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Why I didn’t call myself a JNU-ite for 37 yrs. But now something has changed: Yogendra Yadav

Even though I carried a jhola and had a beard, I didn’t associate with Left politics in JNU. Then a desperate Modi regime zeroed in on the university.

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For the first time, I felt like calling myself a JNU-ite.

It was around midnight Sunday. I was standing outside Jawaharlal Nehru University’s main gate. The masked goons had finished their job and had been honourably escorted out. The hecklers and bouncers, who were giving them cover through the evening, had also dispersed. Mission accomplished, street lights had been switched back on. Just when you would expect everyone to retreat into the safety of their homes and hostels, the JNU community marched in a peaceful procession. Teachers came out to stand with their students. They all shouted slogans and sang songs. They opened the university gate. And so, the JNU community reclaimed the space that was desecrated by goons a few hours ago.

I felt so proud. I felt I belonged here. Like never before.

Also read: In Modi’s opposition-mukt India, JNU must remain the Eternal Protester

Jhola-carrying, but not a JNU-ite

For a good 37 years, I have resisted calling myself a JNU-ite. Maybe it’s just my nature. I cannot stand clannishness of any kind – caste, community, club, school, village, nation, party, anything.  Institutional snobbery by any name – Stephenian, Oxonian or JNUite – puts me off.  Since I associated stereotypical JNUites with some of these traits, I kept away from all formal and informal gatherings of JNUites.

This reluctance was informed by some cultural unease as well. Coming from a small town, I could not relate to JNU’s dominant radical culture. It was too anglicised, too deracinated to appeal to my cultural sensibilities. Reading Raag Darbari and Phanishwarnath Renu was a way of getting back at English-spouting revolutionaries. Not smoking, not drinking, not even chai, was my private rebellion against the dominant ways of rebelling at JNU. I would drink a glass of milk and carry some home-made laddoos or gur to make my point.

My intellectual and ideological distance with JNU’s Left must have compounded it. In the early 1980s, the dominant version of Marxism taught at JNU was rather formulaic, mechanical and polemical. Exposure to sophisticated readings of Karl Marx and Marxism by some teachers there only accentuated my distance from the orthodox Left. Unlike many of my contemporaries, I couldn’t possibly romanticise the Soviet Union or applaud the practice of Indian Communists. The theory and practice of Naxalites, the much-reviled and little understood word these days, left me intellectually and morally cold. The Left academic establishment invited the anti-establishment streak inside me.

All this must have fed into my politics at that time. I joined the Samata Yuvjan Sabha in opposition to the dominant Communist student groups at the time – the Students’ Federation of India (SFI) and the All India Students Federation (AISF). It was at JNU that I was inspired by Sunil, a few years my senior, to take up politics. That is where I met Kishen Pattnayak, my political guru, Sachchidanand Sinha, an enduring intellectual influence. For me, JNU was not about discovering Marx or Lenin, but about reading deeper into Gandhi, Jayaprakash Narayan and Rammanohar Lohia.

Forgive me for this biographical interlude. But I hope now you understand why I flinched at being seen as a JNU-ite. I have kept a beard and often carried a jhola. But I do not see why that must make me a Marxist or support Communist parties or defend all public sector companies.

Also read: The Left is dead, but India deserves a new Left that dares to think afresh

A detached observer

Over the years, as the Left declined in its academic power and its pockets of political dominance, my opposition to it also declined. Indeed, it would be silly to retain older battle-lines in this new political context of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s hegemony. In hindsight, I have come to see the most valuable contribution of the Left to India’s political life: notwithstanding its disdain for ‘bourgeois democracy’ and culture, the Left helped maintain the democratic character of our democracy, and pro-people orientation of our public culture.

Similarly, for all its faults, the Left-wing student politics of JNU has retained the virtue of connecting the Indian youth, many from privileged background, to the realities of the country they live in. JNU as an institution has provided a space for innumerable students from underprivileged background to build not just a successful career but also lead a meaningful life. No wonder this small institution has contributed disproportionately more leaders to India’s political life. You may not be a Marxist – and I have never been one – but you cannot deny the intellectual contribution of the Marxists to understanding our society. It is hard to imagine social science in India without dialogues within and with the Indian left.

I have also come to recognise how much I owe to the opportunity of studying at JNU with great teachers like Sudipta Kaviraj and Rajeev Bhargava, or listening to some of the leading minds of India in the famous late-night debates in the JNU campus or to the democratic space made available to critics like us by the dominant Left student politics. An opportunity to compare it with other institutions in the country and abroad has also made me appreciate what a national asset JNU is and continues to be. Over the years, JNU has changed too. The campus is more diverse in ideological orientation and political shades. Ideas, academics and political organisations other than the Left also flourish there. It is much less anglicised than before.

Although my assessment changed, I continued to be a detached observer. Not a JNU-ite.

