Published: 16th January 2020
JNU administration made it political: Why Amit Bhaduri tore up his four-decade association with varsity
In a sharp resignation letter, Bhaduri said that he has had a longstanding association with JNU, beginning in 1973. Now, he says, the administration is throttling the free and vibrant debate of JNU
Dr Amit Bhaduri has been in the news for giving up his position as a Professor Emeritus at Jawaharlal Nehru University to protest against Vice-Chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar’s administration at JNU. In a sharp resignation letter, Bhaduri said that he has had a longstanding association with JNU, beginning in 1973. But now, he says, the administration is throttling the free and vibrant debate that the university is known for. “It pains me, but I feel it would be immoral on my part without registering my protest to remain a silent observer in this larger, sinister scheme of throttling dissent which is unfolding now at the University,” he has said.
We spoke to Dr Bhaduri about the situation in JNU, the apparent lawless and dictatorial administration and the vengeance towards education in general. We also discussed the economy and the way we can get out of this mess. Excerpts from the crisp but enlightening conversation:
If you had to handle the JNU situation what would you have done when the fee hike issue came up in the first place?
To keep it very simple, one should have proper accounting done of the financial situation of the university and then have a meeting with the students, teachers and the members of the administration to tell them that this is the maximum amount of money we have and this is what we need. Then there can be a discussion about how much the fees can be raised. Secondly, in a public university, you would always have to get at least 50 per cent of the seats free. I have taught at Stanford University, one of the most expensive Universities in the world if you go there privately (paying for your own course). But they used to give a lot of scholarships. And this is something they could easily do. What we call discriminating monopoly (a single entity that charges different prices—typically, those that are not associated with the cost to provide the product or service—for its products or services for different consumers). If you had paid say Rs 1 lakh for your school education then you don't get very cheap accommodation and so on and so forth. You have to pay for it — proportional to your school. But those who came from humble backgrounds and have not had that kind of schooling should get the scholarship.
Kanhaiya Kumar and a few other had propagated the thought that if the government can pay 3000 crores for a statue they should pay for its youth's education. Some even said that education should be free for all...
Education can be free for all if you go by meritocracy. In Austria, education was free for all once you finished school — your higher education will be paid for. But before we do that in India we need to make the schooling system common. If you send everyone to the same kind of school then you can talk about free higher education.
After the January 5 violence, this has become more political than ever. Has it not transformed from being a fee hike or student issue to a very political one?
I think the varsity administration made it political. When I was teaching at JNU as a professor there used to be protests. Students should have their political views — be it right or left or centre. But this time the administration constantly took sides and tried to push one kind of narrow politics. They used the police and that is where the Home Ministry comes in and that is what made it a much larger political issue. If the administration was transparent and neutral, students' politics never turn out this way.
It is not just the fee hike or the hostel manual, there have been complaints of discrepancies in recruitment processes as well. People have alleged that they have been asked for money in exchange for a teacher's post in JNU. has this happened before in any other regime?
I have not been there in JNU for quite some time now. But I have also heard that the administration has become very corrupt. I have not heard this before in JNU. But there has been another kind of corruption — for pushing a certain ideology or political view you get people who have no appropriate academic qualification. This was always there but not as much as it is now. This has gone to a ridiculous extent now. The larger issue is that this affects ordinary student and teachers. This is not just monetary corruption but legal corruption. This was there in other states and universities there but used to be very less in JNU. The leftists have also done this. If you had a leftist candidate and an RSS candidate, it was more likely that the leftist man would get the job. But if the RSS candidate was sufficiently qualified he might have got the job — I know of people like that. This is not true any more. That corruption is a much deeper one and can destroy any higher education institutions. The problem arises when you give the unskilled man the job.
Why do we have this disrespect towards intelligentsia in the past few years along with the rise of a kind of dictatorial governance? How would you analyse it as a social scientist?
India has been a country which believes in superstition but when the people at the top say things like Ganesha was the result of plastic surgery and that Pushpak rath was the first aeroplane and lie about their degrees it only means that you are envious of those who are educated and have such degrees and you feel the need to lie about it to make you feel equal to them. That is what is wrong. They believe and make people believe that they are educated and then they have the gumption to say all this rubbish about Ganesha's plastic surgery at a science congress. This is quite disastrous and it does not fit in in any society.
Coming to the issue of our failing economy. Is a $5 trillion economy possible by 2025?
I don't know what will happen to the economy in 2025 but one thing we can say is that the first thing this government should do is have a clear program of increasing employment. There is no other way to improve their livelihood. Long back when I was in Mexico, there was a joke — there was a military dictator who was supported by the US and used to go every year to the States to report about the country. The US President asked, "What is happening with your economy?" The man replied, "Oh Sir! The economy is doing very well but the people are not." I think that even if we achieve a $5 trillion economy it will be a slavish economy where many would be unemployed and without housing shelter or other basic amenities. It is not just about the growth rate but also about the income distribution.
Subramanian Swamy has, time and again, suggested that no income tax is the way to put more money in the people's hands. He reiterated his point in a recent interview as well. How true is that?
If he says this then he believes that income is the biggest source of inequality. But if you look at the Indian data, something very strange has happened. The growth rate had increased a few years back but so has the inequality. The government statistics do not fit in with many other findings. Many of these people do not even pay income tax. How will their condition improve with the abolition of income tax? I can see how it benefits Dr Swamy or me but how will it help the tea stall owner 'round the corner?