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Role Of The Vice Chancellor: The Current Situation In JNU

By Shakti Kak

10 May, 2016

The students and teachers in the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) are up in arms against the current administration over a range of issues. The most important issue being the expulsion and levying of fines coupled with the disciplinary actions against a dozen of students. The hunger strike undertaken by the students is to soon enter into its third week. The teachers have also been on a hunger strike for more than five days. The students and the academic community have been mostly investing their energies from 9th February, when the new semester started, on a problem that was foisted on them by outside forces having a divisive political agenda.

The new vice chancellor Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar took charge on 27th January, 2016 and the campus has been in a turmoil since February 9, 2016. Within 10 working days of him taking charge, a script which has saffron fingerprints on it, has unfolded. In a campus which has a well earned reputation for upholding secualar ideals, the majority of the students and teachers became naturally agitated ever since. It would be more appropriate to say that the new VC was despatched to JNU with a plan of action that would replicate the sequence of events that had transpired in the Hyderabad Central University, IIT Madras and FTII Pune. A similar plan of action is also being currently attempted in Jadavpur University.

It is a tried and tested script that the ruling party and its student wing had successfully used before. They first raise objections to events where contemporary issues or topics related to Indian history are being discussed. The members from ABVP will then disrupt the meeting by shouting slogans, sucessfully provoking other students to react. After that, the second tier of the BJP's local leadership start complaining and write letters to the HRD minister and the university administration. Within no time a national versus antinational debate is kick-started. Lo and behold, students are rusticated, asked to vacate the hostel and if you don’t, the police are urgently called in. In Hyderabad, the objectionable event was about showing a documentary on Muzzafarnagar, in IIT Madras it was about Ambedkar discussion forum, in JNU it was about a poetry session and meeting about human rights, Kashmir and Afzal Guru. You could call it Golmal 1, Golmal 2, 3, 4 and so on- to use Kanhaiya Kumar’s term in some other context. Serious attempts are being made in Jadavpur University for yet another Golmal episode but the vice chancellor is not letting it happen.

Which proves the point that the university administration led by a competent and willing vice chancellor can deal with attempts to disrupt the academic life of an institution. The vice Chancellor of JNU Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar had no such noble intentions. He has followed the script as it was handed over to him. For a scientist, not to question his RSS bosses speaks volumes about his training and capabilities.

At the time of his appointment, the apprehension of a person with RSS leanings heading an institution with a tradition of critical thinking and open debate were expressed by many in the media. Though Jagadesh Kumar denied any links with RSS or their science outfit Vijnana Bharti at the time of his appointment as the vice chancellor of JNU, his conduct in the university says otherwise. His RSS leanings have come to light as long ago as 1994 in a thread of a Newsgroup which was later absorbed into Google. In this thread, Jagadesh Kumar quotes from writings emphasising the crucial role that the RSS and its shakhas and swayamsevaks play in nation building.

Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar states in his post that the RSS plays ‘the role of Life-Force-Prana-Shakti – in the body of the society.’ This is operationalised through the shakhas to ‘keep the flame of Life-Force burning in the hearts of the swayamsevaks.’

At the time of his appointment, he told a newspaper that the heterogenous character of JNU is its strength and he will put ‘all efforts to work together and take everybody along for nation building.’ (Telegraph) The nation building in a university which is considered a den of ‘ a huge anti-national block’ (Panchjanya) has a role cut out for the vice chancellor with his faith in the RSS ideology.

Could the JNU vice chancellor have handled the situation differently?

Jagadesh Kumar’s personal worldview and his training in science and technology appear to be at variance as at no stage has he tried to understand the structure of the institution he is supposed to head. He has not tried to even cross check allegations levelled against students terming them anti national.

Should the new VC have tried to understand fully the heterogenous character of JNU and engaged with different approaches to the notion of nation building? With the flame of Life-Force continuously burning in his heart, should he have accepted the demand of making the High Level Enquiry Committee more representative; should he have tried to find out the people who morphed the videos; should he have questioned the violent slogans raised by the ABVP on the campus; should he have shown some faith in the grievance procedures of the university; should he have consulted with the senior faculty of the university and should he have allowed the lynch mob outside the university campus create chaos and generate hate.

His silence in the crucial days after the 9th February incident, belies the direction given to him by the ‘flame of Life-Force’. Considering the ideological differences with the students and faculty, he should have engaged with all the stakeholders of this public funded university. As a scientist, with the flame guiding him, he should have had the honesty to go beyond the script handed to him and participated in discussions with all shades of opinions and views.

The sheer incompetence and narrow mindedness of Vice Chancellor Jagadesh Kumar has been evident too many times in last three months. He has alienated most of the university community. He has been sharing information with the police without discussing the issues with the university community. He is solely responsible for the damage done to the academic community for this semester. He has vitiated the atmosphere in the university by his silence and allowed unwarranted and false propaganda against teachers and students to be spread to the media.The damage to the university can be undone by the academic community insisting on his removal as the vice chancellor of JNU.

Shakti Kak was a student of JNU through the turbulent years of 1970s.



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