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Why Americans love JNU and its Corolla Commies

I am huddled in the back-seat, barely 18, trying to comfort the hysterically sobbing friend next to me. A challenging task given our circumstances. The tiny Maruti is surrounded by a mob of irate students screaming hysterically, "Pull the girls out! Burn the car!" The two havaldars look on, bemused and faintly worried. A leader of the student union sticks his head through the window to say, helplessly, "There's not much I can do here."

This then is my first introduction to the hallowed campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University, best known for its khadi-clad intellectuals and verdant campus ideal for kids looking for a place to park, drink, and maybe kiss. My solo venture into South Delhi tomfoolery has clearly gone awry. Someone, somewhere has attacked a JNU female student that night. The irate crowd clearly appears to think it's us: eight teenage girls and boys stuffed in two cars, clutching one measly bottle of cheap rum.

 Why Americans love JNU and its Corolla Commies

Manpreet Romana/AFP Photo

"The University's intellectually dynamic students have produced influential leaders of national politics, journalism, and the civil service by virtue of their talent, rather than their close proximity to national politicians. A disproportionate number of Indian diplomats are JNU graduates, giving the University a lasting impact on the country's foreign policy," gushes the latest US  diplomatic cable leaked today. Fondly dubbing it as the "Kremlin on the Jumna," the Americans seem so awed by JNU's Harvard-like intellectual pedigree that its inconveniently Left orientation is almost inconsequential when measured against its elite status.

More personally amusing is this: "JNU alumni nostalgically described their alma mater as an utopia, where politically and intellectually charged students rarely wished to leave for the real world, a haven from traditional India, where women mingled with men until the wee hours of the morning, and students from depressed rural backgrounds were provided opportunities to come into their own." A privilege clearly not extended in those good old days to spoilt teenagers -- we were in a car! -- who make an easy target when the proletariat's blood is up. And I am certainly not the only Delhiite with a JNU horror story. Sexual harassment was as routine on its campus as capitalist hotbeds like IIT.

A 2007 column by Miami Herald columnist and Pulitzer prizewinner Andres Oppenheimer describes a contentious guest lecture on César Chávez, which was greeted with expected hostility by his audience, "the professors and students at the School of International Studies -- a major recruiting ground for foreign service officials."  More revealing, however, is the comment made by his host, Professor Abdul Nafei, who said of his students: ''As soon as they graduate, they leave Marxism behind." American colleges have their LUGs (Lesbians until graduation). We now have our very own MUGs.

A stray remark, perhaps, but it points to a greater truth about the kind of self-aggrandising politics represented by JNU as an institution -- particularly its IR and Political Science programmes which receive the most attention. Sure its student body may be more diverse, but its alumni are no better than the average limousine liberal in New York. It's so easy to care oh-so-much about those poor folks in the lofty comfort of that World Bank/IFS job. No wonder the Americans would love to score some JNU cred. It's the kind of Lefty politics any apple-pie lovin' capitalist can get behind.


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Updated Date: May 08, 2011 12:49:40 IST