A bizarre drama played out at Jawaharlal Nehru University on Sunday that did little credit to the man who heads the institution. Vice chancellor M. Jagadesh Kumar made headlines by demanding that a battle tank be installed in the university premises to promote “love for the army.”
He was speaking at an event ostensibly intended to celebrate Kargil Divas and was part of a human resource development ministry programme to promote patriotism.
Instead, some of the star speakers made a mockery of the occasion. Instead of reflecting on the sacrifices of those who died in what was a completely unprovoked war, they celebrated the idea of war and provocatively termed the holding of the event in JNU as some kind of a military victory, to be replicated in other universities of the country.
People are free to celebrate anniversaries of events that they consider important and draw lessons that they wish to from them. But one would expect an academic institution to take a slightly different approach; instead of an event that resembled a political rally, a discussion or a mature reflection of Kargil and its consequences would have been more befitting.
In staging such an event, the vice chancellor has shown himself to be completely unfit for the responsibility reposed on him. His job is not to promote the “love of the army” but to enhance the academic quality of JNU. Instead of political posturing, he would have done a great service to JNU if he had proposed the creation of a new centre for the study of conflict or a department on war and peace studies.
JNU schools of study do indeed look at some of these issues, but there is no full-fledged centre to do justice to the subjects. This is very much unlike the prevailing trend in good universities around the world. The School of International Studies (SIS), for example, would teach you about India-Pakistan or India-China problems, they would discuss the causes and consequences of our wars with the two countries, but not actually go into the actual course of the conflict.
There are three reasons for this. First, India as a country has not paid enough attention to studying conflict and there is little interaction between the government and the university system in this area, as the Kargil Review Committee headed by K. Subrahmanyam had noted in its report and recommendations:
Pakistan’s action at Kargil was not rational. Its behaviour patterns require to be carefully studied in order to gain a better understanding of the psyche of its leadership. In other countries, intelligence agencies have developed large ‘White Wings’ of high quality analysts for in-house analysis. They also contract studies with university departments and think tanks with area specialisation. This is sadly neglected in India. The development of such country/region specialisation along with associated language skills is a time consuming process and should not be further delayed. A generalist administration culture would appear to permeate the intelligence field. It is necessary to establish think tanks, encourage country specialisation in university departments and to organise regular exchanges of personnel between them and the intelligence community.
Secondly, the schools of study at JNU (and at other Indian universities where they exist) tend to be very conservative in their course structure and stick to the narrow focus. Thus the SIS deals with foreign policy and area studies and feels it doesn’t have to really look closer at issues of conflict and terrorism. The School of Social Sciences would look at the sociological or economic consequences of conflict, but the not on the course of the conflict itself. If Kumar had the ability to think about these things, he could have requested the university’s academic council to study the issue and make a proposal.
The third reason is that India has not really fought a real war with anyone, at least after independence. What we have gone through have essentially been border skirmishes, limited in time and intensity. If you want to look at modern war, you can work your way from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Iran and Vietnam. These are places where hundreds of thousands have been killed, entire populations made refugees and cities and urban areas levelled to the ground. Ask anyone who has lived through them, even on the victorious side, and they will tell you there is nothing glorious about war, especially the highly destructive modern war. No one in his right mind would wish one on India.
India’s wars may have been limited, but they still deserve study. In addition, the country is also involved in a long proxy war with Pakistan, which most certainly needs more academic attention than it is getting. Instead of proposing the capture of institutions of higher learning or hyper-ventilating on television, Maj General G.S. Bakshi, who is the author of some serious and interesting studies on war, might well have a more constructive impact as a visiting professor.
The issue also begs the question as to what exactly were Kumar and company celebrating? The whole idea of celebrating ‘Kargil Divas’ was political to start with. It was to enable the government of the day to evade blame for its monumental failure to prevent the occupation of Indian territory in the first place.
It was not just an intelligence failure, but a strategic failure to understand the nature of Pakistani politics of the time. So, even when Prime Minister Vajpayee was making what he thought was a path-breaking visit to Lahore in February 1999, Pakistani forces were crossing the Line of Control and occupying positions in an area certainly no less vital than Doklam. The only people held accountable for this enormous disaster were some lowly military officers, and a huge price had to be paid by the brave 474 officers and men who gave up their lives in making World War I style frontal attacks on Pakistani positions to drive them back to their side of the LoC.
India, by all means, should have a solemn observance for their sacrifice. But to make the event into a jingoist mela is an insult to those who died – and to the intelligence of the people of this country.
Manoj Joshi is a distinguished fellow at Observer Research Foundation.