The Other Side of JNU

In a less than decade of its existence Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi has managed to catch the eyeballs of India regularly. Controversies are a common feature of the university as much its contributions to the nation building process.

Peter D’Souza writes in The Hindu

A diverse nation needs a diverse iconography. Let us not fall into a trap of narrow-mindedness and sectarianism while scripting our nation’s autobiography and commemorating important events and cultural icons

A map of central Paris can be read as a proud display of the iconography of the French nation. There are roads named after writers such as Voltaire, Andre Malraux, Victor Hugo and Emile Zola. Catholic saints such as St. Michel have public squares to honour them as does the Republic. The site where King Louis XVI and Robespierre was guillotined, Concorde, is a major memorial, and the Pantheon, where the great figures of French intellectual, cultural and political life are interred, is a special attraction. Art has a special place in this iconographic display with many museums devoted to it across the city. There is even a cemetery where Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison are buried. A country needs an iconography of its own, to imagine itself and build into that imagination great events, figures, artefacts and memories. A people need such memorialisation to believe in their nation. It makes a nation’s autobiography.

Peter Ronald deSouza

After Independence we took to this task with some earnestness. Every major city got a Mahatma Gandhi road. In the early decades after Independence, Delhi announced itself as a leading city of the new politics of humanism in a decolonising world when it named many of its roads after political leaders such as Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Josip Broz Tito, and Olof Palme. Having locations such as an Africa Avenue and a Max Mueller Marg, as well as a Lodhi Garden and a Bengali Market, showed the cosmopolitanism of the new nation.

Forgotten struggles

There were many more events to be celebrated, leaders to be honoured, struggles to be remembered, and sites to be named as we set about this urgent task of crafting an iconography for the new nation. An inspired leadership and a philosophy of broad-mindedness were what were needed. In the last ten years, unfortunately, that has been found sorely wanting. A kind of smallness has dominated our iconographic imagination.

For example, there can be nothing more arrogant than renaming Escola Médico-Cirúrgica de (Nova) college in Goa — set up in 1842 and one of the oldest medical colleges in Asia — as Rajiv Gandhi Memorial Medical College and hospital. It could have instead been named after Dr. Francisco Luis Gomes — an illustrious son of Goa and an alumnus of the college. Dr. Gomes was a physician, a writer, an economist and a polyglot who became the institution’s chief surgeon in 1860. However, sycophancy and arrogance led to its being named after Rajiv Gandhi. An airport, an education city, a zoological park, roads and buildings, apart from a host of welfare schemes, have been given Rajiv Gandhi’s name and it is not necessary to rename a medical college after him. Surely we have many other icons who deserve to be remembered? However, the last ten years have been marked by a certain level of narrow-mindedness when one family was given preference and hence disservice was done to our plural nation. This must not be repeated.

The new Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-era, I fear, will see as much narrow-mindedness. We will have to live with an uninspiring iconography that gives importance to ‘heroes’ of Hindutva like Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, Deendayal Upadhyaya and M.S. GolwalkarThere will be no space for Chandra Shekhar Azad or the Ali brothers — Mohammad Ali and Shaukat Ali. Neither will there be any presence of heroes like the Goan nationalist T.B. Cunha and the Marathi writer and Dalit activist Namdeo Dhasal.

An example concerning Goa serves as an illustration of this form of disrespect for an entire people and their history. Goa is a geographically small place with an unusual history, one that bears the marks of a different colonialism. Francisco Luis Gomes’s life was testimony to that. Yet, he has been completely overlooked. Instead, the National Institute of Watersports (NIWS), set up in Goa in 1990, has been renamed after Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, a development many seem to have forgotten as the Institute’s website does not mention it, nor does that of the Ministry of Tourism. Only a dilapidated signboard at the entrance serves as a reminder.

“This is not merely about the neglect shown to our memorials but about the philosophy behind our memorialisation practices. ”

For a maritime society such as Goa, a more inspiring name would have been that of Gopakapattana, an ancient seaport that serves as a glowing reminder of Goa’s centuries-old maritime tradition. Mukherjee, in contrast, has no connection to Goa though he seems to have had something to do with watersports as there is a swimming pool in Delhi named after him.

Rename, rethink

To avoid such sectarianism and return to a more-inclusive humanism, to be sensitive both to the memory of regions and that of social groups, let us seek a new iconography for this plural nation. Let us begin by considering renaming the Nehru Park, where all the great music concerts in Delhi take place, as the Amir Khusro Park, after the great musician and poet. Nehru, I am sure, would have not have objected to ceding memorial space to someone like Amir Khusro. Further, let us decide to rename Race Course Road as Birsa Munda Marg so that the Prime Minister’s official residence is called 7, Birsa Munda Marg.

