Sedition and anti-national seem to be the buzz words of late. The fracas created at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), an institution for higher learning in the capital, by a section of the students has raised many questions in the minds of the common citizens and rightly so. The university is funded by the tax payers’ money with about three lacs of rupees being spent on an average on each student per year. All that the student pays is a rent of Rs 11.00 per month for his accommodation in one of the better parts of Delhi and a total of Rs 129.00 as tuition fee per year. Administrative support on the campus for the university staff and students is of the highest order that ensures a high quality of life within the campus that most common people cannot even dream of. Most scholars invariably get a sizeable stipend on monthly basis that possibly is more than the salaries of many professionally qualified young men in the country at the same age. The university has a professor to student ratio of 1:15 which is a luxury to say the least. The university is organised in ten different school streams. Popular courses include Law & Governance, International Studies, Social Sciences, Language, Culture and Cultural Studies.
The question that needs an answer is whether the institution is really delivering in terms of highly educated and committed professionals who are contributing in a significant manner to the development and well being of the nation as a whole. Over the last few decades JNU has delivered a few senior diplomats who have served the nation, some academics who joined JNU itself and a few high profile politicians with Dig Vijay Singh of Congress, Prakash Karat, Thomas Isaac and Sitaram Yechury of CPI (M) and Yogendra Yadav of Aam Admi Party (AAP) being the more prominent ones. The fact that all these politicians have a dubious record and most are left inclined is an entirely different matter. There are a few others who have excelled in different fields or pursued a career in academics in other institutions of learning. Frankly the list is small considering the resources spent and the number of students that the university has on its rolls every year since 1969. This is primarily because of the overtly socialistic, with a definite leaning towards the ultra left, environment that has taken deep roots within the university campus. This has ensured that most students that enter its portals do not have any definite professional goals in mind. The main attraction of the university, apart from a comfortable life style, is the opportunity to use it either as a stepping stone to enter politics or to pursue the ideal of being a socialist with a definite inclination towards left. Is it any wonder then that most students enrolled in Ph D or M Phil courses continue to stay at the campus for years with no pressure on completing their courses in the required time frame?
Given the above environment, this seat of higher learning has certainly deviated from the original goal of leading young minds towards academic excellence in different fields like international studies, cultural studies and languages. Today the university has many student unions on the campus and all of them are very active politically. The more prominent ones are ultra left All India Students Association (AISA) which is affiliated to CPI (M), All India Students Federation (AISF) backed by CPI, National Student Union of India (NSUI) affiliated to Congress and Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) affiliated to Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP). AISA is the more prominent union on the campus today. It owes its growth to Mr Prakash Karat of CPI (M) who was instrumental in setting it up after he returned from United Kingdom in his younger days where he had gone for higher studies. AISA has mobilized the student community on issues such as opposing fee hikes, against commercialization of education and other such student centric subjects apart from protesting against BJP’s and Congress’s policies over the years. Agitations in support of Naxalites and Kashmir separatists too have been seen on the campus from time to time. The radical student unions have opposed any control or check on campus democracy. Today many dub the university as a hot bed of budding leftists and it does not surprise one that most students are inclined towards the same. In addition, presence of a large number of students from Jammu & Kashmir has resulted in JNU campus becoming a prominent stage for anti India protests, pro separatists’ activities and efforts to make martyrs of known terrorists like Afzal Guru and Yakub Menon from time to time. The current tension in the campus too is linked to such protests.
In their quest to be seen as a model institution where free speech and freedom of expression are encouraged, the university management has erred in not instituting required checks and balances. Therefore today the management itself is part of the problem. In an institution where government is spending hard earned tax payers’ money on students and faculty alike, the management has to ensure that the students are focussed on their primary task of seeking and assimilating knowledge in a disciplined environment conducive to learning. It is obvious that they have failed to ensure the same. The campus today is rife with political manoeuvrings and many students are enrolled and living on the campus with the sole aim of cultivating political patronage with long term goal of either entering politics or becoming social activists. Interference and support from various political parties to such students and student unions is a given. Is it any wonder then that students have no regard for administration or authority and tend to dictate terms instead? This invariably results in indiscipline and free for all environment where politically motivated students revel in anti national and anti establishment protests, acts and events with impunity. Such actions bring them into limelight and they hope to catch the eye of their political mentors for bigger things in life. The support of some overly liberal faculty members from within too cannot be discounted. In all this studies and courses for which the students are enrolled only help to legitimise their stay in the campus. Many of these students have no intention of completing their course of study and the management is not concerned. New students on entering the campus are overawed by these perennial seniors whose clout over all aspects of campus life is obvious. This results in most of them falling in line with the wishes of such seniors. It is a pity that the university management is oblivious to such obvious follies and that certainly is a problem.
