By Devesh Kumar
Towards the end of 2015, an invitation was extended to Baba Ramdev to deliver the keynote address at the 22nd International Congress of Vedanta, being organised by the Jawaharlal Nehru University's Special Centre for Sanskrit Studies. The Centre, in its wisdom, thought that the Yoga Guru had the right credentials to address the gathering. But a section of students thought otherwise. A campaign was launched to stall his appearance at the meet, on the ground that he represented "a regressive ideology," and harboured "extreme hatred, bias and prejudice against various minorities – religious, gender, and also against girl-child." They came up with an even more specious argument to thwart Baba Ramdev's arrival: that his views on Indian Indian science were "not academically driven."
The stop-Baba Ramdev campaign was spearheaded by none other than Kanhaiya Kumar, the JNUSU president who has today emerged as the symbol of freedom of speech and expression. The truth is that the ideology that Kumar represents doesn't have room for contra-opinion and dissent, and JNU, unfortunately, has become a fertile breeding ground for such thinking. Since its inception in 1969, JNU had little space for free and frank speech. The Left-backed student organisations ensured that.
Former deputy prime minister LK Advani got a taste of the Left's disdain and contempt for free speech way back in 1996, when he was invited to release a book published by Prof. Vasant Gadre of the Centre for Spanish Studies. As soon as the student leaders belonging to the Left and radical Left got wind of the programme, they raised a brouhaha, asserting that Advani could not be allowed to enter the campus as he represented a "communal organisation and fascist ideology." Faced with sustained protests from these sections, the organisers had no option but to shift their function to a different venue outside the campus.
Over the years, "communal organisation and fascist ideology" has become the perfect ruse to throttle the growth of alternative viewpoints in the university. Students gravitating towards a nationalist ideology have been kept under watch, and even intimidated. Several students were forced to
remain closet supporters of the RSS-backed Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) for fear of inviting the wrath and fury of their Left-inclined teachers. This was particularly true of centres such as the Centre for Historical Studies (CHS), Centre for Economic Studies and Planning (CESP) and the Centre for Study of Regional Development (CSRD). Those who dared to come out in the open with their 'inconvenient' ideological predilections found their grades ruined and careers destroyed.
In the iconic 1992 blockbuster Scent of a Woman, Frank Slade, a retired US Army Colonel, laments the fall in the standards of a preparatory school in New England. "Well, when the bough breaks, the cradle will fall. And it has fallen here," he says. It had fallen several years back in JNU. The Leftists and their ideology facilitated the process. And if they are crying foul today, it is because an alternative ideology is threatening their free run and altering the course of the narrative.
Devesh Kumar is a former journalist and an alumnus of Jawaharlal Nehru University