India’s premier educational institution, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), has been at the centre of a political storm in the last five years, frequently hogging national headlines. Unfortunately, most of this has been for the wrong reasons.
Matters came to a head once again on March 25, when JNU vice-chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar tweeted:
Few hundred students have broken into my residence at JNU and have confined my wife inside the house. She is alone at home and terrified. Very unfortunate.— Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar (@mamidala90) March 25, 2019
Students in JNU have been on a hunger strike to protest against various policies of the administration — including the new prospectus which, they claim, is exclusionary in nature, the online entrance examination and scuttling of deprivation points and reservation. It is these students and their supporters who are believed to have gheraoed Kumar’s residence on the university campus.
Shocking! They are JNU 'students'. They have gheraoed the Vice Chancellor @mamidala90 s residence. Chanting 'come out JNU VC', they lay a seige. As VC's wife is alone at home, terrified. It doesn't matter which ideology you belong to for outrightly calling for their arrest. pic.twitter.com/eausH3D9UY— Anindya (@AninBanerjee) March 25, 2019
The visuals appear disturbing given the fact that the VC’s wife is believed to have been alone in the residence when the incident happened.
In the last five years, however, JNU seems to have become habituated to a culture of increasingly violent protests.
Simmering tensions on campus came to a boil on February 9, 2016, when allegations of ‘anti-national’ slogans being raised surfaced. Several students — including then-JNU Students Union president and now aspiring neta Kanhaiya Kumar — were taken into custody.
This only led to a huge hardening of battle lines.
At the core of the fight is an ideological clash over the 'idea of India'.
While one section of students demands ‘azadi’, calling it a struggle against the authoritarian regime of the Narendra Modi-led BJP government, the other group calls their demands a political move ‘detrimental to the unity and integrity of India’.
Many student leaders have shot to political prominence in the last five years — with some now headed for a fiesty electoral fight.
While Kanhaiya Kumar is himself contesting from Bihar’s Begusarai on a Communist Party of India (CPI) ticket, another student, Shehla Rashid, has joined ranks with former IAS officer Shah Faesal, joining his newly-announced political party, the Jammu and Kashmir Peoples' Movement (JKPM).
Both Kanhaiya Kumar and Shehla Rashid have joined politics ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. (Source: PTI)
Many now allege that JNU’s protests, which rocked the nation through much of 2016 and 2017, were little more than an attempt by some students to posture as Modi’s opponents and pave their political careers thus.
Even as the jury is out on that, there is growing resentment against VC Jagadesh Kumar — who is seen by many as slavishly trying to implement the government’s agenda on campus.
In 2017, Jagadesh Kumar had asked union ministers Dharmendra Pradhan and VK Singh to help JNU procure an army tank which could be put up on display on campus apparently to remind students of the sacrifices and valour of the soldiers.
Students allege Kumar is imposing notions of discipline, homogeneity, hierarchy and order in the name of an agenda they would fight tooth and nail.
Students have been against Kumar right from when news about his possible appointment started doing the rounds, owing to his alleged Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) links. Kumar reportedly had an association with the RSS-led Vinjana Bharati.
But for a university that demands inclusiveness and freedom of expression for all, to oppose someone purely on the grounds of his alleged ideological links, is not exactly an objective opposition.
Students now reaching right at the JNU VC's house, raising slogans and allegedly trying to break open the gates, is a serious law and order problem.
Unfortunately, this problem is only intensifying in JNU. And while, ironically enough, both sides have several 'ideas of India', neither has any answers on how to break this deadlock.