Another chapter in the ongoing tussle between Jawaharlal Nehru University Vice-Chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar and the students was written on Monday night when several hundred students tried to barge into the V-C’s house when he was not home. In the minor skirmish that followed, JNU Students’ Union president N Sai Balaji was allegedly assaulted and had to be hospitalised while the V-C’s wife too had to be taken to the hospital due to the trauma she suffered.
Thankfully, matters did not go out of hand, warranting police intervention or even disciplinary action against the protesting students. The V-C later said he would not file a complaint against the students but made it clear that while they had the democratic right to protest, the students should not have behaved in a manner that did not fit well with the fact that they are part of one of India’s leading institutions of higher learning. The students, leftists and liberals have contended that Kumar has links with the RSS and that the government appointed him in early 2016 to weaken the Left’s hold on the university. Three years down the line, the atmosphere in the university is so vitiated that hardly a day passes when the V-C and students don’t clash.
The JNU tussle brings to focus the gradual decline in India’s top universities. Plagiarism, poor quality of research and teaching, and interference in the affairs of institutions have long plagued universities. Successive governments, both at the Centre and in the states, have often tampered with the existing structures and systems with a short-term view. While the current government has tried to appoint administrative heads who subscribe to its beliefs, the previous government at the Centre was equally to blame for running its own agenda.
A case in point was the hastily introduced four-year undergraduate programme in Delhi University in 2013. The unpopular decision was reversed after a year, but not before it caused much heartburn among students. It’s high time governments interfere less with temples of learning.