A lesson in democracy

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To all those people who complain about JNU misusing tax-payer money by encouraging student politics, don't forget that a culture of dissent is essential for nation-building

Mohandas Pai has written a comment on the NDTV website titled, 'Dear JNU Students, We Fund Your Studies, Not Your Politics', in which he expresses concerns about the use of tax-payer’s money “to subsidise extreme views or an archaic Left”. His view echoes in many voices. Jude Anthany Joseph, a little-known Malayalam filmmaker wrote on his Facebook, ‘We pay the tax for ur studies. Not for ur politics’.

Who's this 'WE' here? Do these tax-grievers have any idea how much money the government is gifting the corporations in tax exemptions? (For beginners, tax exemptions and incentives to corporations had had a revenue impact of Rs. 62,398.6 crore to the exchequer in 2014-15, 8 per cent higher than the previous fiscal, according to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley). Will they ever get indignant over corporations trying to circumvent existing laws to save tax by conducting business transactions overseas? For an example, Vodafone has to pay the government of India $2.1 billion in taxes over an acquisition. Instead of paying the money, the company went for international arbitration. And what about the billions of rupees lent to big companies and written off as bad debts?

You want numbers? According to an Indian Express report, 29 state-owned banks wrote off Rs 1.14 lakh crore of bad debts between 2013 and 2015. Any word of protest?

 

Well, my point is not that you can criticise the governments spending priorities only if you slam the incentives given to the big business. Rather, there’s a fair amount of hypocrisy when someone who doesn’t even bother about the billions of dollars the government is doling out to the big business sheds tears over it funding public education. What do these tax-grievers think about higher education? Do they think the government is funding the education institutions out of charity? The kids in such institutions are remote-controlled robots, who can't think independently and can't have their political positions? Or, they are the slaves of tax-payers or that of the state, which is spending the tax-payers’ money? Do you have any sense of what social science is?

To be specific, JNU is a university famed for its social science courses. Over the years the university has produced renowned historians, political and social scientists as well as diplomats (Our foreign secretary S. Jaishankar is a JNUite, if you need a quick name), who have contributed, no less than anybody, to the nation-building process. A university should promote rational thinking, scientific temperament and a culture of dissent. These values are the lifeblood of any democracy. And if JNU is doing just that, it’s serving this country’s democracy. So the tax-payers should actually take pride in it, instead of sulking about the tax contributions they make.

A university should promote rational thinking, scientific temperament and a culture of dissent. These values are the lifeblood of any democracy. And if JNU is doing just that, it’s serving this country’s democracy. So the tax-payers should actually take pride in it, instead of sulking about the tax contributions they make.

And dear tax-grievers, don't monopolise your position on behalf of all the tax-payers of this country. I am a tax-paying citizen as well. I would rather prefer the government to spend the money it collects from me and my fellow-citizens on high-quality education and healthcare, like any modern, progressive state, rather than doling out incentives to a bunch of capitalists. India is already among the lower spenders on education. In 2012, according to the World Bank, India spent 3.9% of its GDP on education. Even Mozambique and Morocco spent 6.2 per cent each. Both the U.S. and the U.K. spend more than 5 per cent.

And finally, Mr. Pai is the Chairman of Manipal Global Education Services Pvt Ltd, a private provider of higher education services in India as well as abroad. His problem with JNU is understandable. NDTV should actually have carried a disclaimer in the JNU piece that he’s leading a private education enterprise. My father was a coolie from a small-town in Kerala, who died when I was 15. Had there not been institutions such as MG University (Kerala) and JNU, I wouldn't even have an MA, let alone a PhD. My anger over these ridiculous attacks on one of the country's premier educational institutions is also understandable, isn't it? ‪#‎IAmATaxPayerToo

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