Internationally acclaimed linguist and critic-activist Noam Chomsky has apparently played a crucial role in the ongoing JNU stalemate by putting a valid question to vice chancellor M Jagdeesh Kumar: Why did you allow entry of police on the campus?
Though Kumar this week denied the police an entry to arrest Umar Khalid and four others wanted on the charge of waging a war against India, the question that ought to be asked is: how long can he hold on to this untenable and ambiguous position?
If Chomsky’s question reflects pusillanimity of the VC, the second question pertains to his timid conduct and abject abdication of responsibility. There is no doubt that Khalid and his associates have violated law in the state’s perception. They are not declared “fugitives”. Yet their status is quite akin to that.
In this context, the VC must be more worried than the rest of the world about reaffirmation of the stereotype that the JNU has turned into a sanctuary of anti-nationals and Naxalites, mutually interchangeable terms in a section of media’s perception. There are all indications that the VC is not only a worst shirker of his responsibility but also a collusive partner of the state to defame JNU.
With Khalid and his associates safely ensconced in the campus in the midst of his caring friends who, in a fit of emotion, vow to accompany them to jail, the university administration seems to have deliberately left the students to their fate.
There are indeed elements of surrealism that have been playing out in front of the administrative building every day in the JNU. Hundreds of students gather every day, deliver monologues, and stage street plays to regale the audience and infuse in them a false sense of triumphalism.
That most of these students are cut off from the harsh reality of today’s times is evident if one visits the campus. Every evening hundreds of student gather and sing revolutionary songs written by poets long dead and gone.
Yesterday, students sang in chorus a song penned by revolutionary Bhojpuri poet and a JNU alumni Gorakh Pandey, “Samajwad udat udat ayee babua (My dear, socialism will come flying).” A group of students was intimately engaged in explaining the rationale of ‘nation-state’ and etymology of ‘sedition’. Just adjacent to the campus, there are localities like Berserai where the language, idiom and grammar of the JNU would appear to have come from moon if not Mars.
What appears to be disturbing is not the indulgence of students into a largely sterile idealism. The most disconcerting is the fact that a section of the faculty has been egging them on to pursue a dream which may end up in the worst kind of nightmare.
For instance, it serves perfectly well for the police if students hold out for a longer period with Khalid and others in their protective custody. This situation enables the police to perpetuate the story that the JNU is a safe haven for seditionists. This impression is already firmly etched in the home ministry.
In such a situation of mutual distrust and lack of dialogue, the role of the VC is quite significant. Kumar could have taken a firm stance against those who organized the event on February 9 in which anti-India slogans were raised.
In reality the university administration and the VC are more culpable than Kanhaiya Kumar in letting the 9 February event happen inside the campus. While Kanhaiya was picked up for the sedition by the police, Kumar and his administration in the JNU were let off the hook.
Perhaps Kumar would have done well to introspect and take a leaf out of the history of his illustrious predecessors. Forget about stalwarts like Dr S Radhakrishnan and his legend of not letting the British police enter the BHU campus at the height of Quit India movement, would any state have dared take such an antagonistic position with the university headed by likes of Kalulal Shrimali and Rafique Zakaria?
Before becoming VCs of BHU, Shrimali served as education minister. Zakaria also held various posts in the government before serving briefly in the Aligarh Muslim University. More recently, in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime, hardcore RSS ideologue and BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi, who served as faculty of the Allahabad university before becoming HRD minister, rarely let his ideological predilection affect his influence on the campuses.
Kumar’s capitulation before the state authorities is nothing but a symptom of a malignancy that has taken hold of the India's higher education system.
Kumar belongs to a new genre of VCs for whom pliability is valued more than academic excellence and courage of conviction. This was amply demonstrated when union HRD minister Smriti Irani admonished 42-odd VCs of central universities like “truant boys” in a conference at Surajkund on 18 February.
“What shocked me is not her impunity and arrogance but sheer meekness of the flock,” said one who attended the conference. Chomsky may not be aware of these facts when he wrote a missive to the JNU VC.
In such a situation, it would be too naïve for JNU students to engage with the government in war of attrition. As long as they hold onto the stalemate and resist the surrender of Khalid and others, the perception about them being “anti-national” in popular discourse would gain ground and credibility.
With a VC like Kumar and a hostile state, the students’ refusal to read the writing on the wall would pave the way for a situation in which the JNU as we know it would be a thing of the past.