JNU vs Galgotias: Staged students’ protest sparks debate on universities

A 'sponsored' protest by Galgotias students raises questions about merit vs reservation, private vs public universities and students' role in national politics

Hundreds of college students protested and marched to the Congress headquarters with placards on 1 May (photo: @amitmalviya/X)
Hundreds of college students protested and marched to the Congress headquarters with placards on 1 May (photo: @amitmalviya/X)

A.J. Prabal

Those who were outraged over JNU students voicing their concern about developments in Kashmir in 2016 have been quiet in 2024 about the comic protest by a group of students from a private university—exposed, for a change, by a 'godi media' channel.

The BJP IT cell’s chief, Amit Malviya, shared several photographs and videos on May Day of a group of college students, a hundred or so of them, marching to the Congress headquarters with placards. Malviya helpfully explained that the students were protesting against the Congress manifesto—which, according to the BJP and the Prime Minister, promises a draconian inheritance tax.

Malviya went on to approvingly post on X: 'Students rising in protest against Congress’s draconian tax (wealth and inheritance) proposals is a welcome development. It is important that first time voters, in particular, take informed decisions and not get swayed by warped ideas, couched in sophistry.'

By all accounts, this was the first of a series of such protests planned by students. Malviya also shared a long, 9 minute video clip of a lady talking to the students. They all declared that they were appalled by the manifesto and, as youth and first-time voters, were determined to vote against the Congress.

The reporter, from an obscure YouTube channel, appeared disinterested and did not ask any follow-up question of anyone. The students carried with them lavishly produced placards with computer generated lettering that said, among other things, that Rahul Gandhi had both ‘Ma and Mao’. Another placard singled out for special mention by Malviya said that Congress would first seek votes and then would take away people's ‘mangalsutra’ and ‘notes’.

Another video clip of the same protest march, this one 5 minutes long, was shown on the TV channel Aaj Tak later in the day. The reporter, Ashutosh Mishra, asked different students to read out the placards in their hands and expand on the argument they were upholding.

Mishra also asked some if they had read the Congress manifesto and requested them to explain what they understood by inheritance tax and 'redistribution of wealth'.

Many of the students failed to correctly read the placards, either in Hindi or in English. One of the students spoke eloquently about the horrible promises made in the Congress "unifesto" and condemned the proposal to take away the savings of the middle class and the "streedhan" of Hindu women. Several students said that the Congress manifesto promised to take away wealth from Hindus and redistribute them to Muslims—which, they said vehemently, was wrong.

The clip was funny and evoked both derision and laughter. The trolling was savage and people began questioning the education that Galgotias University, a 12-year-old private university with 12,000 students, was providing. (The young protesters had claimed it their alma mater and said they were brought to New Delhi by bus from Greater Noida in Uttar Pradesh, approximately 40 kilometres away, where the university is situated.)

The next day on 2 May, one of the student protesters, a young lady named Laxmi Sharma, pleaded publicly on social media for the trolling to stop. It had caused her and friends considerable trauma, she said, and they were being questioned by relatives who had seen the videos.

Sharma added that she was 'apolitical' and had joined the protest because students were told that they would be given handsome marks in internal examinations and would get an opportunity to meet film star Kangana Ranaut.

Her social media post read:

We have realised our mistakes.
Humko nahi pata tha propaganda hai. Humse toh bola tha kangana ranaut se milne ka chance milega. (We did not know it was propaganda. We had been told we were getting a chance to meet Kangana Ranaut.)
On behalf of the student council, I apologise to everyone.

Her post went on to allege:

University management forced us to gather & handed us those placards. We don’t have budget for such good printed posters, hum warna chart paper pe banate (otherwise we would have made them from chart paper).
Insta handle se bhi sare videos hata diye hai (we have removed all such videos from our Instagram handle)…
...we were promised full internal marks by the management…

It made for poignant reading because the same student had earlier reacted in fury and had posted that the trolling had given students immense strength. “Now keep yourself ready for another nation-wide student protest… just wait for it.”

Soon enough, screenshots from WhatsApp chats emerged on social media that appeared to suggest that the university had arranged for buses to transport the students. It had also arranged for the placards and refreshment served to the students in the bus.

The list of instructions clearly suggested that only a group of 40 students, possibly tutored, would speak to the media while the rest would have to just raise slogans. Simple.

The plan went awry because of a five-minute clip on a channel known to be pro-government and popularly clubbed under the ‘godi media’ umbrella.

The Galgotias in their administrative capacity—either chancellor Suneel Galgotia or director Dhruv Galgotia—have not commented on the incident.

Both, however, are known to be close to the BJP.

Galgotias University has reportedly deleted all references and videos of the protest and has moved on. Indeed, the very next day, it took out a full-page newspaper ad advertising how the institution gives its students 'a distinct edge', as reported by Newslaundry.

The incident, however, has triggered several questions that are still begging for an answer.

Who sought permission for the protest from the Delhi Police? Who gave permission and how much did they know about it?

Who paid for the bus, placards and refreshment? Did the private university really promise to give students extra marks in examinations for participating in the protest?

In the past, the Delhi Police—which reports to Union home minister Amit Shah—has refused permission for protests by Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Jamia Millia Islamia students, and even protests by Congress workers.

The incident has also sparked intense debate on the status of young people's education in India—questions around merit vs reservation (which were already election planks in the employment sphere); about the quality of education being imparted by private universities like Galgotias, which collect fees in lakhs, versus the relatively poorly funded state universities, including even premier institutions such as JNU.

Meanwhile, the Election Commission, which objected to the word ‘dictator’ used in a campaign song by the Aam Aadmi Party recently, clearly has no problem with this vilification campaign against the largest Opposition party, deploying everything from innuendo to outright falsehood.

And what of the UGC, which does not approve of protests at JNU, Jamia Millia and Aligarh Muslim University (AMU)? Is it fine with this very overt political activity under the tutelage of a private university?

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