A Letter to VC, JNU
All this Phoney Nationalism!
[Following is a slightly shortened version of a letter written by Prof Chaman Lal (Rtd) to VC JNU, Prof M Jagdeesh Kumar against the backdrop of February 9 incident]
JNU, New Delhi
Dear Prof M Jagdeesh Kumar
Late greetings on your
taking over as Vice-Chancellor
of JNU. I saw one of your interviews in The Navbharat Times (Hindi daily), when your appointment was announced, but you have not yet taken over. Interview was reassuring which mentioned your desire to have very open and frank relations with students without any ideological bias. You had also fixed half day of Monday, post Lunch period, completely free for students to approach you. Although it was said that it is for the first time, but this was done five years ago by your predecessor Prof S K Sopory, who not only kept this time free for students, who would rather meet any student or faculty without any prior appointment during 8 am to 9 am or 5.30 pm to 8 pm, as he used to his office diligently from 8 am to 8 pm.
But within two weeks of your taking over as Vice-Chancellor of JNU, University has been plunged into an unprecedented crisis over an event, which was not very unusual in JNU or any other University. Young students all over the world in liberal Universities learn the lessons of their democratic and civil rights, express concerns for social or national/international issues, best example being of USA, where in many Universities, during US aggression on Vietnam, or even recently, US policies in middle east of exporting 'democracy', causing the disasters in Arab world or elsewhere had attracted US students' wrath against their government, but none of them was arrested, charged with 'sedition' or termed 'anti-national', which happened in JNU and outside after 9th February meeting called by some student groups, but not by elected JNU Students Union, whose office bearers joined in it as it being called 'Cultural evening', also as part of social gathering, quite usual for JNU.
However it was intriguing to know that a Hindi news channel had taken extra-ordinary interest not only for JNU event, but outside JNU also to gather people at a particular place and sent camera teams in advance. It looks like that there was advance planning of certain vested social groups and media house to 'create' an event, which could engulf not only JNU, but whole country in crisis. I have heard from people in some places that they were even 'informed' by this media house to 'reach' at certain place for some 'event'! It reminds me of an incident in Patiala about a decade back, where perhaps the same channel caused the death of a man calling for self-immolation, it incited him to do so for his show and the man literally got burnt in front of whole world, just to increase the TRP of such a dehumanized channel. It is further intriguing that despite having such events in JNU earlier and dealt with JNU internal disciplinary mechanism, the so-called video of that particular news channel was used to file a police complaint through the MP of a political party, incidentally that MP probably has not even won from JNU electoral area. In such a complex situation, it was no obligation of the University to allow Delhi police to enter campus, particularly, when it has appointed its own committee to enquire the matter. Allowing police entry into campus by your authority, as per Police version, though you had said that 'you did not call the police' in campus, was a disaster to say the least. You had assured Deans and Chairpersons meeting about this and no wonder that four senior Deans of largest Schools of University, even expressed their dismay at such development. And arrest of JNUSU elected President Kanhaiya Kumar on 12th February by Delhi police was the most shocking outcome of this charged atmosphere, which certainly upset me and I felt disturbed and anxious. Immediately as again seemingly pre-planned, some television channels staged vicious anti-JNU propaganda, which was followed by calls to 'kill gaddars (traitors) of JNU'. Apart from JNU students, JNU faculty was subjected to insults, abuses. One Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Sadhvi Prachi took hundreds of outsiders, who had no concern with JNU or education in general, entered JNU through its eastgate near your residence and I am ashamed to say as per media reports, JNU administration facilitated their march inside the campus, which was meant to terrorize JNU community—students and faculty, as the slogans and speeches of that march were vicious. Even as eminent Supreme Court advocate Rajeev Dhavan, sent by Supreme Court officially to Patiala Court to report about the conduct of Patiala court lawyers, described those lawyers' lawless conduct as 'anti-national' who beat up not only JNUSU President inside the court, but media and JNU faculty members too! I shudder to think that if anything had happened or may happen to Kanhaiya Kumar, who looks like in the custody of 'wolves' and not in the law enforcing/abiding/defending agency! I am surprised that as a guardian of Kanhaiya Kumar, as you are expected to be as VC of University, you did not utter a word on those state protected lawyers' attack on Kanhaiya Kumar! National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Supreme Court senior most lawyers and jurists like Soli Sorabji, Fali S Nariman could condemn and express their concern about Kanhaiya Kumar, but knowing fully well that he was not safe in police custody, even inside the court, you did not find it even necessary to visit him in Police station or court or jail! Even during the trial of Bhagat Singh during British colonial rule, nationalist leaders like Subhas Bose, Motilal Nehru or even Jawaharlal Nehru, on whose named University, you are Vice-Chancellor, would visit court room or jail to see how these revolutionary freedom fighters were treated. Sir, as a Vice-Chancellor, it was your duty as head of the institution to visit Kanhaiya Kumar, whatever may have been charges against him, but he was elected President of JNUSU. You could have taken along JNUTA President/office bearers/Dean of his School/Chairperson of his centre/his supervisor, if you had an iota of concern for students of JNU, as you expressed in your interview to media before taking over VC job at JNU.
