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Analysis

Unraveling JNU Crisis: Conspiracy and Suppression of Democratic Voices

Gandhinagar| Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) is widely recognized and celebrated for its socio-politically vibrant space for activism, debate and disagreement since its inception. After the present central government came to power, the establishment has been successively using various administrative and non-administrative tools, strategies and techniques to challenge the democratic and free thinking foundation of this national institution of learning.

After 9th February 2016 incident of anti-national sloganeering in the university, the campus begun getting sharply divided between two popular narratives. Either one is a nationalist or anti-nationalist, which is clearly sought to be distinguished in the form of the pro- or anti-establishment respectively. The reduction of the debate of nationalism to just being pro- or anti-establishment is an extreme form of conspiracy to curtail opposition voices and disagreement, and to construct a debate in the campus which is so alien to the idea of Argumentative Indians.

Either one is a nationalist or anti-nationalist… The reduction of the debate of nationalism to just being pro- or anti-establishment is an extreme form of conspiracy to curtail opposition voices and disagreement… which is so alien to the idea of Argumentative Indians.

However, JNU students who are socially and politically conscious are not late to understand about the larger conspiracy of the ruling class, which is to establish a binary of national and anti-national discourse in the campus. This has been mainly designed to derail the issue of social justice as well as host of other issues concerning student welfare in the university. The burning issues like fair representation of different social categories including OBCs in academic institutions, seat cut in M.Phil./Ph.D. programme, and implementation of UGC Regulation for M.Phil./Ph.D. 2016 have taken a back seat in the JNU while debate on stationing “tanks” inside the campus to instill the feeling of patriotism among students is taking the front seat.

Nevertheless, groups of socially conscious students and their organizations covering United OBC Forum have started to directly challenge the administration by undertaking fast, protest march and organizing meetings, and even to the extent of disrupting the Academic Council meeting as well as blocking the administration building through democratic means. Their movement was meant to keep alive the essence of JNU, namely inclusive campus with social justice and representation.

Rather being responsive to students’ issues highlighted by these student groups, the JNU administration responded with autocratic and repressive measures to suppress such types of democratic resistance voices in the campus. The JNU administration suspended a dozen of socio-politically vibrant student protesters from the campus and took away their hostel facilities. It has imposed heavy fines on protesting students to destabilize their financial conditions. And then deployed the massive number of state repressive actors to spread the sense of fear among the student community. It has also been adding to the pro-establishment elements and started fabricating facts related to academic issues to keep on hold the awarding of academic degrees to harm career prospects of dissenting students.

Rather being responsive to students’ issues highlighted by these student groups, the JNU administration responded with autocratic and repressive measures to suppress such types of democratic resistance voices in the campus.

These actions of the pro-establishment administration in JNU are harming the institution more than any individual students. University is a place for debate, discussion, disagreement and questioning. So, when the university administration starts adopting tactics and strategies to harm the openness of a university, which is essentially amount to hollowing-out the essence of the institution. When a university fails to protect dissenting voices of its students who are acting in accordance with their democratic rights and constitutional values, it fails itself as a university.

JNU is just a sample experiment and its experience is likely to be replicated elsewhere. It is high time that conscious citizens believing in diversity, equal opportunity and inclusion in higher education must understand the design and defeat the forces that are undermining national institutions of higher learning.

Therefore, the current political waves in the JNU campus have risen not just due to the ideological ground but larger conspiracy of dividing Indian society and universities between nationals and anti-nationals to perpetuate existing social order of inequality and deprivation. JNU is just a sample experiment and its experience is likely to be replicated elsewhere. It is high time that conscious citizens believing in diversity, equal opportunity and inclusion in higher education must understand the design and defeat the forces that are undermining national institutions of higher learning. Penalizing and consistent repression of bahujan students (SC, ST, OBCs and minorities) for expressing their grievances and disagreements in JNU is a wake-up call to all, especially bahujan leaders to stand up to this challenges. Otherwise, once again bahujan students will lose out in accessing higher education and their ability to question the existing world of inequality and discrimination.

The Author: Shri Sandeep Singh is Doctoral Research Fellow in Communication Strategy & Planning, Central University Of Gujarat, Gandhinagar.

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