It will remind not just the Indian PM but all the foreign dignitaries visiting him of the tribal leader. We can rename the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) as Mother Teresa AIIMS, a reminder to the nation of what the ethic of caring really means. We can also consider renaming New Delhi Railway station after Xuanzang (also known as Hiuen Tsang), the Chinese traveller; the science museum after Aryabhata; and the Mandi locality, where all the arts academies are located, after Abhinavagupta. Let us build a grand natural history museum, in place of the pathetic one at FICCI, and name it after the great mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan.

I could go on dreaming of such possibilities, of naming and renaming, to give Delhi a cultural memory map that would rival that of Paris, but it would be very arbitrary. To avoid such whimsicality, therefore, let me propose a framework of both an inclusive and an imaginative policy.

We need to prepare lists at three levels. The first is at the national level where we honour and remember national events, icons, struggles, and their creative contributions. So a Gandhi Smriti, a Jawaharlal Nehru University, a Dhyan Chand Stadium, a Lodhi Garden or a Deendayal Upadhyaya Marg make sense but not an S.P. Mukherjee Swimming Pool, an Ambedkar Bus Terminal, or even a Mother Teresa crescent. When we have memorials, let them befit the stature of the person being honoured — we can have Music Academy named after M.S. Subbulakshmi and the Chief Justice of India’s chamber after Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.

The second level is the regional one. Here, we can build memorials commemorating important events and movements like the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and the Self-respect Movement. We also need memorials for important struggles against injustice like the Narmada Bachao Andolan.

The third level is local. Honouring a local sportsperson, a musician or a social justice campaigner will help us create an iconography for the region.

Let us involve the public in making these lists. This will serve the dual purpose of making them inclusive and initiating a public debate . It would also do justice to India’s plurality.

We need to go deep into our collective memory and identify both the good and the bad as we build our memory map. Let the government not be narrow-minded while zeroing in on the contours of the map. Plural India requires it. A diverse nation needs a diverse iconography. Remember amnesia is a debilitating ailment for a nation. Modi’s mates, made in JNU

– People the govt would’ve missed

New Delhi, Feb. 15: When BJP MP Maheish Girri labelled Jawaharlal Nehru University a “hub of treason” on Saturday amid the police crackdown on the campus, he was unwittingly belittling not just rivals but also key political, diplomatic, bureaucratic and education leaders of his own party’s government.
Many supporters of the arrest of JNU Students Union president Kanhaiya Kumar and the imposition of sedition charges on multiple students from the university have over the past three days blamed the institution’s intense student politics, frequently dominated by the Left.
Some, especially on social media, have even questioned why the government is funding a university churning out what they insist are “anti-national elements.” But without JNU graduates, the Narendra Modi government would stand bereft of several among its most recognisable and eminent figures – just as many of its predecessors would have struggled without some of the university’s alumni.