JNU is not only known for scholarship and democratic culture of its faculty and students, even many of its Vice-Chancellors are like bright stars, when many VC's of many other universities have been slipping over the autonomy of Universities, JNU VCs with support from faculty and students defended its autonomy like the pearl of their eye. Start from its founding Vice-Chancellor G Parthasarthy, despite being non-academician, he established such standards of academic and democratic conduct in JNU, that it has become very difficult to break away from it. He would attend general body meetings of teachers and students and listen even to his own criticism patiently. He never compromised with merit in recruitments, if JNU takes pride world over for its scholarship today, it is due to the foundations laid by G Parthasarthy, who recruited or invited such faculty in the very beginning, and that it got such international reputation. World renowned iconic scholar Noam Chomsky, one of most significant writers of any language and Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk are among those hundreds of scholars from India and abroad, including from your parent body IIT Delhi, who have expressed concern at happenings in JNU, due to outside political interference, particularly of Delhi police at the bidding of Home minister and MHRD minister and I am sorry to say Mr Vice-Chancellor that you helped their game to vilify and destroy JNU. Look at the statements of Dr Subramaniam Swamy, Chandan Mitra, most influential members of ruling party, calling for closure of University, calling for changing its name. It is very clear that ruling dispensation is not only against JNU, they have a pathetic hatred for Jawaharlal Nehru, first Prime Minister of India, who spent more than a decade in British jails in freedom struggle and whose motto for JNU—'Scientific Temper and knowledge' is an anathema to this government, because Nehru thought RSS like organizations to be the threat to the unity of the country. Incidentally as per The Hindu report, Noam Chomsky has sent a direct mail to you as well. Chomsky’s e-mail is self-revealing : "Many of us remain very concerned about the crisis in JNU, which was apparently created and precepitated by the government and university administration with no crodible evidence of any seditious activities on campus".
JNU had Vice-Chancellors like late President K R Narayanan, who is credited with saving JNU from this government's earlier avtar, by not appointing their desired VC as Visitor. President Narayanan was the gentlest Vice-Chancellor of this University, though for a brief period. JNU had late Prof Naiduamma, a Scientist from your fraternity as VC, whose conduct you can see from one of JNU's eminent historian Prof Harbans Mukhiya's interview in 'The Scroll Today' (February 21).
Later on Prof Y K Alagh, who rather than suppressing any dissent on campus, would himself on Dharna to express his viewpoint and on recent crisis, he said, he would never have called police to campus. See your immediate predecessor Prof S K Sopory who never ever allowed police to enter campus in his glorious five-year-term. He was a Kashmiri Pandit himself, but did not have any prejudices against any particular community of Kashmir, he could rationally handle the situations like present one within JNU disciplinary mechanism. There could be some Vice-Chancellors in its long existence, who may not be shining like these bright stars, yet no one compromised with JNU's reputation, as you have in just two weeks Sir.
You can compare your conduct with Prof Suranjan Das, Vice-Chancellor of Jadavpur University, he also faced same problem—controversial sloganeering by its students, yet despite criticizing the slogans, he categorically refused to call the police, taking a firm stand that it is an internal matter of University and it will be settled by its own disciplinary procedure. He refused to play the ball of MHRD minister to subject students to police brutality, as Kanhaiya Kumar has faced and given the surcharged atmosphere, the way some JNU students are being head-hunted by police, if someone took a tragic step like Rohit Vemula took in Hyderabad, you should think of its impact, not only in JNU, rather all over India. Rohit Vemula was equally vilified by ruling party patronized student group ABVP, as 'anti-national' and later on Prime Minister had to call him 'Bharat Mata ka Lal' (Son of Mother India), this is a different matter, that no one believed this hypocritical comment after he was forced to commit suicide, by the same forces, represented by Prime Minister.
