JNU students have been protesting against a hostel fee hike | Photo: Manisha Mondal | ThePrint
JNU students have been protesting against a hostel fee hike | Photo: Manisha Mondal | ThePrint
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It has become somewhat fashionable to criticise JNU these days, even though it has won the President of India’s award for being the best university more than once in the last five years.

Surely, something good has been happening at JNU.

A Left ‘bastion’

But there is also room for constructive criticism even as we find many reasons to celebrate Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), like most recently, economist Abhijit Banerjee’s Nobel Prize.

A university must project diversity as its core goal – in faculty, students, courses and politics. JNU has been lacking this to a large extent.

During its formative years, faculty appointments at JNU were seemingly made keeping a candidate’s Left-wing leanings in mind, sometimes at the cost of academic standards. However, today there are enough non-Left-oriented faculty at JNU, which dispels the claim that the university is a ‘bastion of the Left’. I must also add here that in academia, leaning towards Left or Right does not necessarily imply academic inferiority. My point is to only espouse the cause of diversity.

JNU has also admitted students mostly at the postgraduate level since it does not offer too many undergraduate programmes. It foments several shortcomings. For one, to a large extent, students prone to Left-wing political orientation have consistently been admitted over the years. This is not by design. Most humanities and social sciences curriculum in universities across India and the world have a Marxist model of interpretation. The model has its merits but it should not be the only lens through which disciplines should be examined. Of course, a significant number of academics in humanities and social sciences streams are also oriented towards the Left. In the long run, this has not served JNU very well.


Also read: JNU is the graveyard of all anti-BJP protests. It was Modi-Shah’s ticket out of CAA mess

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Absence of undergrads

One thing that hampers JNU from achieving its full potential is the university’s decision to not have undergraduate courses in several vital streams. I cannot think of any major university in the world that does not have good and robust undergraduate programmes in most disciplines. This is a necessary condition for a university to flourish in the true sense. Some years ago, a distinguished Left-leaning and a very wise historian at JNU admitted to me in private that it was a mistake to not have had undergraduate students at JNU.

A good learning programme works best when it is aimed at a fresh and open mind. When properly stimulated, undergraduate students come up with spontaneous ideas and tend to think out of the box. They are more open to new ideas as well. It is far more difficult to reorient a mind that has already been exposed over years to a set of ideas and thought processes that may not be of a high standard.


Also read: JNU students have time and again upheld what it means to be a “national” university


A grave miscalculation

Another issue that used to consistently bother me about JNU was the fact that its founding principle and accent was on taking trans-disciplinary approaches to knowledge And yet JNU failed to have mathematicians on its rolls until just a few years ago.

The reason to deny mathematics its place in JNU was always that the university curriculum was inter-disciplinary in nature. If any discipline unabashedly advertises its trans-disciplinary nature, it is mathematics. What were the founders thinking when they ignored mathematics? Did they not pay heed to their celebrated scholar-icon Noam Chomsky, who used mathematics to study linguistics? Or closer home, did not the celebrated historians of ancient India at JNU know that in the times of yore, Pingal (200 BC) pulled deep and profound mathematics out of Sanskrit poetry?


Also read: Indira Gandhi vs Morarji Desai: How JNU was at the centre of battle to capture academia


Accept criticism

Coming to the matter of student leaders at JNU, who appear to be attracting all kinds of criticism and have even been accused of being anti-national. JNU has had student leaders like D.P. Tripathi and Sitaram Yechury at a time when Arun Jaitley was heading the Delhi University Students’ Union. The three played an important role in Emergency activism. Despite their diametrically opposing ideologies, will they be deemed anti-national for their activism today?

What has happened at JNU during these past few months cannot be ignored. Perhaps, much of it could possibly have been averted with deft handling by the university administration.

My humble advice to the administration and the Narendra Modi government is to look at the student movements that may have emanated from institutions like JNU with an objective viewpoint. Many students from my own university who have no political leanings or ideological biases have also been to JNU campus and other places for protests because their concerns are valid. We must also remember that even those with an ideological leaning are not necessarily in the wrong.

A very wise man – none other than Morarjibhai Desai – once told me in the context of opposition to his government in 1979 that he was happy with criticism – as long as they did not become personal or violent. He had said that criticisms helped keep him and his government alert and prevented mistakes. Of course, his emphasis was on constructive criticism. I hope that JNU students and the university administration shall heed Morarji’s wisdom, as well as the Rig Veda verse: Let noble thoughts come to us from every direction.

The author is the former vice-chancellor of the University of Delhi, a distinguished mathematician and an educationist. Views are personal.

