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Sunday, March 6, 2016

Leave The Kids Alone

JNU has made great contribution to the  cause of learning  in India; it  has  also  played a seminal role in  the life of significant contention- the  proper calling  of intellectuals  – over the years but sadly the students of this premier university  are  being discussed for their intellectual daring which extended no further than a pledge to dismember their own  motherland  and a clever  application  of  their  assiduously acquired knowledge of “subaltern studies and dialectical materialism” to fox  and hoodwink plain, blunt policeman. To these inestimable achievements one more has been added – it has produced an orator of outstanding merit in Kanhaiya Kumar. Kanhaiya’s  very significant omission of Chandrasekhar in his speech, a former JNU student union president, who had stirred the conscience of people of Bihar by his fearless fight in favour of the lowest of the low against criminal warlords  shows  great awareness  of currents and cross currents of contemporary politics even before he has entered the choppy waters. Chandrasekhar’s martyrdom had got mixed up with issues of pragmatic politics. His cause was just, but he was not too careful in the choice of the enemy!

The political parties are no doubt celebrating but would it be mere intellectual Ludditism or cussedness to raise the very quotidian, very banal but very topical issue?  Even though as a body of thought Marxism still provides useful insights in the way our world works, one thinks much less of it than  what was thought of decades ago. It now belongs to the archeological museum of the history of knowledge.  The university famous for its “left-Centric student politics” burdens the participants with a certain intellectual and moral posture. “Once a JNU student, always an activist” is perhaps too optimistic a view which may not be shared by all.  They are not scarred for life by their brief flirtation with the precious ideology at the university. People like Chandrasekhar, and others of his tribe are the precious drops in the ocean.  Most others are absorbed in the job market as IAS officers, journalists, politicians and professors, coping with the compulsions of their respective professions with sweet docility, just like everyone else.

 The torrent of writings about  JNU by former students, teachers and those currently studying there- every media outlet is keen to air their views- confirms me in my belief that the government overestimated their dangerousness.  Yogendra K Alagh, former Vice Chancellor of JNU has to say (In the Mumbai edition it is captioned Argumentation is JNU’s Power) (HT Feb 24, 2016). “This is the reason that JNU students do so well in the UPSC exams for the higher civil services. I found out when I chaired a committee set up to develop the recruitment and training policies for the higher civil services. They are all trained in disciplined argumentation and would breeze through any discussion.” .The university is known to have a long tradition of alumni who now occupy important political and bureaucratic positions.”Wikipedia

JNU attracts a large number of students form backward states, notably Bihar, who come here aspiring to make it to the IAS or other service but are swept off their feet by the grandeur of the setting as this lyrical outburst of one of the former students suggests, “Entering JNU, for me, was like entering a zone of freedom, overwhelming freedom. At the very first glance, JNU was like a vast expanse to spread one’s wings in — long-winding roads and overgrown valleys, the facility of being outdoors late into the night (what that could mean to a young girl!), milling in and around the library till 11 pm, mess meetings (no pun intended) after dinner, the chance to befriend anyone from anywhere, any class, caste or nationality (thanks to JNU’s admission system based on multiple deprivation points), and above all, the possibility of falling in love across all social barriers…… In JNU, we learnt quickly, through our little adventures and misadventures, the profoundly serious lesson that a free mind depended on a physically and socially free spaceWe also felt morally tortured by the fact of our privilege as JNU students. To compensate, we became involved in politics outside campus” . 

Living like royalty at tax payers’ expense, lording over a thousand-acre campus which could easily house at least two dozen average universities, or ten thousand primary schools for poor children- all their comforts taken care of at a parasitically low rate, they are bound to develop a self-image and feel driven to live by this image of themselves.  “Morally tortured by the fact of our privilege as JNU students. To compensate, we became involved in politics outside campus”.  Their protest is, indeed, an acid by product of privilege and good living.

That helps me connect with my memories of ten, twelve years back when I was invited to the Patna University. On my return journey  I made a detour to visit the hostel where I had spent two years as an undergraduate boarder long time ago. Not that things were princely then but now the place was in complete shambles. I came across a group of students loitering in the corridor, introduced myself to them and tried to start a conversation. It is always invigorating to know what the young people are reading, thinking, what are their aspirations, how do they feel about the world around them. My queries were met with brief dismissive answers. All that they wanted me was to speak to the authorities, to get something done. Now I wonder whether their revolutionary ardour was stilled by pedestrian concerns like toilets, and mending of leaky roofs, the appointment of another mess contractor because the old one had run away and they were forced to eat outside!

  Exploring this theme further in my imagination I wondered whether the charismatic teachers, if by some magic were transplanted in this dismal setting, would they still be able to ignite the same intellectual curiosity, the same iconoclastic impulse or “a free mind depended” necessarily, “on a physically and socially free space.”

  Brecht suddenly made sense to me,

 “Among the highly placed.
It is considered low to talk about food.
The fact is: they have
Already eaten.

The lowly must leave this earth
Without having tasted
Any good meat.”

 I had quoted another former JNU student in my last post, who abandoned his faith to quit the ABVP, who spoke of a Brahminical order of intellectual hierarchy in which the Marxists were at the top and everybody else at the bottom. Those who fight for the rights of the underprivileged, for the Dalits of the social order were equally assertive of their rights to keep the ideologically unsophisticated – the Dalits of the intellectual order- and all shades of the  "other" at bay.  This may itself be a form of “unfreedom” because if the avant-garde of the university thinks it is freedom to promote the dismemberment of the nation, some people may claim the right to be retrograde, revanchist, superstitious, reactionary.

 The arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar is one act of folly that the government will repent at leisure. How much of it was professional ineptness, how much the eagerness of a retiring police commissioner anxious to please, and how much of it was an administration under onus to be seen as decisive, I cannot tell. But we have a full blown controversy which, if it has lowered the image of the government, it has not left JNU totally unscathed either. The best course would have been to leave the kids alone. They are such a privileged lot that they will seek police help for making revolution!