There is an all-out effort by the Right to change the nature of higher education institutions because universities like JNU do not follow their ideologies of sectarianism, violence and intolerance.
Jawaharlal Nehru University, which the Right wanted to make into a symbol of victory, still seems to be eluding its hold. The combined Left alliance group has won with a good enough margin. Geeta Kumari, its presidential candidate, won with a margin of nearly 500 votes over the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad , the vice presidential candidate won with a margin of around 800 votes, the general secretary candidate won with a margin of over 1000 votes whereas the joint secretary candidate won with a margin of around 800 votes.
If one combines the votes earned by the other major organisation which has emerged in the third position – Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students’ Association – the ABVP has fared quite badly. This is an indication that the doings of the vice chancellor at the behest of Sangh parivar have been outrightly rejected by the students. This is also an assurance that the overall sensibility of the intellectual world is yet to turn overwhelmingly Right.
The Right intellectualism of BJP variety will always be marginal because it celebrates mediocrity in academic pursuit and because it has no answers to questions of inequality, oppression and discriminations of a different kind. It succeeds in institutions where these questions are not an overt concern such as management or sciences. Contradictions emerge there only with stark cases of inequality and oppression based on, let us say, caste. One cannot be a religious Right and be an academic with long-term intellectual life. The reason is its very narrow and restricted mandate, which impedes widening of the intellectual horizon and therefore any new research imagination. Till universities remain a space of unlimited pursuit of intellectualism, it would be difficult to completely eliminate the anti-Right from the campus and establish an unchallenged hegemony of the Right. Hence, for the Right to succeed, what is required is drastically changing the nature of the institution itself.
The Right knows that they need to alter the situation because universities like JNU do not follow their ideologies of sectarianism, violence and intolerance. Hence, their whole strategy is aimed at changing the demographic constitution and the academic character of the university. The faculty composition is thus changed along with the students. The ministers, generals and the vice-chancellor believe that universities like JNU or University of Hyderabad or Jadavpur need to be conquered and domesticated because they raise questions against the mob lynchings, disappearances, caste discriminations and gendered violence.
They cannot achieve this conquest merely through the use of coercion. They will have to alter the nature of the university itself. The admission policies will have to be changed and the existing courses will need to be altered subsequently as well as new courses for management and technology would need to be introduced.
Ever since the Congress days of Kapil Sibal, the emphasis on skilling began a process of altering the nature of higher education institutions. Research is not seen to be creating skills and the social science graduates are also not seen with great potential for the job market as their skill requirements are limited.
The whole argument that surfaced around market-education linkage stating that Indian education institutions were producing unfit labour for the market, began a process that would lay lesser significance on the need to have wider intellectual horizons and rather have a limited narrow vision restricted to honing of particular skills required by the market and industry.
It is this change, which also began creating on a much larger level the cadre base for the right wing unless the issues of caste and gendered oppression intervened to lessen their impact through creating another demographic block, which inevitably became anti-Right.
JNU is going to witness a consistent fight between the administration and the students’ union, though the former has given a clear message through punitive actions against the last students’ union president Mohit Pandey that it would be very aggressive. We have, however, also seen the student mobilisation decreasing in the recent past, as the public at large does not seem ready for a prolonged battle and with instruments of state making it clear that they would go all out if they are opposed.
Spaces of protest have been taken away and new authoritarian stance has become the new way of governance. As the recent outburst by a BJP MP revealed and as one has seen on innumerable previous occasions, the Indian government and the BJP govern with an iron hand – an unprecedented authoritarianism where conventions and traditions of parliamentary democracy are completely overlooked. They can go to the extreme level of even making their message clear – as it happened when nobody from the government attended the Iftar hosted by the earlier president of India, Pranab Mukherjee or the way the Indian prime minister spoke at the farewell of the Vice President Hamid Ansari. This has become the new way of governance at all levels.
The JNU vice chancellor has shown how if he is not able to have his will translated into policy decision, he would term even the normal workings as abnormal circumstances and, therefore, use his emergency powers to manipulate the constitutions of selection committees. And there are faculty members out there to support him as well. JNU has to be demographically changed.
The new schools of engineering and management will begin that process among students and the constitution of recent selection committees is aimed at the same effort to change the nature of faculty community. It has also been noticed that right from hostels to students’ affairs, everything must be dealt with by faithful faculty members. It was generally a practice – though the rules might have asked for the renewal of wardenship after a few years even earlier – that if a faculty became a warden s/he would move out of her residence only if s/he wanted or if s/he got another residence. The current dispensation is renewing wardenship on a selective basis and the obvious curiosity is about whose term does not get renewed – maybe those who raised questions or joined and led protests in 2016 against the authoritarianism of the administration and arrest of few students by the Delhi police at the behest of the administration.
There is an all-out effort to change the nature of higher education institutions by the combination of the economic as well as religious Right. JNU’s academic design represented by its very nature a counter narrative to that and the Indian state run by the religious Right wants to make its transformation into its success story. The history of students politics has shown that it has resisted this effort by the economic Right since UPA times and with a religious blend to the whole campaign, the attack on the institution/s has acquired a war like situation, which you realise once you are inside it. You never know a vice chancellor like the present one might end up banning the students’ unions or altering how JNU student elections are fought.
The elections to the JNU students’ union have always been watched carefully. However, this year, post-election JNU will have to be looked at carefully. The JNU administration will be much more on the offensive and given that the social movements have been witnessing their own kind of lethargy due to a combination of variables that has transformed the political subject, the new union will be confronted with a lot of dilemmas.
It is not only going to deal with the internal political differences of the three organisations (Democratic Students Federation, Students’ Federation of India and the All India Students’ Association) but it will also have to rethink the modes of struggle. And lastly, now a union like JNUSU must dwell on the question that whether battles like this can be won simply by treating universities as autonomous and complete unto themselves or does one also need to mobilise the world outside has been shown to us by earlier students movements across Europe and Latin America.
Ravi Kumar teaches at Department of Sociology, SAU.