. Still some of the old institution old teachers of their ideologue try to misguide students which results in incidents like JNU. Please teach them to build nation where all of our interest lies.

All staff of the JNU should be given a golden handshake and told to proceed on retirement. An all new institution that honours national sentiment should be starteda31q8

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