Sunday, April 24, 2016

JNU is the best

JNU may not figure in the list of the best universities in the world, but there can be little doubt that it is the best in India. The spread of its academic disciplines, and its influence in Indian academia and public life, cannot be matched by any other institution in the country. 
This is what was intended by the government when it was established as India’s ‘national university.’ 

Some of its schools, like those of international studies, life sciences, languages, biotechnology, environmental sciences, and social sciences are leaders in their respective areas in the country. This reflects the purpose with which the university was set up, as well as the investment the country has made.
Of the tens of thousands who apply, only a handful are admitted, which makes this an elite institution - just as top universities are around the world.
Sadly this is the cause of a great deal of envy and resentment, which is visible in a lot of uninformed, and even absurd, commentary we have heard in relation to the allegedly anti-national slogans being heard on the campus. 
The spread of its student body makes the university unique, because students come from across the country and from all classes of people through a deliberate policy of inclusiveness. 
Far from being a den of anti-nationals, JNU is the place where the project to shape the new Indian identity has been taking shape.
Make no mistake, the real goal of JNU is to promote India’s nationalist project. 
Though we became free in August 1947, Indians today still retain strong local identities – or language, ethnicity, religion, caste, sub-caste and so on. But it is the experience of JNU that many of these get broken down. Not surprisingly, you don’t get reports of North-easterners being bullied or Dalits being made to stay in their own hostels, as is the case with some other universities in the country. 
The products of the university are not one-dimensional cardboard cut-outs like IIT students. JNU has produced generations of teachers, civil society activists, political leaders, journalists, scholars, diplomats, executives, writers and poets. 
The best proof of its nation-building role is that the university has given birth to generations of sensitive and sensitised civil servants who run key departments of Union and state governments today. 
There is perhaps no university in India which produces more civil servants for the country than JNU, and this from a student body that is just about 6,000 today. 
The Modi government’s brightest development star, Amitabh Kant, has a masters from JNU, as do the chief of the CBI, Anil Sinha, the head of NTRO, and the Special Envoy for Counter-Terrorism, Asif Ibrahim. 
And of course, batches of Army officers go out with a JNU degree because the far-sighted military leadership in the 1970s believed that their institutions needed to be linked to a national project like JNU. 

In this process of being the new Indian, it is important to learn about India as well. It is only through interaction with people from the North-east, Jharkhand, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Andhra, Telangana, Odisha and other states that we really understand their concerns and problems. 
In the India of today, there is regional exploitation, economic backwardness, caste repression, violation of tribal rights - and there is resistance to this, and so this is reflected in the narrative of JNU’s student politics. 
The country also confronts separatism, whether in the North-east, Punjab, or Jammu & Kashmir, and this, too, figures in the JNU story. 
To the best of this writer’s knowledge, however, this discourse has remained verbal and no alumni has actually gone and taken up a gun to overthrow the state.  

The persistence of separatism and deep roots of caste and regional prejudice are an indicator that the “new Indian” project remains a work in progress. But instead of using the lathi to shape the new Indian, it is so much smarter to help him/ her emerge through the process of debate, discussion and engagement, a process whose corollary is the acceptance of dissent. 
JNU is the small lab where the new Indian identity is being forged. Attacking it for being “anti-national” is actually aimed at undermining the project and destroying the best university we have on the basis of some dubious pseudo-nationalism. 
There is good nationalism and bad nationalism. Japan rampaging across Asia in the 1930s was the negative; getting an ethnically and linguistically diverse India to fight against British rule was the positive kind. 
Indian nationalism of desh bhakti today cannot be directed against ‘the other’ as Pakistan’s religion based nationalism is. It can have only one goal - the economic transformation of India and the true equality of all its people. 
Our nationalism will become a bad thing if it promotes resentment against people who look different, eat differently, profess a different faith, or have different views. 
Chauvinism and jingoism can only lead to disaster, as in the case of Germany and Japan in 1945, or the case of Pakistan today.
The writer is a JNU alumnus, but also has degrees from DU and Lucknow University
 Mail Today February 29, 2016

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