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The Saturday Book Review - JNU Stories: The First Fifty Years
Title: JNU Stories: The First Fifty Years
Editors: Neeladri Bhattacharya/Kunal Chakrabarti/S Gunasekaran/Janaki Nari/Joy L K Pachuau
TNA Rating: *****
The Highest Citadel of Learning , the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi celebrates the first 50 years It occupies a position like no other University in the Country.A University which has created ripples of varying degrees of awe , respect and stature not only in India but across the world
An academic centre of Inclusivity and Excellence ,’ fostering high academic values and norms, pioneered forms of inclusion which have made for an exceptional student body, and created spaces for critical thinking, while also deepening respect for democratic thinking ‘
The University boasts of an Alumni, who have helped shaped the destiny of the nation . The representation of JNU Scholars in all spheres of activity has been immense. Their interjection in Institutes of Learning, Scientific Research, Policy Making, setting high standards of governance , critical thinking , democratic discourse and the future trajectory of the country have done the country proud.
Change is constant, and JNU too has not been spared They have also been at the receiving end of movements seeking change and manoeuvring the trajectory to suit contemporary perspectives.
But all said and done , no matter what the future trajectory or the discourse, JNU has spearheaded a momentum of liberal thinking, and a beacon , as a democratic pressure hose.
The contributors of this ‘Magnus Opus’ include some of the most prominent alumni, as well as those who have been an integral part of the institution – chart the history of JNU from its beginning in the 1970’s and 1980’s
MC Chagla the then Education Minister in his own words of his conversation with Nehru “ I had once told Nehru that if i had his approval, i would establish another university in Delhi......I then mentioned with some hesitation a more delicate point , I said Panditji I would like to name this University after you.You have been the Prime Minister of this country since Independence , and you have ruled over our destiny from this city.’ Nehru flared up ‘ You know my views about raising memorials to living persons. It is entirely wrong. No statues should be raised to living persons, and no institutions should be named after them.”
The concept of the University was the subject of animated debates on the floor of the house in December of 1965 ‘ In what way was it to be a University of an entirely new type ? What was to be unique about the University? What elements were to define its identity ?
The debates on criticism to naming of the University after an individual ,’ MC Chagla argued passionately that he was aware of the danger of canonising individuals , and creating prophets. Prophets words are glorified, quoted and misquoted. They congeal and harden into ideas that become sterile and barren.’
The debates on JNU’s commitment to Secularism , was even more vociferous ‘ Chagla was pushed from opposite sides, Maridas Ruthnaswamy, the most eloquent Rajya Sabha member of the Swatantra Party, feared the use of the term, for secularism to him was ‘anti-religion’ hostile to all religion. Such a notion could not be celebrated in a country like India with its many religions. On the other hand Professor M B Lal a socialist, argued passionately that secularism alone could hold the country together. For Lal secularism was not mere tolerance, it was an ethical doctrine, advocating a moral code independent of all religious considerations or practices ; and in a multi-religious country like India, secularism alone could be the basis of democracy.’
The inclusive credentials of the University as opposed to exclusivity was discussed at length and what followed in the course of the debates , became the foundations stones of the Jawaharlal Nehru University
The 75 essays in the Book have been penned by some of the most eminent and renowned scholars, administrators, policy makers and activists. Abhijit Banerjee, Romila Thapar, Pushpesh Pant, Kanhaiya Kumar, Yogendra Yadav, Ritoo M Jerath, Sukhadeo Thorat, Jayati Ghosh, Imrana Qadeer, Gopal Guru, Jairus Banaji, Janki Nair , Kavita Krishnan, Niraja Gopal Jayal, Prabhat Patnaik, Robert P Goldman, Sohail Hashmi among the others.
The book has been divided into twelve sections –Spaces and Places, Imagining the University, Of Schools and Centres, Sites of Learning, Living and loving, Politics Posters Performances, Giving meaning to Social Diversity, Politics of Gender, The way things were, Promises to fulfil, Memories from afar , and the Spirit of JNU
In the words of the editors ‘ We hope to preserve memories that may be of use to all those who will, we hope, salvage and rebuild the institution, reinventing it to meet fresh challenges in the decades to com'.
(The author of this book review is a Lucknow-based businessman, Chairman, MSME Confederation of Micro, Small, Medium Enterprise UP and Co-Chairman PHD Chambers of Commerce and the Founder Chair of Confederation of Indian Industry-Young Indians.)
This Book Is Available @ Universal Booksellers