JNU’s Experiment with PAP

Debarshi Das

Spring is the season of mutiny in Jwaharlal Nehru University (JNU). One remembers the spring of 1996, when scuffles broke out on the Jhelum Lawns during an UGBM (University General Body Meeting). This was after Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) disrupted and vandalised a seminar on the Kashmir Question where some Hurriyat leaders were to speak. The students union, then under the presidency of Chandra-shekhar, had called the UGBM to condemn ABVP's thuggery. ABVP sought to disrupt the UGBM, too, but without success.

One remembers the very next spring of 1997. JNU students poured on to the streets of Delhi to protest the assassination of Chandrashekhar. They were lathicharged and water-canoned in return. However, the spring that comes to mind after reading the article by Pramod Ranjan "Bahujan Discourse puts JNU in the Crosshairs" is that of 1999. This was when JNU experimented with the Progressive Admission Policy (PAP).

Ranjan contends that the composition of JNU students has changed drastically in the last 10 years. SC, ST, OBC students formed about 26% of students' population in 2006-07. The number increased to 51% in 2014-15. (Share of women has also gone up from 34% to 49%.) This had had a defining impact on the campus politics. A coalition between the left groups and the Bahujan groups has emerged and this coalition has proved formidable. This has been the reason for discomfiture of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The recent events surrounding the crackdown on JNU can be seen in this light.

The increase in the share of Bahujan students, notably OBC students, was prompted by the Government decision to implement the 27% reservation for OBC students. But that begs the question: why a progressive institution like JNU had to wait for Government diktat to effect this change? Should it not have done this, and more, on its own? This brings the spring of 1999 in focus.

SFI was holding the students union at the time. AISA was in a bit of disarray after the heady days of mid-1990s. Vajpayee was the Prime Minister, and ABVP had a strong organisation on the campus. The Progressive Admission Policy, proposed by the JNUSU, sought to increase the share of marginalised sections. This included not only SC, ST, OBC students, but also women, students from backward regions, etc. According to the old-timers the students' composition of JNU was less elite in the 1970s. It would not be an exaggeration to say that students who came from rural, non-upper caste background were not a sizeable portion by the mid-90s. Elitism, like fungus, creeps in when one is not watching closely. PAP tried to correct this.

All hell broke loose as the student community started discussing PAP. Ironically, it was not the ABVP which was in trouble. Being an organisation defending the upper caste Hindu privileges they were determined to block PAP by hook or by crook. It was the left organisations which were in turmoil. Forget the rank and file, many leading lights of SFI, and especially AISA, flouted their organisation line and opposed PAP. DSU was supportive. But it was a tiny organisation.

The episode was an eye-opener on how far one went to uphold progressive ideology and renounce the privileges she wielded. It was not as if she was to be personally harmed if PAP is passed, for she is already admitted. The privileged caste group she hails from could be. That was enough to forsake the hifalutin left ideals.

In the UGBM where PAP was to be debated, violent fisticuffs broke out. The chief security officer of the campus was beaten up so badly that he had to be hospitalised with stitches on his head. A subsequent inquiry committee expelled a number of ABVP leaders and a lone SFI leader. This was evidently a balancing act. Their studentship and hostel residency was revoked for a couple of semesters.

After that fateful UGBM nobody mentioned PAP. It was forgotten even by the proposers. Rather than ABVP's hooliganism, perhaps it was the realisation that their organisations were not ready to push the progressive idea forward that deterred them. A decade later the Government made JNU do what PAP had sought to do. In a way it was a lost opportunity; a silent defeat of the JNU left.

Vol. 48, No. 38, Mar 27 - Apr 2, 2016