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19 Comments Share Your Views

19 COMMENTS

  1. JNU lately has proved that it has become a hotbed of anti nationals and traitors.dissent and different point of view is different than slogans which are rant as India Tera Tukade Ho he, and Afzal tere katil zinda hai , hume sharm hai. People like Omar Khalid, Kanhaiyya,Anirband and so many became heroes by abusing India. I had been to JNU a couple of years ago for presenting my paper in a conference. The level of English and the kind of papers presented there by some faculties of JNU and others left me baffeled. What a waste. JNU is a total waste. As Subramaniam swami said that Close JNU for 2 years and start afresh. Recent example of blackening the board of Veer Sawarkar by puttting a Jinna hoarding speaks lot. JNU has totally gone to DOGS. Only solution is close it close it.

  2. Let us face it. India’s best friend during the formative years of JNU was the USSR. Would JNU have capitalist leanings. Let’s not be selective about history. Also, it is very convenient to brand everything that is opposed to a conservative nationalist agenda as leftist. Why blame our inability to change with time on Marx

  3. Which text book in Indian universities teaches Marxism. Please point out. Most of the stories , essays of course try to imbibe humanism, care for disadvantaged etc. Genuinely educated persons are humanists. They don’t carry hatred for others.

    • It is no wonder that most of the bigots and divisive minds came from science , engineering, medical backgrounds. Make JNU a predominantly science oriented and you will be able to produce right-wing bigots, racists, casteists etc. I must disclose I am myself from science background.

  4. There is no excellence in academics in India. Our best universities are either completely politicised or too full of students who want to beat the next entrance exam! Off course you cannot blame them as they would have got there by going to coaching classes in the first place.

    There is no scope for learning as disinterested professors just want to complete the syllabus. There is no original research being done as evident from the very few papers being published. There is no adequate budget either for R&D.

    Most students don’t care either. They just want a passport to a good life, not interested in learning. But our universities are very good in playing politics, sending teachers for election duty and other things sundry.

    There is no accountability and mediocrity will reign supreme. There is not much hope for the future either except sanctimonious ramblings in the media.

  5. it is ingenuous to claim that criticism of JNU is not political in the context of 2020 india! the author might as well have said “BJP’s direct JNU bashing is not working for more intelligent people, so let me try more subtle means”. Sorry – it fails to impress.

    • You have hit the nail on its head! That is what this article is about- no wonder the author sounds rather confused- constantly resorting to private conversations he has had with limanaries to validate his wish washy points.

  6. Sorry, no time for half measures. The academia, especially the subjective fields like the social studies and humanities, must be freed from the clutches of the violent left. They are a violent cult that doesn’t tolerate any other view. Every measure to marginalize the sundry leftist groups (some bearing the names of mega scale mass killers) must be undertaken.

  7. Why would a university like JNU have mathematics and other sciences? Professors and students engaged in maths and sciences tend to be apolitical and therefore are of no use at all to the students unions and teacher’s unions at JNU. The JNUTA and the JNUSU would never cede space in the university to a department or a discipline which does not “contribute” to their nihilistic projects.

      • People make such statements on the assumption that nobody will check. Just one example. Wikipedia on Osama:
        Bin Laden was raised as a devout Sunni Muslim. From 1968 to 1976, he attended the élite secular Al-Thager Model School. He studied economics and business administration at King Abdulaziz University.

        • He studied Civil engineering to join his family business. Now check other ideologues and leaders of terrorists and communal organisations.

  8. One of the worst thing about students of JNU is that their mode, manner,and ferocity of protest does not look like a protest by the educated segment of society. They protest as uncultured -uneducated crowd . Their choice of subjects to protest smacks of inherent hatred against Indian nationhood, and Hinduism as practiced by large number of Indians , They have and exhibit pro-Jihadi mentality which majority of Indians and international population fear and abhor.. It is surprising that a big chunk of intelligent students of JNU work as tools of defeated political leaders and leftist ideology which has disappeared from the countries like Russian Federation and China which were its birth place and preserver of this retreating ideology. All institutions of excellence should avoid being leftist or rightists bastions. These are created , developed and financed by society for pure research and development of society and of course,of students who spend most valuable formative years of their life there.

  9. Very balanced views about a highly controversial institution. Without being polemical, he has pointed out the flaws in the structure and orientation of JNU. Institution per se is not bad. It is the people who make it bad. Since the inception of JNU, there has been the hegemony of leftists in the university. Rather thoughtlessly, students were given a role in the admission process. As the writer has correclty pointed out, in humanities, across India, the university curriculum has Marxist orientation. A student with a different view may not get through the course easily, or successfully emerge out of Ph.D. To that extent, leftists have captured the academia. Surely, JNU has many departments which must be doing wonderful academic and research work. Unfortunately, the political orientation of student community and faculty have not given enough exposure to other achievements.

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