The recent incident where anti national slogans were being shouted and known terrorist like Afzal Guru being eulogised is not the first time that JNU has witnessed such anti national activities. JNU has the dubious distinction of doing this on many earlier occasions under the guise of free speech, freedom of thought and expression. Everyone knows that Afzal Guru was convicted after a rather long and laborious judicial process. It was the same law of the land and same process that set Mr Geelani free from similar charges. Will it be right to presume that in the former case the law was an ass while in the later it was fair? Such selective approach to accepting the law of the land has become the bane of the nation. Is it not incumbent on all Indian nationals to uphold the law of the land in highest possible esteem and respect it, even if it hurts one at times? A true Indian will always do that and anyone who does not, well it is obvious that he is not a true Indian.
There are no doubts that anti national slogans were being shouted and some students were seen holding posters with various inflammatory messages. Even the student union leaders have confirmed the same; albeit after the event with a view to distance themselves from the same now that the whole episode has taken an ugly turn. It would be foolish to assume that the event did not have the blessings of the student union body headed by its president. If that be true then Mr Kanhaiya Kumar surely needs to answer a few questions apart from owning responsibility for the fiasco. Unfortunately as is the want of all politicians, in this case a budding politician, he claims he was neither involved nor responsible for what happened. The mere fact that he was present at the scene does not mean he was involved. That is a typical Indian politician’s response, when things go wrong be the first to skunk away with ones tail in between ones legs.
Does sedition come into play only when you actually cause physical harm to the nation? Is an anti national stance or activity acceptable till the point after which it may cause physical harm or incite masses? If one is in a position of authority and responsibility, is it not anti national if one ignores or does not try to stop anti national tirade by others? Is it in order to question the decision of the highest court of law in the land after it hands out a judgement based on sound evidence and after a full judicial process has been gone through? Finally, all that the police have done as of now is to take Kanhaiya Kumar in custody and are looking for others who were actively involved in shouting anti India slogans for a detailed investigation. Kanhaiya Kumar is in judicial remand because the judge concerned felt, based on limited evidence available, that there was a prima facia case against him and further investigation was warranted in the matter. He has not been charge sheeted as of now. He is not being held on the whims and fancies of the police force. Finally expecting the police to be a mute spectator in such instances unless someone files a complaint is totally flawed. The police have to be pro-active in controlling crime and other such incidents before they snowball into bigger problems and that is possibly what Delhi police did.
Much is being made of the remark of Union Home Minister regarding LET Chief Saeed Hafiz’s support to the incident. One has to view this at the best as a political statement of no consequence since politicians tend to dramatise everything for the sake of the gallery. Also in India today, if there is anything to do with terror in the country the connection to LET Chief is taken for granted. On the other hand if this is actually true, then the incident at JNU becomes even more serious and sedition may actually come to the fore. For the sake of Rahul Gandhi, Prakash Karat, Sitaram Yechury, Arvind Kejriwal and others one hopes it is not true because if it is then they will all need to answer a few uncomfortable questions to explain their vociferous support for such anti-national elements and criticism of the actions taken by authorities including police in the interest of the nation.
It is time the JNU authorities sort out their problems and put their house in order. There is an imperative need to remove political interference and patronage of the student body within the campus. Student unions must be tasked to limit their role for betterment of education and student welfare only. Today many of the students are actively campaigning for different political parties in different parts of the country for assembly elections instead of pursuing their studies. Surely the institution was not designed for that. It would be good to do an audit of the institution to see how far it has achieved its aims and what has been its contribution to the Indian nation and society. There is no doubt that it should have done much more than just throw up a few diplomats, professors and some isolated achievers in different fields. It is also equally important to analyse the cross section of the students who have been admitted to this prestigious institution in the last two decades to see where they came from and what they have finally achieved in life. In all likelihood this will throw up some interesting facts that may surprise one and all. Such a study will give enough food for thought if the authorities genuinely wish to transform this institution into a seat of higher learning – because today it is far removed from that vision.
Saroj Chadha, an engineering professional, is a successful entrepreneur. Having retired from the Indian Army after having served for over 23 years, he has also been a consultant for leading Indian and Multinational electrical companies. He lives in New Delhi.