JNU VC Jagadesh Kumar does not seem fit for his job

His continuance as the vice-chancellor puts the university's future at stake.

 |  6-minute read |   26-07-2017
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For the past two days, the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) is back in news as its vice-chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar on July 23 requested two ministers of the Narendra Modi government to help “procure an Army tank” that could be displayed on the campus premises to “instil nationalism” among the students.

His requests came while he was celebrating the military victory at Kargil in 1999, inside the campus not only with two Union ministers but also in the company of rabid Hindutva poster boys.

JNU has been the target of the Modi government since it came to power in May 2014. This small, but internationally well-known university campus stands for the exact opposite to what the BJP has planned for India. No doubt, the regular attacks on JNU are parts of the Modi regime’s wider agenda against the secular-democratic character of India.

In September 2015, Subramanian Swamy had exposed the Hindutva game-plan for JNU in a tweet:

It was in response to a news story about Modi government’s offer of the post of JNU vice-chancellor to him. He did not become the vice-chancellor, probably because age was not on his side, but the Hindutva brigade got one of their choices to head the prestigious university.

After professor Sudhir Kumar Sopory's term came to an end on January 27, 2016, Kumar, a professor of electrical engineering from IIT-Delhi, was picked to be the new vice-chancellor of JNU.

Kumar has had an association with the RSS-led Vinjana Bharati, whose aim is to create a social movement for the development of "swadeshi sciences" through interlinking of traditional and modern sciences on the one hand, and natural and spiritual sciences on the other, and to adapt modern sciences to national needs.

His commitment to the "nationalist" ideology was very much reflected, when he had presented his vision for JNU before his selection, saying “I also want to ensure that JNU becomes the best centre of scientific research, one which is relevant to the country’s needs”.

tank_body_072617052342.jpg Vice-chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar and Maj Gen (retd) GD Bakshi at the Tiranga March organised on the JNU campus on Sunday. (Photo: Hindustan Times)

The JNU vice-chancellor seems to have a very skewed perception about the role of a university.

A university is not a war-time industrial enterprise, which produces according to the demands of the country’s "emergency" situation. A university is not an industrial house, but is a "school of universal learning" whose two principal functions are providing instruction and doing research on matters of intellectual importance.

Kumar’s idea of education is what Paulo Freire’s "oppressed pedagogy" theory will describe as "banking" education, which considers the student only a passive subject as opposed to the "liberation" education, which treats a student as an active actor and education as liberating device, which can lead to social action that builds and strengthens communities and contributes to transforming reality.

A university broadens horizons and develops assurance and self-determination that enables a person to interact and compete with others. It encourages acceptance and tolerance and helps people lead responsible civic lives.  

The JNU VC likes to write blogs as he himself describes because they not only provide him freedom to write on topics of his choice, “but also ‘pop-up’ effectively on search engines”. Like RSS sakhas, for him discipline and order are paramount virtues in a university.

In one of his blogs he proudly describes: “During the lecture, I always used to scan the class and look eye-to-eye at students with indications of disruptive behaviour. I always maintained my calm in spite of a possible provocation. Perhaps that helped me to retain my authority and the result is that my class was disciplined in spite of its size.”

He has a fascination for maintaining his authority. Moreover, Kumar lacks the understanding that universities thrive not because of discipline or order, but when it provides an environment to think and deliberate freely.

This is even critical, when comes to JNU, where schools and centres in social sciences and humanities heavily dominate in comparison to natural sciences.

Kumar’s boasting of improving "scientific research" raises questions about his understanding and appreciation of research in non-natural science subjects, where JNU has international fame.

His electrical engineering background has not exposed him even to inter-disciplinary research if you look at his list of academic publications on topics of nanoelectronics devices, nanoscale device modeling and simulation.

He should know that in general, natural science is the study of the universe and how it works, while social science is the study of human behaviour.

The challenge for social science is difficult to do "scientifically" is that it is rarely possible to engage in double-blind, controlled experiments.

Jagadesh Kumar has failed to realise that JNU is not an engineering institute.

His "nationalist" thinking and methodological rigidity make him unsuitable to lead an academic institution like JNU.

Moreover, within a few days of taking over the assignment, he has lost the trust of JNU students and the teachers community by allowing the police to enter inside the campus to arrest its student leaders and at the same time lying about it.

He seems to have no qualms about telling lies. In this blog, he proudly boasts: “In a given time that I spend with my students in the class, how do I make them understand a difficult topic? To realise my goal, I tell 'lies to students', a phrase I coined after reading fantasy writer Terry Pratchett’s 'lies to children'. A lie, according to Pratchett, is 'a statement that is false, but which nevertheless leads the child’s mind towards a more accurate explanation'."

I am not sure what was the accurate explanation for these lies, but he has certainly proved himself as pliant vice-chancellor ready to act with alacrity to please the RSS and its student body, ABVP.

He has been a disastrous choice for the post of JNU vice-chancellor due to his right-wing ideological affiliation and methodological limitations.

In his time, while police forces are regularly entering the JNU campus, Hindutva thugs are being invited to the university who are even demanding the closure of the university.

Jagadesh Kumar’s ideologically biased authoritarian working style is bringing crisis after crisis to this prestigious academic campus. Academic council meetings have turned to a farce. Research student intake has been drastically cut. Campus atmosphere has not stopped simmering for the past 18 months due to his open promotion of hypernationalist-Hindutva agenda on the campus.

Whatever little moral authority he had, he has completely tanked it with this tank episode while celebrating military victory to promote the ruling party’s political agenda.

His continuance as the vice-chancellor puts JNU’s future at stake.

Why do mature Indian citizens need a tank to be reminded of Army's sacrifices?

 

Writer

Ashok Swain Ashok Swain @ashoswai

The writer is professor of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, Sweden.

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