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Thank you, let JNU stay as it is & Response - The Indian Express

Amitabh Mattoo ()
28 November 1996

Title : Thank you, let JNU stay as it is
Author : Amitabh Mattoo
Publication : The Indian Express
Date : November 28, 1996

Jawaharlal Nehru University is what a university should
be: a socially concerned academic community collectively
engaged in the pursuit of excellence. To suggest, as
some leader writers have done, that it is time to crack
the whip in JNU because some student organisations
threatened to prevent BJP President L. K. Advani from
entering the campus, is absurd.

Unlike most others JNU is a campus where the right to
academic dissent and political freedom is not a slogan.

It is the raison d'etre of the university. It is precise-
ly this culture of freedom which has contributed to the
growth of a large number of political organisations on
the campus (representing virtually the whole spectrum of
political opinion in the country), and actively encour-
aged academic research that has challenged existing
dogmas and the established regime of truth.

JNU is not intolerant, but it has to pay a price for this
freedom: tolerate the intolerant. But the 'intolerant'
have always remained marginal to the JNU experiment and
continue to do so. Indeed, barring a few well-known
exceptions there have been no incidents of student
violence on the campus. Not even in the recent student
union elections, conducted incidentally by students
themselves, which elected office-bearers from both the
Left and the Right. How many campuses in India, or other
centres of liberal education the world over, can boast of
a similar track record? Where else can women students
walk alone at night without fear of being attacked?

Where else can the Shiv Sena and the SFI cohabit without
tearing each other apart?

Is, however, JNU's curriculum, or its pedagogical tools,
out of touch with reality? This charge requires some
attention for the following reasons. First, the media
tend to equate JNU with the social sciences or humani-
ties, disciplines where issues of ideology may influence
academic debates. But what is forgotten is that JNU has
separate 'schools' for the Life Sciences, Environmental
Sciences and Computer Sciences. Even a cursory glance at
their research record would reveal that in the number of
patents, national and international awards, as well as
publications in recognised journals, JNU is well compar-
able with other 'state of the art' centres of scientific
excellence in the country, including the IITs. Indeed,
the increasing importance of the sciences within JNU is
revealed by the appointment of a distinguished scientist
from the university as its Vice-Chancellor.

Second, the media react to JNU in terms of stereotypes.
Sitaram Yechury is as representative of JNU as Tariq Ali
is of Oxford or Tom Hayden is of Berkeley (all of whom
have incidentally done exceedingly well in the real
world). They are symbols of a bygone era, not intellectu-
al leaders of the current order. The fact is that JNU has

evolved intellectually and is changing even now as indeed
should all institutes of excellence. Some departments
have changed dramatically others are attempting to adapt
slowly without creating deep divisions. But introspec-
tion is the norm, not the exception.

Take a few examples. Noted political scientists of the
university are working on a project on trust and democra-
cy, which is inspired by the work of - not Marx or
Althusser - the American sociologist James Coleman and
the political scientist Robert Putnam. Students of inter-
national relations are soon,going to be learning the use
of quantitative techniques to understand war and conflict
in the international system. Specialists in European
studies recently held a conference on Germany in the
1990s and the faculty of the international economics
division is teaching students the finer points of envi-
ronmental economics using the latest mathematical tools.

Today, the JNU faculty has post-modernists and feminists,
marxists and liberals, and - if the invitation to the BJP
President is good evidence Hindu nationalists. But above
all JNU is what Jawaharlal Nehru wanted all universities
to be: a centre for "humanism, for tolerance, for reason,
for the adventure of ideas and for the search of
truth ... for the onward march of the human race towards
ever higher objectives". However, JNU is not, nor hope-
fully will any real university ever be, a mere appendage
to industry or to market forces. Not even Margaret
Thatcher succeeded in that project.



Ashok V Chowgule
72, Dr G Deshmukh Marg,
Mumbai 400026.

November 28, 1996.


This has reference to "Thank you, let JNU stay as it is"
(Nov 28) by Shri Amitabh Mattoo, associate professor at
JNU. The incident of preventing Shri L K Advani is only
a symptom of a deep malady at the JNU. This malady is
only now being discussed in the 'secular' circles because
of the victory of the ABVP at the recent elections to the
student body. In "Saffron wave sweeps JNU", Shri C
Rajshekar (The Observer of Business and Politics, Oct 23,
1996) said, "Even in the recent past, just being known as
an ABVP sympathiser was considered 'politically
incorrect' and 'risky' in the JNU campus. Identification
with the ABVP used to invite social ostracism both by
teachers and fellow leftist students."

Similarly, in "New dawn at JNU?", TCA Srinivasa-Raghavan
(Business Standard, Oct 21, 1996) said, "(I)n spite of
its small size, thanks to official patronage that JNU has
received, it has captured...a disproportionate amount of
intellectual space in the country. It has also arrogated
to itself the right to put the seal of approval - again
thanks to official patronage. Official patronage has
also lent it an air of moral superiority which anyway
comes so easily to the Left. The overall result has been
an attitude which assumes that a view is virtuous merely
because JNU holds it. True, this is the hallmark of all
strongly ideological academics. But what is good for
ideology, and those who hold it, hardly advances the
cause of academics. Second, there has also be a strong
version of the party line....To get anywhere in JNU
professionally, it is necessary to subscribe to that
line. This is especially true of the history department,
which is even more prone to the pressures of ideological

What Shri Mattoo tries to hide the insidious programme
that has been going on to utilise public moneys for the
purpose of spreading communist ideology. This is what
the leadership of the erstwhile USSR tried to do, and the
Indian communists have learnt from their masters well.
With the collapse of the USSR, and the support that was
being given (both intellectual and financial) to the
Indian communists, the latter are now at a loss of how
they can make up the gap that they are facing. While
Shri Mattoo has every right of propagating his particular
ideology, let him not expect that society will give him a
platform free of cost, particularly when the same society
is no longer enamoured with his ideology.

Yours sincerely,

(Ashok Chowgule)

The Editor, The Indian Express,
Express Tower, Nariman Point,
Mumbai 400 021.

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