The students’ movement against JNU administration’s arbitrary decision to hike fees and impose a hostel manual that will disrupt JNU’s famed campus life needs to be understood in a bigger context. Right from its inception, JNU was not supposed to be just another centre of learning. It was, instead, designed to be a grand experiment in inter-disciplinary and socially relevant education. It was meant to emerge as a laboratory of progressive critical thought. As a necessary corollary, the university has been in the gunsight of the right-wing cultural nationalist Jan Sangh, the predecessor of the BJP, ever since its inception. The strategy to intimidate JNU students and teachers and take over JNU is a concerted and well-thought out one.
JNU stands against the RSS’ agenda of cultural transformation of India. While the RSS sees Indian history and philosophy as being influenced by Western cultural thoughts, unlike progressive nationalist historians or their Marxist counterparts, their agenda is not to decolonise the narrative. The introduction of engineering and management courses in JNU was not just aimed at changing the demographics of the campus but also at creating an ideology-neutral constituency that is natural to those disciplines of study which are product and tech-related and not so much immersed in the realm of thought.
Today’s India is a dystopian paradox. The Indian State is controlled by the Hindutva-aligned RSS, the government is run by former pracharaks but they have to operate within the ambits of the Constitution. But the battle for JNU is a crucial step in the RSS’ final aim of rewriting the Constitution. If ideas can be stymied, if the natural flow of critical thought can be arrested, the ultimate goal becomes much easier to achieve. JNU can’t be seen in isolation. The RSS-guided state, like every fascist state, wants to control every institution of learning, knowledge production and opinion formation.
Students, faculty members and the alumni believe that JNU, famous for its colourful campus life, impeccable academic record and the transformative life experience of its students, teachers and staff, many of whom come from disadvantaged sections of the society, will be able to withstand the onslaught to impose a linear, boring, patriarchal, rigid, unpleasant, monolithic and top-driven system of thought. But the struggle is not that simple. Thankfully, student protests are also ringing out across IITs, Ayurveda colleges in Uttarakhand and elsewhere against privatisation of education, increased fees, discrimination against Dalits, etc. A young India is rising up against the injustices and ineptness of a government which talks big but does little to better the lives of the people it governs. “A university stands for humanism, for tolerance, for reason, for the adventure of ideas and for the search of truth. It stands for the onward march of the human race towards ever higher objectives,” said Jawaharlal Nehru. That is why the government’s attempts to treat affordable education as wasteful expenditure must be resisted. Public funding of education is an investment in the country’s future. Building statues is not.