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Eminent historian and diversity of thought

In a nation as highly polarised on ideological grounds as India is, one voice of moderation came from none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi the other day.

Published: 04th September 2019 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 04th September 2019 08:10 AM   |  A+A-

Romila Thapar

Historian Romila Thapar (File | EPS)

In a nation as highly polarised on ideological grounds as India is, one voice of moderation came from none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi the other day. He said people can have different shades of views and do not need to agree on everything, but there must be enough civility in public life for differing streams to be able to hear each other’s views. Actually, there must be a constant and continuous dialogue between individuals and organisations irrespective of one’s thought process, he underlined. 

Had the Jawaharlal Nehru University’s (JNU) administration in Delhi internalised the PM’s message, it wouldn’t have ended up in a mess of seeking the curriculum vitae of its renowned professor emeritus Romila Thapar so as to revisit her position. It now emerges that such letters went to as many as 11 JNU emeritus professors.

The status of professor emeritus is selectively accorded to eminent faculty members after retirement without payout, but they are free to do academic work in the respective departments. Whether or not they are positions for life is disputed. Even internationally it is not permanent, says JNU registrar Pramod Kumar, but a section of the academia thinks otherwise. However, JNU could have handled the matter with a little more sensitivity.

While some of the 11, including Thapar, have already complied with the request to send their CVs, JNU’s letters created a storm as they were seen as part of the BJP’s efforts to purge the institution of its left-aligned character. The scorn in the right-wing for Thapar is well known, as she has always been seen as headlining the Left-liberal monopoly over scholarship in India. Her polemical positions on divisive issues such as Ayodhya, Hindutva and the Aryan civilisation put her on a collision course with the right-wing, which perhaps sees it as payback time.

But in the zeal to clean up the academia of Left-liberal scholars, what perhaps is lost sight of is the nurturing of ideas of various streams that Modi so eloquently spoke about. Those like Thapar have the right to have diverse opinions and yet be roses with thorns in the bouquet that is India.

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