The Unmaking Of JNU Foretells A Less Than Knowledgeable Future For The Campus

Whether the naysayers appreciate it or not, Narendra Modi has made it to the point of being elected once again as the ‘first among the equals’ in the largest democratic nation. It has come to be explicitly proven that the second Modi regime is embarking out for a politico-cultural alteration even when the Indian economy is at its nadir.

When the flagship announcements concerned with Article 370 and Triple Talaq went on inviting deliberations, there were many subtle interventions that went largely unnoticed. And sadly most of these unnoticed alterations are connected with the history of this nation itself. On one side, there are attempts to question the shibboleths of the time through the Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial Amendment Bill (2019), restructuring of BA History syllabus for Nagpur University (from this year onwards, students will be blessed to learn about the contributions of RSS in nation-making) and on the other side, there are attempts to lay claim over the stalwarts of national movement like Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel; this will be manifested through the much-awaited proposal of holding padayatras conducted by BJP MPs on the birth anniversary of these leaders.

A panoramic view argues that these attempts ought to give a due claim to Indian history for its beneficiaries. On this note, a claim made by Punjabi singer-turned-BJP-MP Hans Raj Hans is that Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) should be renamed as Modi Narendra University (MNU).

Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi was founded in the year 1969 was named after the first Prime Minister and the tallest secularist of India. From its time of inception itself, it has attracted the best intellectuals of India and has produced good human beings, engaging themselves in all spheres of life. A romanticized version makes us believe that the democratic culture of JNU was so deep that even the air over there smells of the same. During the first NDA regime under Modi itself, this university space has aroused itself as the staunch bulwark against the totalizing tendencies of the government.

The politicization of the issue has oscillated itself between the play of #ShutDownJNU to #FightBackJNU. However, it is to be noted that the image of JNU throughout India was maligned as the hub of ‘anti-nationals.’ The polemic narrations were so assertive that JNU was embodied as a space of wasting Indian taxpayer’s money at least till the awarding of the prestigious Visitors Award (2018) for the best university in the country by the Hon. President of India.

With the second innings of Mr Modi, the university under its patriarch Vice-Chancellor has replenished themselves for the creation of MNU. There are a plethora of changes that one could see in the present-day JNU, which are aimed at the unmaking of JNU and at the making of MNU.

The first and the most visible one is the increased security services. These days ,if one roams around the campus, one can see more of security personnel and less of students. It is not just the quantity that has increased but the ‘quality’ of security service also (unlike the earlier times, the securities are no longer ‘student-friendly;’ there is always a tinge of suspicion that one can see at the security’s face towards the students). When the student community is facing hostel shortages and lack of reading spaces, the administration has been investing time and again in increasing the number of security guards in the campus. After all, why does this institution need so many security officials?

The next effort made in the creation of MNU is the attempt to make a ‘clean’ campus. This step has been bought out mainly by removing all the ‘inappropriate’ posters that were pasted on the walls. For those who know, the JNU campus was always a space in which the walls had much to tell you, ranging from issues of the Dalit and Adivasi communities to women’s issues to the right for self-determination, etc.

The Biotechnology Department at JNU. (Photo: Psubhashish/Wikimedia Commons)

A JNU without these walls will be nothing but the erasure of Nehruvian conception of democracy from the university itself. This so-called cleaning process also takes its form with the replacing of the yellow lights of the campus, with the bright white light. The yellow lights (which according to some are ‘dingy’ and ‘shady’) were nothing but bliss to walk under at night. However, if you see the campus at night now, there are lanes laid out with bright white lights. It should be noted that these lights are not lit up to the hostel but towards the VC’s home from the administrative block.

The third and the most noticeable thing is the recent happenings in the campus regarding politics of inclusion and exclusion. It had manifested itself at least in three different ways:

1) With the forthcoming selection of faculty and students. The teachers’ union of JNU was very vocal both inside and outside the campus regarding various issues; more or less, a politically left-leaning teacher’s union is a threat for the proposed MNU. With the JNU administration calling out for appointments to more than 300 posts, it is evident that there will be a shackling of the present teacher’s union of the campus (as there is a high probability that the newly appointed faculty members are of rightist political affiliations).

Similarly, with the new proposed student intake policy (the OMR method even for PhD scholars), the kind of student intake to various centres will also be jeopardized. Though the objective type questions might work well for selecting the science subject students, the same might not work for the liberal arts students. It is an accepted fact that a PhD student requires well-rounded argumentation and this can be better checked if the entrance exams are conducted in descriptive mode.

There is a high probability that the OMR-based MCQ type questions will bring on ‘fact’ fetish students who may lack the critical evaluation that a PhD scholar ought to have.  Hence at both sides, the proposed MNU will have members of a different culture altogether.

2) The politics of naming the roads; the roads in JNU have been given names of Aryabhatta to Sushruta to Subhash Chandra Bose to Abdul Kalam to Birsa Munda to Rani Gaidinliu, etc. Though the selections of a name try to cut across all regions and communities, so as to give an encompassing image, two observations stand out of these:

  • All these names are in some way or other being celebrated by the nation as the makers of great India. Is this an attempt to remind all the ‘anti-nationals’ of JNU regarding nationalism?
  • This observation seems more pertinent than the first one. The main road (Ring Road) of JNU is titled as Vivekananda Marg, and there is a big statue of Vivekananda waiting to be unveiled (maybe by the PM or the HRD minister). What makes this more curious is the fact that this statue stands tall in diametrically opposite side of Nehru’s statue. A state which is trying hard to raise the memory of Vivekananda – this is the apt way to overwrite the chronicle. But should that be in a campus that has nothing to do with Vivekananda directly?

3) Connected to all of these is the instituting of some of the new centres like the Atal Bihari Vajpayee School of Management and Entrepreneurship, School of Engineering, School of Sanskrit and Indic Studies, Special Centre for National Security Studies, etc. Unlike the existent schools, these schools are either places for uni-cultural studies or places that are meant for skill development. Is JNU moving out of its obsession with knowledge-seeking to a place obsessed with skill development and nationalism studies? Should universities be restricted in this sense?

The administration gradually turns the tables in their favour as the student politics are getting limited by their ideological differences and outdated political tools. Moreover, it should be noted that the progressive student community has not made it a point to get support from the so-called ‘left-liberals’ or the democratic believers of India. It is high time for all democratic believers and academics to join their hands along with the JNU community to counter the process of Modi Narendra University (MNU) coming into being.

Note: the author teaches at Department of History, Malabar Christian College, Kozhikode, Kerala. He has completed his post-graduation degree from the Centre for Historical Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.

Featured image source: Ravi Choudhary/Hindustan Times via Getty Images.
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