Also read: For headline-manager Amit Shah, JNU violence is a gift that distracts from CAA protests

A JNU-ite

The last four years have changed it all. Desperately in need of internal enemies, the Narendra Modi regime has zeroed in on JNU as its prime intellectual target. We have witnessed a multi-pronged attack by the state. When the regime realised that it lacked the intellectual resources to defeat the JNU in a debate, it resorted to defaming and demonising with the help of a pliant media. This was accompanied by a political onslaught on campus politics, followed by a bureaucratic onslaught. The current Vice-Chancellor, M. Jagadesh Kumar, was thrust upon the university to complete the demolition job, of changing the character of JNU forever. The gunda attack under police protection was the final act – the physical attack – in this long process of institutional destruction.

In the face of this relentless onslaught, JNU symbolises whatever this regime does not want or cannot handle. Now, JNU does not stand for any ideological orthodoxy, it stands as a symbol of democratic dissent. It is not Left vs Right anymore. It is simply right vs wrong now. JNU is being targeted because it thinks, because it asks inconvenient questions, because it refuses to become either a kindergarten or a coaching factory, because it dares to be political. This leaves any conscientious citizen with no dignified option but to stand up to this barbarity. If the Modi regime wishes to turn JNU into any other university, the only fitting response is for every university to become another JNU.

I stand as a proud JNUite. So must you, no matter if you didn’t study there.

The author is the national president of Swaraj India. Views are personal.

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  1. As a 74-year old admirer of Sri. Yogendraji, I am happy that he is showing signs of maturity. The left was drunk with its perceived “global power”, thanks to the ceaseless propaganda by the ‘mighty’ Soviet Union and the PRC. The former was shattered by the relentless anti-communist stance of the USA and the “Thachered” U.K.; the latter by Kissinger-inspired creation of ‘PRC’ as a profit-seeking communist country. Understandably, the young Jhola-wearing Yadav was repelled by that. He, however, had failed to see the larger picture: if the current flavour of ‘winner takes all’ – ‘trickle-down’ economic approach, that is sacrificing the individuals for fattening ‘the state’ has to be changed, we need a left with a human face creating a society whose members will not be referred to by their ‘cell numbers’ and which can balance welfare economics with entrepreneurial wealth creation (and not the unabashed wealth accumulation’ that passes for growth. Shri Yogendra and men like him will have to be the social, cultural and conceptual bridges to these apparently contradictory processes.

  2. Thanks to yogendra yadav for a valuable write up assessing & analysing the sociopolitical situation emerged in our country which needs a deep thinking by all so that the country could move in a proper direction to come out of the crisis ahead. Thinkers & activists of all shades and colours must come together to sit & discuss the ways & means to protect the essence of our constitution soas to strengthen our democratic setup.

  3. Yawnn..not read article but just commenting on failed political pundits..never won election but talks about how to win election…

  4. Assuming that the theory that Modi and gang did order the goons to enter campus and facilitated through admin, police and management is true, why would they want to settle scores only in this campus. Is it because it’s a juggernaut of campuses.
    Such events have happened in the past in common man campuses when there is ego clashes between student leaders -( left right or center) and one or more disturbed leader groups engages external people.

    • and police was present but did nothing? cameras were rolling but goons were still brazen? sympathisers gathered but were not allowed to enter – by police? victims were blamed? the home-minister instigated the riot? and most importantly, no arrests were made even days later although there is plenty of evidence? come one, don’t be naive.

  5. So I guess that, getting a bloody eye while trying to cause a stir outside the JNU campus and then playing the victim, got Yogendra Yadav the seven minutes of fame and an oped in ‘The Print’. Well done Yogendra Yadav well done👏👏. Living of the breadcrumbs of radical leftist agitation given your failure in politics is still a living at the end of the day.
    Being a bottom feeder really suits you👍.

  6. No Mr yogendra Yadav u are die hard communist anti hindu and pro Islamist . Marxists of jnu are supporters of balkanisation of India they must be severo dealt with.they are supporters of anti anti and anti hindu forces.,who seek to destabilise India from within

    • with minimum corrections, it should read: “JNU should be cleansed of its VC for the purpose of making Bharat shine”
      never use “for the purpose of … to” – in most constructions, one of them would suffice. you could have therefore also written:” JNU should be cleansed of its vc to make Bharat shine” – much better since more compact. the sentence is still weird but if you replace “vc” by “dirt”, in this case synonyms, it reads fine.

  7. No ,. Mr yadav you have bee n initiated and lived long enough into an environment charged with Marxism. But we feel it is almost impossible to find a true and honest Marxist nowadays. What we see nowadays are all pseudo leftists trying to get into civil services or politics . We citizens cannot allow tukde tukde gang or insult to our deities , so the campus running with our money must be made free from such elements and we citizens expect Modiji do this . The corrective measures may not be foolproof but at least intentions should not be questioned .

