OMG: Nobel for a JNU Alumnus!

Tushar Charan

Most Indians, including perhaps the ‘Modibhakts and ‘Deshbhakts’, have rejoiced the Nobel Prize for economics to Abhijit Banerjee along with his France-born wife Esther Duflo and Michael Cremer. But among the many congratulatory messages sent to him two deserve to be mentioned in particular because in their own way they are a comment on the strange political universe created by the ruling BJP.
The message (Tweet) from prime minister came over three hours after Indians had learnt of the honour bestowed on Mumbai-born Abhijit Banerjee whose Maharashtrian mother, Nirmala, and Bengali father, late Deepak Banerjee, were both eminent teachers of economics in Kolkata. It vaguely mentioned Abhijit’s contribution to economics without using any effusive expression that would have been used by him in congratulatory messages sent previously—from world leaders to film and sports stars. It was only after Narendra Modi’s Tweet that a few other BJP stalwarts chipped in with their congratulatory messages.
Newspapers were full of Abhijit Banerjee after the Nobel announcement. A common theme in most of these reports was that he was not a cheer leader of Modi and his brand of quirky economics. In fact, he repeated his views just after receiving the news of getting the Nobel Prize.
But a question that was perhaps not asked, maybe because it can be called hypothetical, was would the Modi government have greeted him with even reservation had Abhijit Banerjee been teaching at JNU? The only ‘academic’ or ‘scholars’ in the country who win praise from the ruling dispensation are those who can present Indian myths as history and science. The ‘reward’ that they receive for their labours encourages them further.
The reluctance or discomfort of BJP leaders can be understood. Among the institutions of learning that the saffron brigade has directed its bile, JNU stands at the top. They have described it as a Left bastion that propagates the venomous ‘secular’ and ‘liberal’ thoughts. Almost every BJP leader has gone on record hurling wild and even vulgar accusations at JNU calling it variously as a den of vice and ‘anti-nationals’ who have raised a ‘tukde-tukde’ gang to break India. .
The most interesting as well as intriguing message, quoted in the Indian Express, came from M. Jagadesh Kumar, vice chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University. He spoke of ‘intellectual capabilities’ of Abhijit Banerjee, an alumnus of JNU, as well as the ‘quality of education’ available at the campus. It is hypocritical to speak highly of ‘quality’ of education at JNU when the VC is so actively working to lower that very quality in order to convert JNU into a symbol of the Right which, as we know, abhors liberal values and offers no scope for stimulating the intellect, but sharpens the urge to value divisiveness.
The exercise to alter the character of JNU covers all aspects—the staff, the syllabus, admission procedures, stipends and even security. Recently it was reported that the JNU authorities have hired a large number of Home Guards to provide security, doing away with the guards who were doing that job for decades.
The academic assault is, of course, not confined to JNU. All universities and institutions of higher learning and teachers and scholars reputed to be ‘Left’ leaning are suspect. A case in point is of an emeritus professor Romila Thapar, a renowned historian. She was asked by JNU to submit her CV to remain on its roster of emeritus professors. And who will examine her credentials which are accepted globally? Surely, not the closed-minded ‘scholars’ known for their proximity to Nagpur?
Abhijit Banerjee has brought laurels to JNU where, incidentally, he had participated as a student in 1983 during a sit-in against the then Vice Chancellor P.N. Shrivastva, protesting against admission policy; he and many other students were arrested, spent 10 days in Tihar jail.
But nobody called the protesting students ‘anti-national’ for their act of defiance against the VC, much less file sedition charges against them. The tradition of JNU students opposing diktats of university authorities goes back to almost the time the university was set up about five decades ago. It was a university which attracted students from all corners of India, especially areas where there were no or limited institutions of higher education. It had created a unique atmosphere where cosmopolitanism mingled with ‘free thinking’ and ‘quality’ education was ensured by highly skilled teachers.
As an aside it may be added that several formerly committed ‘Leftist’ students of JNU later became prominent Indians without anyone ever questioning their ‘patriotism’.
Today the JNU campus appears all set to undo all that it has achieved. The process of ‘reforms’ at JNU would make sure that Abhijit Banerjee becomes the last alumnus to have won global accolade. Syndicate Features

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