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.


1 Comment

  1. +00002016-04-08T19:00:05+00:00302016bUTCFri, 08 Apr 2016 19:00:05 +0000 2, 2008 at 7.27 p04

    @ Vidhi- I think the serial was Charitraheen written by Sharatchandra Chattopadhyay Click

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