  8. He needs to stop pretending. He always let people know that he was from JNU. He is also part of the left wing crowd, just not the ML one. He wants to be taken as an intellectual. At the same time he wants to be a politician and enjoy the perks of power. So everything that he writes is tainted by his desire to position his opinion for the sake of his politics. So what we get is vacuous articles such as this – where is wants to benefit from an association with JNU students cause célebre and still distance himself from it’s politics. If only he would end this hypocrisy he would get much farther in his ambitions.

  9. Well written. I have studied in a central university and have seen the tyranny of the Leftists. A handful of lumpen elements in the garb of ideology hold the entire university to ransom. The majority are too scared to even protest. On top of it is the threat – you are with us or against us. Eighty percent of students are bothered about doing well in the exams and getting a decent job. No one seems to be bothered about them. The first and foremost duty of the students is to study not engage in politics. And the students of the social sciences and humanities are the most politicised. In the job market organizations have a poor opinion of students of these streams. And activism whether of the Left or the Right shouldn’t affect the normal functioning of the university. The stakes are high. All political parties are fishing in troubled waters. Central Universities are losing credibility because of this. And the left has its own agenda. Students and teachers of a handful of states are at the forefront of the trouble. Clearly this must stop.

  10. When film stars, who expose their cleavage,breast,thigh,buttocks for money are presented as intellectual or role model or idol by leftist then make it sure that end is not far off.

  11. When a film stars who expose their cleavage,breast,thigh,buttocks for money is presented as intellectual or role model or idol by leftist then make it sure that end is not far off.

  12. What is it about Shri Yogendra Yadav, a dodgy academic and failed politician that he gets so much free publicity in our media?

  13. In JNU there is freedom of new type.You can free so long as you are leftist.The Rss and bjp are hated to core.The hate is so intense that Modi and Shah are hated and compared to Hitlar.God forbid if left comes to power they will not allow freedom to breath let alone abuse thier comrades or communist head.
    Look at Leftist ideologue China.
    These leftist students are crying aboyt Azaadi / freedom/democracy.
    Forget about democracy when they cime to power.
    They will not allow people to become rich because they want mobs to protest.

    During present rule there is full Azaadi everywhere.
    You can call your rulers anything under the sun and escape because the left leaders have give them protection.
    CAA is important, etc are important.Must be discussed sanely.

  14. Extreme Right or extreme Left, nothing is in compliance with the nation or its real norms. JNU is the no. 1 Central University which has been transformed into a battlefield since 5 yrs. I can’t remember when was the last time, in 90s,we saw such a scenario in an Indian university. Bizarre and displeased.

    • guess what happned 5 years ago that ultimately transformed an agitation agaist anti-student policies of UGC to the death of a dalit student, false charges agaist leftist students, disappearence of a muslim student and finally increasing brutality of police and goons ?? guess what happned 5 yers ago in 2014?

  15. Tavleen Singh in IE wrote , we have a new elite , she characterized the new elite with some adjectives prime among them being them being their hatred for the old elite ( read English speaking Khan market gang).Now the new elite since they have supplanted the old almost decisively in power structure , now the time is for ushering in new ideas to replace the old . No force on earth can stop an idea whose time has come so said Hugo .Secularism , English education ,JNU , agnosticism and everything Nehru stood for, evicted and banished forever is the new idea. Whatever one may think about the intentions of these new elite , one has to admire the single minded purpose with which they are going about dismantling the old hierarchies . I for one would like to see more democracy in the grand old party of India even if those who claim to remove the dynasty themselves are no less dynasts with father at home in national politics and the son playing cricket and ball with his fathers power . that reminds me of the quote the more things change the more they remain the same .

  16. Dear Yogendra, thank you for articulating the thought of many – leftist by instinct but individualist by temperament, many of us had chosen not to mix with the traditional left, being either out of politics totally or doing independent politics. The current BJP has of course changed all that. Now Marxists are turning to Gandhi and Gandhians are standing up for the Marxists. Cynics and recluses are out on the street sloganeering with “hindustani musalmans”. And all are saying “Jai Bhim” as well as “Jai Hind”. Hamari ekta zindabad. may we never forget the difference between friendly divergence and deadly hatred.

  17. Realisation at last ? Marxism teaches to become a man, a man with all aspects of life.Marxism is not dogma! Marxism comes for the people, from the people and by the people,Sir.Your distance from Marxism( perdon me, not Indian left parties) was a wrong assessment by you,Sir.So long the people’s movement is there, oppression is there, have nots are there— Marxism will flourish!!

  18. What I find most troubling is this complete aversion not just to dissent but to intellect. A vast inferiority complex, an inability to compete with the best minds. Just how many intellectuals did the Nehru – Gandhi family give Rajya Sabha memberships, Padma Bhushans, lucrative Board memberships to ? Consider the initial choice of HRD minister. I have never visited JNU, know hardly anyone who has studied there, am not a Leftist by any stretch of the imagination. Actually am grateful to the current dispensation for making me aware that such a fine educational institution exists in the country. It should have been led by a VC of national stature. The assault – first emotional, now physical – on JNU is completely unwarranted. Will add to a growing pile of instances of poor judgment.

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