M Jagadesh Kumar, 50
It hasn’t been easy for Jawaharlal Nehru University’s (JNU) vice-chancellor to manage the affairs of India’s most colourfully controversial university. M Jagadesh Kumar has steered the institution through it all. Its activist air has been rent with slogans against India, while hailing Afzal Guru, hanged for his role in the 2001 Parliament attack—provoking a violent backlash from people and police alike. Its atmosphere has been disturbed by internal strife, warring student unions and court cases barring the entry of outsiders to the campus.
“JNU is not about the agitations and dharnas you hear about. A goal-oriented approach and eclectic vision are the reasons behind this university’s success. Our long-term purpose is to become one of the world’s top universities, and be useful to society,” says Kumar.
All the recent negative publicity worries the vice-chancellor. “Where is this perception coming from? We have dozens of ambassadors and presidents of international universities visiting JNU,” he says, adding, “Politics and political thinking are integral to our lives. We encourage free-thinking debates here. Discussions on various issues are not related only to JNU. I’ve never met anyone who says it’s a bad university,” he adds.
Kumar is known for his inclusive approach, asking students and faculty for feedback. The 50-year-old acamedician from Telangana de-stresses with yoga, evening walks with wife Lakshmi, aerobics, cycling and classical music. His favourite singer is Bhimsen Joshi.
His mantra is not to hate anyone.
In his time as a college student, village boy Kumar had felt out of place. As JNU’s vice-chancellor, he is determined other students do not feel the same way. “Universities should provide an inclusive atmosphere on campus. Are we doing enough to make students, who are uncomfortable with the new system, comfortable? Fortunately here, we provide an ecosystem where students focus on achieving academic targets as they pursue personal growth as well,” says Kumar.