Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), arguably one of the best public research universities not only in India but globally is in 50th year of its establishment. It was set up in 1969. On this momentous milestone, this premier university has much to celebrate and obviously every Indian must take pride in its academic, institutional and alumni achievements. It has bolstered the image of country manifold through these achievements as thousands of bright alumni spread in every field and everywhere complement the regular and excellent academic work at the university. That reasoning goes to show that JNU has done the best PR for the country in projecting its ethos, unity in diversity, inclusive and multidisciplinary academic culture, high end research, vibrant campus life. Above all as a show piece and affordable public university its very presence motivates even poor of the poorest young minds to dream of an opportunity in higher education. And, the Indian state therefore must not only nourish this premier national institution of higher learning but protect it with all might if a need arises.
However, what happened on the evening of January 5, was an antithesis of all this proud nationalist backdrop. As per eyewitness accounts, 60-70 goons armed with sticks, rocks, iron rods and other objects entered the campus and then smashed heads of students, teachers, window panes and furniture of hostels, and other properties in a mayhem that continued unchallenged for a couple of hours in the thick of dark. All this while, despite 100s of SoS calls made to city police went unresponded and a lame university administration provided no timely support. Like a terrorist attack, the country was glued to a continuous coverage on TV news channels and watching helplessly and citizens were left wondering if a government exists. at all
While there is some hope that an investigation ordered since will provide some answers to police inaction and on nearly a facilitated goon attack, yet the horrifying bleeding images of nearly 25 students and teachers and the pubic outrage that the scene evoked will become part of a historical blot, which will be remembered for many years. And it will take a while to feel normal and that too if a comprehensive and convincing effort is made to rectifying the student distress and governance of the university,
Again, it is well-known that the January 5 violence was perhaps culmination of a political narrative that has been built and spread about JNU in the past six years or so. It has only moved from one stage to another all these years. Though a left and right ideological divide always existed among the student as well as teacher communities at the university with a sizable centre in between, still it was raking up of Hindu mythological beliefs by left leaning groups along with support to causes of left extremism and Kashmiri separatism, which provided a fodder for radicalization of fringe on so-called anti-national activities taking place on campus and hostels turning into a refugee dens for antinational elements. The ruling party though knowingly well that the activity of this nature can’t be criminalized and amplified as anti national on face value unless investigation and law proves it so, took upon itself the onus of moral policing and declaring JNU as the hub of communists and anti-national sympathizers. It has been a millwork since on part of right-wing backers to create hysteria and self-styled savior radicals as it nicely fitted into a vote fetching emotional issue.
So, over the years, JNU has been demonized and a case made to dislodge its legacy and even some of these radicals advocate finishing off this institution. On the other hand large sections of politically conscious youth, opinion leaders, JNU alumni are batting for saving the dignity of this great institution. So, while this debate will hopefully settle even as it got fiercer and passionate with this bout of violence, there are some fundamental questions that need to be answered.
First, a SOP (standard operating procedure) for police entry into campuses if exists needs to be made known to police and administrators. If it is desired to be reformed for dealing with various possible emergency situations, the same needs to be done on priority basis. We need a professional police in national interest and to be constitutional democracy.
Two, the leadership of JNU leaves much to be desired with many serious questions about competence and morality. The current VC needs to be replaced without delay with an academic leader who not only inspires but has a stature. That will be reassuring.
Finally, those who see a demon in JNU should learn to live and first understand the nuances of diversity and affirmative contribution of divergent views and ideas in advancement of civilization and creation of new orders, technologies and knowledge. A university can’t be made overnight and there are universities in the world which are centuries old and all those societies are proud of that. India doesn’t have many good universities and creating more will need many decades of concerted organic work. So, what is in hand is like a prized possession which shouldn’t be brought down just to satiate a few fringes. JNU is definitely one such bright spots and India needs to celebrate it and let it grow organically in free atmosphere!