The recently concluded elections of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU) ensured yet again that this institution of eminence would remain Leftist for at least one more year in its orientation as far as its student politics is concerned.
The Left Unity candidates won all major union posts in a highly charged election that saw allegations and counter allegations of violence and other misconduct. However, the fact that all Leftist organisations — AISA, AISF and SFI — had to form an alliance to counter the growing rise of the anti-Left Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) is a worrying sign for the Left ideologues, both within and outside the friendly confines of this beautiful campus.
No matter how insignificant this election may be at any level, the Left would not like to lose one of its truly last forts in India.
Jawaharlal Nehru University — the Left's last bastion. (Photo: PTI)
If the recent national electoral scenes are any indication, the space for the Left is shrinking from all meaningful forums. The Left in India is pretty much reduced to its singular disruptive nuisance value. As far as many of these Left student leaders are concerned, they end up joining one non-BJP and non-Left party or the other to pursue their political career outside of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).
JNU is arguably one of the most prestigious liberal arts universities of India. Nestled in the picturesque 1,000 acres expanse of the Aravali Hills in south Delhi, it is one small island of tranquillity away from the chaotic hustle and bustle that defines the typical urban life in India.
This is where I spent four of my formative years in the early 1990s, first as an MA student, then as an MPhil scholar before moving to the US. I owe a lot to my JNU education where I learnt from some of the finest in the field, including Padma Shri Dr Anvita Abbi and Dr Kapil Kapoor among others, and made lifelong friends.
While JNU has its admirers, it has its fair share of detractors as well. I recently attended the World Hindu Congress 2018 in Chicago where I was the chair of one of the sessions in the Media Forum. When the organisers introduced me as the alumnus of JNU, one could hear a murmur in the hall.
By now, I am used to this kind of “welcome” in gatherings, both large and small — but I never fail to acknowledge the education and training I received and the self-confidence I gained. I wouldn’t be where I am without my JNU education.
When I arrived on the campus of JNU on a balmy August afternoon as a graduate student in Linguistics, I felt special, part of an exclusive club. This exclusivist aura, the elitism, is what defines JNU to some extent and sets it apart from other universities of India. How true it is, is for anyone to judge. But it undoubtedly has a character — the freedom of expression, the dining hall speeches, the dhaba debates, and so on and so forth. It is quite an experience, to tell you the truth.
The exclusivism, the elitism. That's what defined JNU even back in the early 90's. (Photo: Indiatoday.in)
However, when one digs a little deeper, they will realise that a great deal of debate, exchange of ideas, etc., is allowed as long as it follows a specific paradigm.
Who can forget the viral video of Professor Makarand Paranjape not being allowed to go to his office by protesting Leftist “students”? Another viral video shows the same professor being heckled by JNUSU leaders during his speech for expressing dissenting voice and challenging their narrative. Such incidents go against the very essence of a truly liberal and democratic educational institution. However, there is a need to see such blatant assaults on the idea of “free speech” in the context of growing intolerance on the part of the Left ecosystem worldwide towards any dissent.
It was, after all, the same elitism and intolerance that, right away, branded many of us JNU newcomers as “lumpen” as the new rangroots (rookies) did not fit the classical JNU mould.
The same intolerant exclusivism did not allow a Baba Ramdev and a Vivek Agnihotri on JNU campus.
Amidst protest by Left-wing students and faculty, the Yoga guru’s appearance as a keynote speaker at the 22nd International Congress of Vedanta was cancelled by the University administration. On the other hand, the filmmaker had to arrange an outdoor screening of his movie Buddha in a Traffic Jam. The earlier arrangement of its screening in the auditorium of The School of Arts & Aesthetics was cancelled by the Dean of the School.
JNU has always been a Marxist-Leftist stronghold.
It was created in 1969, three years after the Indian Parliament passed an act for its establishment. The founding goal of the University was “national integration, social justice, secularism, the democratic way of life, international understanding and a scientific approach to the problems of the society.”
However, soon after its inception, those lofty goals were shown the door for more concrete political goals. It all started with Indira Gandhi splitting the Congress of Gandhiji and Jawaharlal Nehru after she was expelled from the party. Already the Prime Minister of India, Indira was 45 seats short of majority in the Lok Sabha. She turned to the Communist Party of India (CPI) for support.
The communists were too eager to support — but not without a price. Under this “support” plan, an openly Leftist historian and academic Saiyid Nurul Hasan was made the Education Minister of India in 1971. Nurul Hasan’s policies ensured a Leftist stranglehold over the JNU faculty that it is yet to overcome. Relying heavily on its alumnus for faculty recruitment, the Leftists ensure a healthy inflow of like-minded teachers.
The famous JNU protest: JNU has always been a Marxist-Leftist stronghold, in the grip of angry demands. (Photo: PTI)
JNU holds an open national entrance examination for enrolment. This selection process is apparently rigged to a great extent to filter out “unwarranted” students from ever setting foot on the campus. Arvind Kumar, in his detailed article “Selection Engineering: Political Filters in JNU Admission Process” provides an insight into this selection process. The author cites examples of the kinds of questions asked, albeit subtly, during the selection process. Answers to those questions force one to reveal his/her political and ideological positions on various issues. On the other hand, to shelter their like-minded disciples, JNU doctoral supervisors are reportedly known to keep up to 30-times more MPhil and PhD students than “normal”, flouting all norms of academic rigour and integrity.
Another tool used for keeping Left domination alive was the way the administration apparently systematically disallowed certain branches of education in the University. It was after much hard work of many well-meaning people that the School of Sanskrit and Indic Studies was established. Being a premiere liberal arts institution, one would expect it to have programs in developing Sanskrit scholarship. The University, on the other hand, had several non-Indic language departments right from the word go, and a centre for Sanskrit would have to wait for about 30 years to be functional.
But one of the most depressing aspects of JNU life has been its Rudali nature. One of the major JNU narratives revolves around over-emphasis on the evils of Indian society, particularly that of Hindu society. Indian intellectuals in general and JNU academics in particular have a fetish for depressingly over-emphasising the ills of society. These Rudalis don’t see much positive in the society around them. Indeed, they seem ever (if not over-) ready to denigrate Hindu culture, gods and goddesses.
As a privileged alumnus of this prestigious university, I would love to see our beloved institution held up to its highest academic standards — without succumbing to ideological extremism.