JNU was never 'anti-national' nor 'tukde tukde gang': VC Santishree D. Pandit

Pandit said she neither regrets her affiliation with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), nor does she hide it

Santishree D. Pandit, vice chancellor of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (image: National Herald archives)
Santishree D. Pandit, vice chancellor of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (image: National Herald archives)


JNU was never 'anti-national', nor part of any 'tukde-tukde gang', the university's vice-chancellor said today, 18 April, while asserting that the institution will always foster dissent, debate and democracy.

In an interaction with PTI editors at the agency's headquarters, Santishree Dhulipudi Pandit, who is the first woman vice-chancellor of the university, said the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) is "not saffronised" and there is no pressure from the central government in its day-to-day functioning.

Pandit, also a JNU alumnus, however, admitted that the campus was polarised when she took over and termed the phase as "unfortunate".

She claimed that there were mistakes on both sides (students and administration) and the leadership erred in handling the situation.

She also said that she neither regrets her affiliation with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) nor does she hide it.

Pandit, who spoke at length about her life, from the time she was born in St. Petersburg in Russia to growing up in a middle-class South Indian family in Chennai, said she feels proud to be called "the Sanghi VC who brought the highest QS rankings for JNU".

"As a university, we should be above all this," she said. "JNU is for the nation, not for any particular identity. JNU stands for inclusivity and development and I always say that it stands for seven Ds — development, democracy, dissent, diversity, debate and discussion, difference and deliberation."

Pandit took over as the vice chancellor in 2022, when the campus was in the throes of students' agitations and had still not recovered from the 2016 controversy over alleged anti-national slogans being raised on campus during an event. The students who were allegedly involved in the slogan raising were branded as members of the 'tukde-tukde gang', referring to the slogan allegedly raised that called for India being cut up into pieces.

"That was a phase when there were mistakes on both sides," said Pandit, responding to a question about the varsity's anti-national image. "I think the leadership erred on the way to controlling it. Any university has a 10 per cent lunatic fringe. It is not only in JNU. It is about the leadership, how we tackle people with extreme views... But I don't think we are anti-national or 'tukde-tukde'."

"I think that phase was bad and there were mistakes on both sides, and because of polarisation and the leadership not understanding... You have to understand that people will differ and argue. The university was never anti-national. When I studied (at JNU) it was at the height of the Left domination; even then, nobody was anti-national," Pandit continued.

"They were critical. Being critical and dissenting will not be called anti-national. I think the administration did not understand JNU and that was an unfortunate phase," she added.

She pointed out that all the degrees awarded to graduates of military academies such as IMA and the Naval Academy are from JNU. "Going by that logic, even the Indian military will be deemed as anti-national," said Pandit.

When the 61-year-old Pandit took over, she was seen by Leftist students on the campus as a representative of right-wing politics and perhaps a supporter of the view that the university is anti-national.

Pandit was born in 1962 to an academician mother who was teaching linguistics in what was then Leningrad in Russia. Her mother died soon after childbirth and Pandit was raised for nearly two years by Russian caregivers, who brought her to India in November 1963 and handed her to her journalist father in Chennai.

A school topper, she cleared the medical entrance examination and joined AIIMS in New Delhi but quit after three months because she was told she would have to pick between gynaecology or paediatrics, and could not take up neurology, which was her preference. She then studied history and pursued an academic career, which took her to Pune University as its dean.

Growing up in Chennai, her father, who never remarried, would send her to summer camps organised by the Sevika Samiti, an RSS-affiliated group.

"That is how I grew up under the influence of the RSS," she told PTI, adding that the Sangh has never taught her hatred but has had a positive influence on her life.

"I do not want to hide it," she said of her right-wing affiliations. "Those who are Naxalites, they do not hide it; so why should I hide it? I have not done anything that is anti-national and I think the RSS in the south is not as politicised as it is here. I have a lot to do with the Sangh and most of my values come from there."

"I think everybody has different affiliations. For me, the Sangh has been a very positive influence," Pandit said.

Asked about allegations of the saffronisation of JNU campuses, she said, "at least in JNU, we are not saffronised".

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