Lack of a middle ground between Left and Right has cramped JNU’s functioning
Contrary to propaganda that JNU is anti-national, the university is known for tolerance of diverse viewpoints. It is time to reset the relationships for healthy and harmonious partnership, failing which the university’s future might be damaged beyond repair.analysis Updated: Jul 11, 2017 09:27 IST
The prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) has witnessed unceasing confrontation between the Vice-Chancellor (VC) and sections of students and teachers ever since the February 2016 incident. There was no relief from the fact that the campus developments were entangled with wider rival political interests. A section of the media grabbed every opportunity to condemn JNU as the hub of anti-national and ultra-Left elements. Equally disturbing is the new trend of student-teacher relations turning increasingly adversarial. No wonder, all this has hampered the normal functioning of the university.
Problems that could have been addressed within the university spilled outside and became part of partisan national political contest. One side viewed JNU as a torch bearer of anti-Modi government mobilisation while the others were determined to stifle this shining embodiment of the Nehruvian approach to national and international problems. In turn, the escalation overpowered moderation.
Those who have academically thrived in JNU believe that it is time to reset the relationships for healthy and harmonious partnership, failing which the university’s future might be damaged beyond repair. Contrary to the much hyped propaganda that JNU is anti-national, the university is known for tolerance of diverse viewpoints. A bulk of the students and faculty belong to neither Right nor Left. Unfortunately these independent members’ advice for de-escalation was ignored by both the Left and the Right, while the administrators too sadly refused to seize the middle path. Just as sections of teachers and students refused to recognise that the new VC needed time to settle down in his job, the latter and his team stubbornly avoided engaging teachers and student unions in productive dialogue. It badly affected normal functioning of the university as evident from frequent disruption of classes and high-decibel disagreements in disorderly meetings of the academic council (AC), where adjournments or announcement of decisions without proper discussion became the new normal.
At the AC, teachers and students of opposite sides resorted to thumping of desks, shouting matches, and wild allegations. The situation could have been controlled if prior consultations with wider constituents were held. Instead, the administration first tried to exhaust trouble-makers by collecting views from everyone present on contentious issues, which only yielded opinion unfavourable to its preference. In the process, even the procedural item of confirmation of the minutes of previous meetings consumed long hours. Eventually the VC announced confirmation of the contested minutes without acknowledging the majority advice for incorporating corrections and abruptly adjourned the meeting. It is in one of those unruly moments that the most problematic UGC 2016 regulation on admission to M.Phil and PhD programmes was declared adopted without discussion.
The latest AC meeting in June 2017 witnessed a switch from the earlier strategy of tiring out members. Agenda was rushed through by disallowing the selected members from speaking. This only further vitiated the atmosphere for reconciliation. As an external member rightly noted, members desirous of speaking should have been allowed to have their say.
Unlike in the AC, the experience of this writer in the Executive Council (EC) as an elected member was not so disheartening. There were certainly many occasions calling for expression of disagreements and formal dissent. And these shaped important decisions in the EC, as presumably the arguments were received positively by others including the administrators who did not seem to mind conceding. One does not know whether such an atmosphere of give and take continues to prevail now in the EC. If not, both sides may do well to draw on the aforesaid experience.
The lesson that could be drawn from the contrasting experiences in both the councils is that calm deliberations in a committee setting with limited, but relevant, participation may be fruitful for decision-making by consensus in the bigger statutory bodies finally. On such issues of grave importance as the conduct of admissions in the light of the latest UGC regulation, constitution of representative committees could resolve policy and managerial differences. Unions of students and teachers should be fully heard, and no stone should be left unturned to make them feel as partners in finding realistic solution. An open meeting where participation by all shades could freely participate may be a good beginning. In sum, humiliating the opposite side may not yield lasting results; patiently working in harmony is really the need of the hour.
CSR Murthy is professor of international organisation at JNU.
The views expressed are personal