Prof M Jagdeesh Kumar, as a scientist, you perhaps have little exposure to social sciences or humanities, whose scholars/students know that in student age, there are rebellious tendencies among youth, even inside home and parents don't kill their children for their rebellious tendencies, over the period by life experiences, youth mollifies, see what DP Tripathy , now a member of Rajya Sabha and only other JNUSU President to be arrested during emergency has to say that 'we used to say so many things as students'! Relations between students and teachers, particularly in JNU, is not of distance, they live like a family. Teachers help them like their family members. Do you know that during emergency Rector of JNU Prof Moonis Raza, despite being supporter of Indira Gandhi, had been sheltering many students in his home, yet he was made VC of Delhi University later! You change the minds of students or youth by not police tortures, that make them rather hardened in their views, they change by engaging them in debates and discussions and many change and get into very high positions world over. Only a fascist mindset tries to treat students as 'anti nationals' despite sometime shouting controversial slogans. In JNU, the most objectionable slogan of 'destroying India' seems to be the handiwork of some designed vested interest from outside JNU to trap JNU students as most of channels are now showing the videos of its suspiciousness, even a radical student will not shout such slogans. As I write this to you, I am reading the letter of Vishwadeepak of Zee News resigning from this channel citing the reason that how this channel has conspiratorially trapped Kanhaiya Kumar into treason charge and planned all stories on JNU with a specific agenda.
It is a sad state of affairs that you are not even taking JNUTA into confidence or listening to them in resolving the crisis. Every time there is a crisis in JNU from students, it is always JNUTA, which had helped resolve crisis, playing a mediatory role. When I was JNUTA President during year 2007, seven students, including President and Secretary of elected JNUSU were expelled by JNU administration on certain charges. JNUTA though criticized student’s aggressive conduct and made them realize their mistake, never allowed administration to succeed in their design to expel students. In fact that time even JNU Karamchari Association joined with JNUTA and JNUSU to get the order of expulsion of students rescinded. This time it is a worrying phenomenon that some sections of JNU employees have threatened to spy on students and teachers to report them for 'anti national' activities. Knowing large number of employees in JNU as its faculty member, I know that faculty, students and employees always had harmonious relations, despite having different political views. There is certainly a mischief to spoil this harmony by some vested interests and I don't rule out outside political hand in it. If this trend is encouraged it will have long term damage to the institution's harmonious administrative structure. Using ex-servicemen’ families to vilify JNU students as 'traitors' and 'anti nationals' is even a more dangerous trend being practiced by the ruling party.
In present case not only JNUSU has expressed reservations about University appointed enquiry committee, it has been unanimously objected by JNUTA also in its general body meeting. In this situation, the enquiry committee will have neither any credibility nor any sanctity and its decisions, in absence of students and faculty participation in its proceedings, will look to be vindictive. That will damage JNU's own internal disciplinary mechanism's reputation as well.
Meanwhile I have decided to return Central Hindi Directorate [under Higher Education unit of MHRD] award of fifty thousand rupees, given to me in year 2003 by then Prime Minister for 'Non Hindi Speaking area Hindi Writer' for year 2000-01 to protest against attack on JNU by arresting JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar and terrorizing the JNU faculty and students by dubbing them 'anti-nationals' through media and 'street justice' of beating with threats of killing as well. As a Vice-Chancellor you are duty bound to protect the life and limb of all its members—faculty, students and staff, if you cannot, then your moral authority will be greatly affected inside JNU, even if you get full outside support from MHRD and Home ministers and Delhi police.
It was neither necessary nor my duty to write to you, it is only because of 'moral' crisis of conscience pricking, that I, who had been alumnus as well as faculty member of JNU writing to express my anguish at present state of affairs in my alma mater, of which like thousands of its alumnus, I too feel proud and JNU alumni world over is disturbed and they are expressing their concern to you with thousands of signatures from world over.
If I am a true follower of Bhagat Singh, even academically editing his documents, published by Government of India, by reading which our JNU students are being targeted, I fail to understand that how following Bhagat Singh's ideals could make our students as 'anti-nationals! Kanhaiya Kumar in his speech was raising slogans of Bhagat Singh Zindabad / Baba Sahib Ambedkar Zindabad. Shall we accept that raising slogans of Ambedkar and Bhagat Singh is an act of 'anti nationalism' and 'treason'? Bhagat Singh taught fearlessness, which Mahatma Gandhi's grandson Rajmohan Gandhi is also pleading at this time of crisis of fascist attack on our values of liberalism and freedom of expression in the name of phoney 'nationalism'!
And Sir, before I could even mail this to you, news came of my esteemed and dear colleague in JNUTA in 2007 and well known Ambedkarite scholar Prof Vivek Kumar has been physically attacked in Gwallor by ABVP 'nationalists', on whose complaint you have been trapped into calling the police inside campus. If you are still not able to understand, the forces inside JNU, who are inimical to the very institution, then you will never understand.
Please think it over.
Yours Chaman Lal,
Retired JNU Professor,
Vol. 48, No. 35, Mar 6 - 12, 2016