Intrusion into academic setups can boomerang against govt: Prof Abrol

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Intrusion into academic setups can boomerang against govt: Prof Abrol

Lamat R Hasan @LamatAyub

Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) teachers have thrown their weight behind students' union president Kanhaiya Kumar demanding that he be released.

Prof Dinesh Abrol, a faculty member at JNU, is one of them. He vehemently believes the Deans' Committee and the JNU Teachers' Association should have been consulted before such drastic action was taken against Kumar.

"Mother India deserves better treatment from the BJP government. The government needs to be reminded that pseudo-nationalism will not help. They should concentrate on strengthening the foundations of nation-building. They should not weaken them by damaging the institutions of academic excellence," he says.

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Edited excerpts from an interview:

As a professor at JNU do you think the slapping of the sedition charge against the JNUSU president is fair?

It is an unprecedented development. The JNUSU president was picked up without a search warrant. And all of this has happened even when the internal processes of investigation into the incident by the university administration are yet to be completed.

The Vice Chancellor allowed the police to come into the campus on the basis of the phone call from the home ministry. The custody has been sought on the basis of a video claiming to have captured 'anti-national' slogans promoting a pro-separatist stance on Kashmir. Since I have not seen any evidence which links the JNUSU president to the claimed pro-separatist slogans it is an unwarranted arrest on the part of the police.

It is a well-known fact that the president of JNUSU comes from All India Student Federation (AISA). The university administration has no reason to believe that the president is associated with 'any kind of anti-national activity'. It is clearly a witchhunt, and the government has no justification to send the police to the campus.

Since the JNU culture is well-known for debate and discussion I wish they had consulted the Deans' Committee and the JNU Teachers' Association before proceeding with such a step.

So the reaction of the government is bizarre...

A small band of students shouting pro-separatist slogans is supposedly the trigger for this intervention in JNU.

The arrest of the JNUSU president has brought the university to a grinding halt. The handling of this issue does not show farsightedness on the part of either the government or the administration. It will ultimately be counter-productive. It has been badly handled from all angles. The government should have allowed the university's internal processes to handle the issue.

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They have used the newly-appointed VC to act in a counter-productive way. Unfortunately the JNU students and faculty are being made to suffer.

Invoking Mother India - is this nationalism?

The Prime Minister has not yet spoken so we do not know his view. The emotive response of the HRD Minister and Home Minister are completely unwarranted. 'Mother India' deserves better treatment from the BJP government, I think.

Pseudo-nationalism won't help. The govt should concentrate on nation-building, rather than weakening it by damaging institutions of academic excellence. India is strong if its people are well-fed and educated to strengthen the national economy. Universities need to function in an atmosphere of free and frank debate. JNU has been doing its job very well. India is safe in the hands of JNU-trained people. This evidence is everywhere, if the govt chooses to see this with an open mind.

Is this jeopardising the academic atmosphere in the country?

The government and university administration should have allowed internal processes to draw the line and take care of the challenges that face a campus which is in many ways a mini-India, and which has students from all regions.

One should keep in mind that the BJP is in the same government in which the People's Democratic Party (PDP) is the leader. The PDP has its own stand on how to handle the pro-separatist voices in Kashmir.

We should expect tendencies of all kinds to co-habit in academic campuses and allow free debate as long as they don't lead to violence and allow academics to continue. It is the action of the government, not the students, that is jeopardising JNU's academic atmosphere.

Students of JNU have been absorbed in all kinds of positions in the country as well as across the world. The contribution of JNU needs to be valued by the powers-that-be in the larger interest of modern nation-building and democracy.

How dangerous is the repeated intrusion of the government in universities?

This incident can affect academic freedom all over the country. Academic freedom is necessary to build a culture of excellence and relevance. What is ultimately at stake is very precious. The government needs to take a step back. Normalcy needs to be restored. Intrusion into academic/institutional autonomy seems to be becoming a trend with the government.

So far, if we take into account how the government has handled the developments at IIT Chennai and Hyderabad Central University it certainly does not augur well for the future of our higher education.

It can also boomerang. The government may have on its hands the scenario of greater awakening emerging in respect of academic autonomy and democracy.

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Lamat R Hasan

Lamat R Hasan @LamatAyub