It is hard to escape the conclusion that Jawaharlal Nehru University in today’s India is a pale shadow of the powerful institution that was founded in the early 1970s. Roiled by a series of violent incidents ~ most recently on 5 January ~ that are alleged to have been perpetrated by the ruling party’s student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the canker is spreading and has now come to bear on the outstanding faculties.
This is quite the most charitable construct that can be placed upon the decision of the distinguished economist, Amit Bhaduri, to return the honour of Emeritus professorship. There is scarcely a Vice-Chancellor in the country, whatever his ideological persuasion, who has been so severely debunked as the incumbent in JNU.
Ever since the mayhem on the first Sunday of the New Year, VC M Jagadesh Kumar has had a lot to answer for. While putting in his papers, Prof Bhaduri has accused the VC of “playing a pivotal role in a larger and more sinister plan of destroying the atmosphere of freedom of expression in the varsity”. We do not know if the university authorities had kowtowed to the HRD ministry’s imprimatur by turning the screws on so reputed an economist, one who was on the faculty since JNU’s inception in 1973.
Yet we do know that a no less distinguished ancient Indian historian, Romila Thapar and also a Professor Emerita, had been asked some months ago to re-submit her documents. This was humiliating, to say the least. Both in the case of Bhaduri and Thapar, it is their pedagogy and contribution to their respective disciplines that have done the talking throughout their careers. Prof Bhaduri has let it be known that he and other professors “have already been locked out several months ago from the room allotted in JNU”.
Will a fundamental question get to be asked and answered ~ Is there an inbuilt aversion to eminent academics who were appointed by non-BJP regimes at the Centre? Having taught in the institution for close to 50 years, Prof Bhaduri has few bouquets to offer to JNU under the present Vice-Chancellor ~ “I have witnessed with alarm and increasing disgust, how the handling of situations as the administrative and academic head of JNU has led to its steady deterioration, paving the way for its intellectual disintegration”.
Strong words that have served to reinforce the demand ~ expressed in a signed statement by 302 Indian and foreign academics ~ for the Vice-Chancellor’s resignation. At the core of JNU’s tragedy is intolerance towards a contrarian perception, a desire to uproot, with force if necessary, anyone deemed liberal or, worse, Leftist. The dismal reality can be contextualised with Prof Bhaduri’s lament that it would be “immoral” on his part not to register his protest against what he calls “this larger sinister scheme of throttling dissent unfolding at the university”. It is a grave crisis that plagues Jawaharlal Nehru University.