Commerce minister Nirmala Sitharaman and department of industrial policy and promotion secretary Amitabh Kant – the force behind Prime Minister Modi’s “Make in India” campaign -are both JNU graduates.
Foreign secretary S. Jaishankar and deputy national security adviser Arvind Gupta, both handpicked by Modi, earned their PhDs at JNU.
The university is alma mater to Syed Asif Ibrahim, the former Intelligence Bureau chief who was appointed by Modi last year as his special envoy on counter-terrorism, with a focus on West Asia. And at least 15 Indian ambassadors currently serving abroad, and three division heads in the ministry of external affairs – tasked with protecting India’s strategic and diplomatic interests – studied at JNU.
They are only keeping up a tradition as old as the institution, with JNU supplying yearly cadets to the civil services since its inception in 1969 – and in some cases, even earlier.
“If anti-India slogans were raised, that is unfortunate and not something I’m okay with – but a campus-wide crackdown, arrests and charges of sedition like what we’re seeing appears totally disproportionate,” former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh, who studied at an institute on strategic affairs that was merged with JNU, told The Telegraph. “The intense debates JNU is known for are rooted in what we had in my time, though the sharpness of ideological biases has increased.”
Girri had in a series of posts on Twitter on Saturday suggested that JNU had turned into a playground for terrorists. “Terrorists, traitors and terrorist sympathizers have been invited on regular intervals to toxify minds [sic],” Giri said. “Sad, a central university has been reduced to a hub of treason.”
The Left’s domination over student politics in JNU isn’t new, though RSS student union Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad and groups like the Free Thinkers, which shunned ideological tags, have led the students body, too. But independent of the dominant student group at any time, the university has produced some of the country’s top civil servants, apart from political leaders of all hues.
Former cabinet secretary Ajit Seth – who was India’s top bureaucrat for four years from June 2011 to June 2015, a period spanning the UPA and NDA governments – pursued his MPhil in life sciences from JNU.
BJP president Amit Shah today blamed a “Leftist ideological inspiration” for the slogans students allegedly raised last week.
But Sitharaman, who was a member of the Free Thinkers group during her time in JNU, had in a 2009 interview to the university alumni wing lavished credit on the university for inspiring “anything I am today.” “JNU most certainly provided me the best opportunity to participate in all sorts of debates and to think in a different way,” Sitharaman told the alumni newsletter. “I must say that JNUites do things differently, wherever they are, and that’s how they stand out.”
Senior IAS officer Ali Raza Rizvi, currently a joint secretary in the central ministry of health and family welfare, credited the intellectual atmosphere at JNU with expanding his worldview. He studied history there from 1985 to 1987.
“Simple things like not remaining self-contained and looking beyond oneself, to observe and learn from society with a sense of humility, having a certain commitment towards the needs of the common citizen,” Rizvi had told the alumni magazine in an interview last year. “The deep intellectual pursuit which the campus offered – that sort of pursuit, with its challenges – is extremely fulfilling.”
JNU’s allure has also brought many retired diplomats and bureaucrats to the university in the role of teachers. Former foreign secretary Muchkund Dubey taught international relations for several years. Prodipto Ghosh, a former environment secretary, was a visiting faculty member at the university.
Alumnus at DU helm
The Modi government itself quietly doffed its hat at JNU today, appointing a former professor from the institution, Yogesh Tyagi, the new vice-chancellor of Delhi University. The Union HRD ministry announced the appointment of Tyagi, who did his PhD in legal studies at JNU. He also holds an LLM degree from Columbia University.
The DU top post had been vacant since October when Dinesh Singh’s term came to an end.
The Congress-backed Indian National Teachers Congress and Academics for Action and Development welcomed Tyagi’s appointment.

TRAI KNOCKS DOWN FREE BASICS. THANK YOU!

free basicsThanks to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) for knocking down the Free Basics from Facebook. It is highly discriminatory internet services which will kill net neutrality in the long run. Luckily the government regulator TRAI has been the saviour of common people’s rights.

Prabir Purkayastha writes in The Hindu on 10 February 2016

TRAI’s vigorous endorsement of net neutrality safeguards the Internet against platform monopolies, retaining the ability for users not only to be consumers but also creators of content

The regulations issued by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI)barring differential pricing of data based on content have created a global impact. A friend, who runs a major international software company, called it the most important victory for the people in the tech space in the last 20 years. India has joined a select few countries that have protected net neutrality and barred zero-rating services.
What makes this “victory” even more surprising was the complete asymmetry of the two sides involved. On one side was Facebook, a company whose market cap is greater than the GDPs of 144 countries, allied with a bunch of big telecom companies (telcos). They had already “won” easy victories for their platform in a number of countries, and felt India would be no exception. They had an ad campaign that estimates put at Rs.400 crore. On the other side was a motley group of free software and Internet activists, with unlikely allies such as comedy group AIB, a bunch of start-ups, and some political figures and formations.
The argument that Facebook was using appeared simple. Why should anybody deny the poor getting some access to the Internet — even if this was limited? Isn’t something better than nothing? Mark Zuckerberg not only wrote articles terming his opponents “Net Neutrality fundamentalists”, but also appeared in advertorials in the electronic media to push Free Basics. Some commentators wrote plugs for Facebook in the guise of opinion pieces, all more or less posing different variations of the broad theme that Zuckerberg’s heart beats for the Indian poor.
To beat back such an offensive, backed by the full power of Facebook’s media blitz, was no ordinary event. So why did Facebook’s campaign fail?
People’s campaign prevails

First is, of course, the energy and the creativity of the groups fighting Free Basics. They not only ran an innovative and creative campaign, but were also able to bring tech activists on to the streets. What surprised even them was the response of the people.

