Given the ongoing battle between the Indian state and a section of JNU students, it is clear that there is a need for a "radical" solution (pun unintended). JNU, the brainchild of Indira Gandhi and her Sancho Panza Education Minister Syed Nurul Hasan, was floated on the lines of colonial Britain's Hailesbury College to produce and train, what she believed, would form the core of a "committed bureaucracy", committed primarily to her persona and idealism with a Leftist hue, not quite Red in thought and belief, but a deep shade of "pink".
But within a few years of its formation, Mrs Gandhi's fond dream went horribly wrong. Despite dollops of state subsidy (an estimated 3.5 lakhs is currently paid by the government of India per year for every JNU student), alumni of the institution turned a deep shade of Red thanks to the curricula and faculty carefully chosen by Prof Hasan from his pool of pro-CPI teachers.
For some years, this served Mrs Gandhi's purpose very well. In the initial years, JNU was peopled mostly by products of "elite" institutions like Delhi's St. Stephen's College who volubly mouthed "revolutionary" slogans, but in practice served the Indian state's objectives with full gusto by joining the civil services in hordes. But the churning of the polity leading to the proclamation of Emergency and Mrs Gandhi's spectacular defeat in the 1977 elections jolted JNU out of its complacency.
The Janata Party government led by the arch-conservative Morarji Desai and his equally right-wing Education Minister, Triguna Sen, had no time for long-haired, jhola-carrying agitators that JNU produced aplenty. Janata leaders were aghast to discover that almost each and every member of the university's faculty was a card-carrying Communist or worse. Professor Hasan's dominance over the university faculty recruitment system throughout the country, especially in prestige national institutions, ensured that new recruits to the teaching community consisted primarily of those who failed to get selected to the civil services, but made for excellent cannon fodder in the Left's war against the Janata Party regime.
Since the Jana Sangh was the only ideological component of the Janata Party (the rest being motley woolly-headed socialists), a clash was inevitable between the JNU's founders and the Janata Party establishment. This clash often spilled over onto the streets, especially over the Desai Government's determination to revise curricula and replace Marxist historiography with a nationalist variant.
When Mrs Gandhi returned to power in 1980, she assiduously worked to restore JNU's Leftist DNA. A dissipated and rudderless Opposition collapsed before her aggressive dismantling of the education system that the Janata Party had tried to put together as an alternative to the Congress-Left structure. Although mid-way through the Emergency, Sanjay Gandhi launched a war on the Communists (despite the erstwhile Soviet Union's mealy-mouthed support to the Congress), the "Lefties" were back in favour after his untimely death. The subsidies returned, and the system of patronage and favours in the education hierarchy was restored. And the system was relatively undisturbed over the next few decades.
This background is important to understand the pathological hatred of the BJP by the JNU establishment. When it realised that old-style Leftism had lost its appeal globally and the Soviet system had crumbled in the 1990s, the malcontents that JNU systematically bred had to look for other issues to oppose. Having been groomed by an atmosphere of anti-statism, JNU products drifted towards anything that smelled of anti-Establishment activity.
But it is the rise of the Right in the early 90s, symbolised by the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation and the demolition of Babri Masjid, which disoriented JNU completely. So much so that the ABVP, the student wing of the RSS, began to sprout roots in this "revolutionary" university. The authorities meanwhile tilted JNU's admission system to excise the "elite" and started inducting students from backward regions with great fervour. The implementation of the Mandal Commission Report and subsequent Mandalisation of the Indian polity further spurred this process. While other universities began to reorient their curricula and teaching methods to cater to the needs of market economics, JNU drifted back to the ideological Stone Age. The futility of raising outdated Marxist slogans was never accepted on its sprawling campus. JNU's standing among India's educational institutions fell dramatically; while the IITs, IIMs and even private universities excelled in turning out students who catered to the job bazaar's needs, JNU relegated itself to a deep crevice of unemployability.
With state-sponsorship for JNU products which had earlier enabled them to get employed in the university system gradually receding, its students stared at a bleak future. They had to depend on official doles received by way of UGC scholarships to eke out a marginal subsistence. But the more they became unemployable, the greater their radicalism grew. Fed on the mantra of anti-capitalism, anti-marketism, they continued to spout the same antiquated philosophies while students of other universities shot past them.
Aspirational India, the great contribution of Prime Minister Narendra Modi which is poised to refashion India's youth and their dreams, has by-passed JNU. The university's students are living in a make-believe, retrograde world where everything came free or subsidised, and with heated ideological debates over the finer points of Marx, Lenin, Mao Zedong enjoying the primacy of intellectual space without the realisation that the world has passed them by. In other words, most JNU students and faculty have become ideological vagabonds, virtual flotsam in a stagnant pool of their own digging.
Frustrations emanating from JNU students, once respected for their intellectual caliber, have led them to reside in an unwanted Jurassic Park, housing creatures the world forgot or would at least like to forget. What we are witnessing in Delhi for the last few days is a futile rebellion of the subsidy-deprived. They have been led to believe that only if their tin-pot agitation succeeds in dislodging Modi, everything will be back to being "normal": Subsidies would return, they can stay on in hostels eating highly-subsidised food till they are old enough to be grandparents, and the Left's patronage network will eventually get them a job, at least by the time they become pensioners.
The few meritorious students who still slip through the university's exclusionist, anti-merit admission policy, must be aghast at what the JNU has become. But where mob mentality rides roughshod, logic and reason fall by the wayside.
Is there a solution to this? Of course there is, but a radical one. The self-destructive agitation at JNU has given the government the best opportunity to shut it down for ever, cut its financial losses, and get rid of a factory that produces only spongers and malcontents. But what about the huge campus in the heart of the National Campus? Will it fall to rack and ruin? Not necessarily. The JNU Campus was originally built to be India's Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Adminstration to train civil service probationers. The Academy can now be relocated from Mussoorie. These will be the best and most productive outcomes of a meaningless agitation born of frustration and anti-BJP vitriol.
(Dr. Chandan Mitra is a journalist, currently Editor of The Pioneer Group of Publications. He is also BJP MP of the Rajya Sabha.)
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