The architecture of intellect does not always reflect the architecture of the building where it thrives. Take the 50-year-old Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), the bastion of Left thought, citadel of separatism and refuge of the ideologically fashionable crowd with Marx on their minds and Kashmir on their agenda. Rarely does a varsity become an ideologically motivated adversary, but of India’s 400-odd prominent universities, JNU is the most fiery opponent of any establishment that attempts to correct its imbalances at many levels.
According to UGC reports, the Centre spends over Rs 2.50 lakh per student per year as against less than Rs 1,000 per student in other universities. For the past few weeks, JNU students have taken to the streets opposing the Central government, which has prodded them to contribute marginally more on education and almost gratis lodging. Their self-righteous anger didn’t stick to financial matters alone. Political slogans rent the air as if Lenin had just popped out of Battleship Potemkin.
JNU is perhaps the only government-funded institution in the world where a student pays a measly Rs 20 per month for a hostel room. The yearly fee for all Ph.D programs is Rs 240 each and a princely Rs 216 for MA/ M.Sc/ MCA/ BA (Hons.) courses. The government rolled back the fee hike substantially, bowing to the aggressive agitation by students. But they took the fight from the campus to Parliament, gheraoing Union Human Resource Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank.
The ongoing confrontation between the BJP-led Central government and JNU is a sonic boom in the larger national discourse. The ruling party believes that subsidising an organised attack on a democratically elected government in the guise of student autonomy is a misuse of public money. The Sangh Parivar is unable to digest the reality that JNU is the only educational institution whose ranks teem with its ardent opponents, the Communists. While the BJP insists that JNU patronises anti-national elements, the varsity’s champions claim that it is the only university where freedom of expression and academic excellence go hand in hand—perhaps marching to the forgotten tune of the Internationale.
When the authorities ratcheted up fees for all services from teaching to hostel accommodation, students opposed even a minimum increase to face the impact of inflation. JNU’s annual budget exceeds Rs 260 crore though only around 9,000 students are taught by over 650 faculty members on a verdant 1,000 acre campus. Have salubrious surroundings and flexible classes made JNU an academic luxury resort for revolt and revulsion? The answer lies in its ideological genes. It has retained its Leftist character because its admission and faculty selection process are structured to facilitate only the entry of ideologically consanguine youngsters.
JNU was launched in 1969. Moonis Raza, a Leftist, was chosen as Chairman and Rector. In 1972, the ardent Leftie Nurul Hasan became Union Education Minister and he ensured Communist consolidation.
Since JNU is packed with Reds and their sympathisers, teachers who differ with majoritarian terror JNU-style find their careers floundering on the shore of dogma. Since then JNU has been given a special and privileged status in Indian academic hierarchy turning it into a pedagogic extension of J&K.
Admirers call JNU the only university that provides highly subsidised quality education to poor students of whom over 90% are from other states. When the recent fee increase was announced, student leaders claimed that 43% of pupils are from families whose annual income is less than Rs 4 lakh. But they weren’t asking for special concessions for only the poor. The rollback would also benefit all those who have been staying there for even over a decade. Moreover, over 25% of students are from affluent families in Bihar, UP, Andhra and the Northeast. A large number of them are related to powerful political leaders, civil servants and academics who can easily afford to bankroll the very poor their progeny are championing.
All attempts to broad base JNU’s student intake is successfully thwarted by its Left-controlled interests. Though it comes second in the HRD Ministry rankings on academic excellence, its overall character is quasi-political. JNU is India’s only university where more than 60% of students are enrolled in M.Phil and Ph.D courses with liberal scholarships and stipends. Mysteriously it has the distinction of keeping its university tag even though over half of its teachers and students spend more time on politics outside the campus than in classrooms. Since by omission or commission the Congress took little interest in JNU’s politics and management, the institution produced Leftie alumni like Sitaram Yechury, Prakash Karat and Kanhaiya Kumar.
Allahabad University, BHU, AMU, etc., have produced national leaders who dominate the Congress and the BJP. Union Ministers like Nirmala Sitharaman and S Jaishankar were saffronised by accident rather than by ideological grooming. A Leftie faculty member eulogised JNU’s superiority saying, “If we were to do a roll call of bureaucrats, journalists, artists, translators, writers, activists, professors, vice-chancellors, heads of important institutions and politicians, JNU would have a fair share of the leading members of these groups. It’s not for nothing that in the last two years the heads of the Intelligence Bureau, Research & Analysis Wing and Central Bureau of Investigation, besides the foreign and cabinet secretaries, have been from JNU. They do not look like anti-nationals to me. So where does all this ‘anti-national university’ stuff come from?” Undoubtedly, many sensitive posts are occupied by JNUites, though few of them do empathise with the “tukde tukde gang”.
The Indian establishment is dominated by students from elite colleges in Delhi, Chennai, Mumbai and abroad. The JNU unrest is significant since no other Indian university is involved in confrontations with the government so frequently. Opposing the idea of Modi and what he stands for is an article of faith in its sylvan expanses and ideologically fertile hostel rooms. Students eviscerated Afzal Guru’s execution as the murder of democracy.
They saw the democratically adopted resolution to abolish Article 370 as an attack on Kashmiriyat while terror pogroms led by jehadis are just another moniker for a subversively perverse freedom struggle. With its collaborators imbedded in the system and sustained with public funds, an elitist section of JNU survives and thrives as India’s academic Taliban. The standoff evokes the classic words of Henry Kissinger, “The reason university politics is so vicious is because stakes are so small.” In JNU’s chic salons of conscience and silken parade of Leftist protest careerism, the stakes, like the fees, have suddenly become big.
Follow him on Twitter @PrabhuChawla