I am convinced that Facebook and their ad agencies completely underestimated the Indian public. Even if all of them do not use the Internet, they understand the difference between having access to the full Internet, with nearly a billion websites, and the so-called Free Basics platform that provides Facebook and a few other sites. They are sophisticated enough to know that Free Basics would not offer them any of the things they really want to access. No search, no email, no access to various services; no pictures or video clips for entertainment either. No access to the rich diversity of views and material on the Internet. Only a sterile walled garden where, at best, you can see what your friends are doing.
A level playing field

What is the flip side of such a platform? Other people who want to have the full Internet could still access it, so why is Facebook’s Free Basics harmful?

TRAI has correctly pointed out that the tariff principle at play is whether we can have differential pricing of data based on the content we see. If we accept this principle, what then prevents telcos from charging various websites and Internet services for accessing their subscribers? Accepting that one form of price discrimination is okay opens the door to all other forms of discrimination as well.
This is where Net Neutrality comes in. The most important characteristic of the Internet is whether it is the richest corporation in the world or an individual writing a blog, both are treated identically on the Internet. If the blogger had to negotiate with the Internet service providers (ISPs) — in today’s world the telcos — to reach the telco subscribers, she would have to negotiate with thousands of such ISPs. Telcos would then be the gatekeepers of the Internet. Only the biggest corporations could then survive on the Net. This is how the cable TV model works; for their channels to be carried, the TV channels have to negotiate with all the platforms such as Dish TV, Tata Sky, etc. If we accept that telcos can act as gatekeepers, we would then lose what has given the Internet its unique power, the ability for us not only to be consumers but also creators of content.
In its nascent phase, the big telco monopolies tried to levy a “tax” on all Internet content providers. The Internet companies were then the new kids on the block. They and the Internet user community fought back such attempts. This was the first net neutrality war, and it established the principle of non-discrimination on the Internet between different types of content or sites.
The scenario has changed dramatically today. We have the emergence of powerful Internet monopolies that are much bigger than the telcos. Not surprisingly, these companies now see the virtues of monopoly. They would like to combine with telcos to create monopolies for their platforms, ensuring that they control the future of the Internet and freeze their competition out.
Today, we have nearly a billion websites on the Internet and 3.5 billion users. This means that nearly one out of three users is both a content provider as well as content consumer. What the Internet monopolies want is that we should be passive consumers of their content, or at best generate captive content only for their platforms. This is why they have joined hands with telcos to offer various forms of zero-rating services.
Future-proofing policies

The two most common forms of zero rating used by telcos are (a) no data charges for a select set of sites, e.g. Facebook’s Free Basics, and (b) a few content providers such as Netflix not being subjected to data caps by telcos. The TRAI order bars both these forms.

The other issue that TRAI dealt with is whether regulatory policies should be crafted to prevent harm (ex ante) or be applied only after harm has been established. The argument of the telcos has been, “prove there has been harm, otherwise we should be allowed to do as we please”. TRAI has again correctly pointed out that not crafting the right policies for the Internet would distort the basic character of the Internet itself. It would then help the well heeled, who would be able to take advantage of a lack of policy. The TRAI order also points out that without the right policies, each tariff proposal would have to be analysed on a case-by-case basis, imposing high regulatory overheads.
The last issue we need to examine is how a powerful monopoly can bend policy by virtue of its control over its users. Facebook not only launched a media blitz but also ran a completely misleading campaign on Free Basics to its 130 million Indian subscribers. Through its various pop-ups and user interface, it pressured its users to send TRAI a boilerplate statement of support for Free Basics. It even painted this as providing basic Internet to the poor, without informing its users that Facebook was the sole arbiter of what constitutes a basic Internet.
The question is, can a platform monopoly — of the type Facebook, Google are — use this monopoly to run a campaign on a country’s policy? Facebook is a foreign entity and has argued before Indian courts that it is not accountable to Indian laws. Should such entities have such power over our peoples’ lives?
A media company is supposed to differentiate between advertisements and news. Facebook did not identify its plug for its Free Basics platform on Facebook as opinion but presented it as truth. How should online media conduct itself in the future on such issues?
TRAI had rebuked Facebook on its attempt to convert TRAI’s consultation on differential pricing to a numbers game. TRAI wanted clear answers to the questions they had posed, not boilerplate emails saying how people loved Free Basics. But it still leaves unanswered the question of what are the rights and duties of such platform monopolies towards their users. With Google and Facebook emerging bigger than many nation states, this is the key question for the Internet in the future.