Why JNU Would Be Difficult To Save?


Through the title I don’t want to shed a sense of pessimism about the future of Jawaharlal Nehru University, instead my attempt is to lay bare the context which is indeed very frustrating and demotivating. Also, being in the campus from the last two year it seemed to me that somewhere down the line a crisis is also emanating from within JNU for which we couldn’t able to frame the coherent discourse against the JNU administration which is working in tandem with the spirit of ideology of the ruling political dispensation.

Just like Indian democracy is at crossroad, similarly, JNU too is in a state of despair. In a way, it is futile to blame the current regime responsible for the present crisis of JNU or in country. It is the effect of years of misdeeds and lack of principle politics which is backfiring at the present moment. Indian universities are literally in a state of deep crisis where the basic minimum condition which is required for a university to evolve is not being provided by the Indian state. There has developed a huge animosity between the state and its own students who have the potential of being responsible and virtuous citizens. Critical engagement with the state which is the main power center in contemporary time is one of the most important civic virtue with which every citizen of any country should be equipped with! Unfortunately, ideally it is only the sites of universities which has the potential of germinating this trait of citizens. The intolerance of the current regime toward allowing these traits to develop can be symbolized by the way it is in constant conflict with the students across the country and hell-bent to destroy the basic pedagogy of university system.

Today when all the Indian universities are being muzzled and attacked by the power centres, JNU seemed to be at the forefront. To be precise, JNU is standing alone today in the battle against ‘politics of hate and prejudices’ due to its unique character. While it was evolving all throughout the years on the ridges of Aravalli, catering Indian societies with all variants of citizens in diverse profession, suddenly it has become the zone of anti- nationals. Apart from its uniqueness of student politics and gender-sensitive nature, JNU’s unique nature can also be assessed with the kind of sub-institutions whichit has evolved all throughout the years and  also the way these sub- institutions were hitherto functioning – gender sensitisation committee against sexual harassment (GSCASH), academic council(AC), deprivation points. Each of this vital bodies which has made JNU what it is today, is being either scrapped or subdued in order to impose the dictum of our beloved vice chancellor. JNU’s gender-sensitive character owes to the presence of GSCASH which is scrapped by JNU administration. Academic council is the highest decision making body in this university, all important issues concerning students from fees of the prospectus to changing of course structure in any centre were being discussed here. Beauty of this body is ‘it also comprised of JNUSU(student union) and JNUTA(teachers association)’. However, both these institution doesn’t exist for our respected VC, who believes in taking all decision concerning the lives of students with the help of his ‘kitchen cabinet’. It was due to JNU’s unique admission policy through deprivation point to females and regionally backward students, it has become the most diverse campus in this country for a certain period of time, and this administration from this year has scrapped deprivation point for the MPhil/PhD students which from now onwards will be given only to B.A/M.A students. Reservation policies are circumvented to push the logic of merit and academic efficiency which is a direct attack on the principles of social justice on which our constitution is standing. JNU administration is not applying the reservation policy in the written examination on the basis of which students are called for the viva voce (2018-19) for the MPhil/PhD programme. Written examination for the MPhil/PhD programme is of qualifying in nature, and its qualifying percentage is fixed at 50% for all the sections of aspirants. A circular in the JNU official site states that how JNU will adhere to the government of India’s reservation policy in the final selection of candidates for the viva voce. Very   shrewdly jnu administration has‘bypassed’ the implementation of reservation policy on the first stage of written qualifying exam. This has debarred many physically challenged and other students from deprive section to secure a seat in JNU. From this, we can understand that how even the basic tenets of the constitution is being flouted by the current JNU administration who nonetheless enjoy the impunity from the current establishment and how the students of this country are being treated by its own institutions.

All the above disturbances are unfolding in JNU one after another along with the most current one related to compulsory attendance. To all the concerns related to the above issues and the current imposition of attendance, the most pertinent question that arises – why the student politics in this campus is in back foot related to all the above issues and couldn’t able to create a dialogue with the larger public? The reason for this inability is twofold, this can be the audacity of Indian state that it dared to create a strong liberal campus like JNU while at the same time never attempted to stretch or promote the logic of strong liberal democratic campus to the other parts of country (this is even a paradox). Due to which, at a time of crisis JNU is not able to forge an alliance with any other universities as other campus doesn’t enjoy these hitherto privileges.  Hence, it is very difficult to establish communication with them for greater mobilisational effect. It is, for this reason, the reaction of the outside world related to our concern against compulsory attendance is not in our favour. We are unable to make them understand that education is best imparted when there is ‘no coercion’ and ‘there is completely free atmosphere’particularly in universities. Secondly, over the years due to the rollback of the developmental state in the form of its welfare function, there is a massive fund crunch in various state universities. As a result students studying in the interior part of the country are not getting adequate support structure for studying their respective subjects in terms of its pedagogy and infrastructure for which they unable to get into the campus like JNU or DU. In the last few years, it has been a trend that the classrooms of various centres in JNU don’t consist of students of diverse regional background as a result of which students in campus doesn’t carry with them heterogeneous experiences of marginalization which is the prerequisite condition for any strong movement to emerge. This entry of elite upper-middle-class students and their participation in activism is nonetheless worthy of appreciation but I strongly feel that the strong and sustainable movement should be comprised of individuals who have experienced various forms of discrimination at various levels in their personal capacity. These experiences are necessary for actualizing any revolutionary potential. By revolutionary potential, I mean capacity of student movement to assert themselves and exert pressure on state for any injustices related to any section of society.

Hence, the structural crisis is emanating from the bottom, where Indian state is fully complicit in ignoring the issues of marginalized. So the greater plan is to make JNU an equivalent to other universities in this country by diluting all its extraordinary institutions. It is in this context, agitation against the policy of compulsory attendance sounds bizarre to the people outside the campus and even to the parents of the students of this university. Why on earth, we are agitating against this policy? The mismatch and the contradiction that I explained in the above paragraph which has been created by the Indian state over the years is the main reason that we are not able to connect to the larger public.

It is for all these reasons I think JNU would be difficult to save in the coming times as its strength in the form of uniqueness is becoming its weakness where we don’t find audience to listen to us, to make them understand that why it is important to save this university which is nonetheless standing on some sound ethical and moral grounds. Even these elements have become weak today because from inside the campus we no more find those people including me, who feel the pain and shed tears by witnessing so many disturbances around us, perhaps we all belong to the same milieu who doesn’t have the capacity to push transformation.

To conclude in an optimistic tone, there should be an attempt to build a broad rainbow coalition of all the sections who are at the receiving end of the policies of this regime or through their henchman in the form of respective VCs. It is in this regard I could see a similarity of issues which is surfacing in JNU, DU, TISS (Tata institute of social science) regarding the increment of fees in an exorbitant proportion. However the coming together of these universities may pose some form of effective challenge to its respective administration. Many things rest on the way the students and teachers of these institutes will strategize the demand of free, autonomous and affordable campuses which should have resonance not only in these universities but throughout the country.

Shiveshwar Kundu is interested in Indian Politics, Western Political Theory and pursuing M.A from the centre for political studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.


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