JNU will survive crisis, say former academics

ABVP activists protesting against Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi at the JNU in New Delhi on Saturday. Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma

ABVP activists protesting against Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi at the JNU in New Delhi on Saturday. Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma  

The social media may be abuzz with messages against the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University in the wake of the arrest of its students’ union president, Kanhaiya Kumar, on “sedition” charges, but veteran academics associated with the institution recall it with fondness.

Former Union Minister and economist Y.K. Alagh, who was its Vice-Chancellor about two decades ago, recalls it as the “best job” of his life.

“It is one the finest universities in India, with just 700-800 being selected from tens of thousands who apply. Outstanding students from very poor backgrounds also study there,” he told The Hindu.

While saying that he did not know the situation facing the present Vice-Chancellor and would not want to comment on it, Professor Alagh underlined that he never called in the police as Vice-Chancellor.

“I would always think there is something in what the students are saying. They are young and idealistic,” he said.

Professor Alagh recalled two challenging moments: when he made students understand his position by going on a two-day hunger strike and when he physically pulled students trying to lynch an “outsider” who had harassed a girl student. “The notion of gender equality is very strong in JNU,” he said.

He added that he had seen students from the JNU fare better in examinations such as the civil services compared with those from almost every other institution.

Veteran historian Harbans Mukhia, who taught at JNU, sees the crisis as a battle of worldviews between the Sangh Parivar and the university. “It is a clash of views between the RSS’s monolithic ideology and the idea of dissent and pluralism in the JNU. The RSS wants to impose a single mode of thinking, while the JNU is known for diversity of thought,” Professor Mukhia said. “There seems to be an attempt to use state power rather than discussion to win this battle of ideas.” He added that many top government officials and academics studied at the JNU and to brand the institution “anti-national” was akin to branding all of them “anti-national”.

Eminent historian K.N. Panikkar, who taught at the institution, called the police action “unfortunate and deplorable”, saying the universit promoted “rational thinking in society”. He underlined that the JNU was set up to excel as a global-level centre. An eminent sociologist who taught at JNU, Yogendra Singh, recalled that it had been shut down earlier too when a Vice-Chancellor called in the police against students who gheraoed him.

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2020 10:42:34 AM |

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