A Midsummer Night’s Dream at JNU
It goes without saying that the headline for today’s Notebook has been inspired by William Shakespeare’s famous comedy penned sometime during the end of the 16th century. In the last five centuries, this play has garnered varied criticism. Most apt in the context of Kanhaiya Kumar episode - his arrest, his release, and his anointment on the university campus as David, who would take on Goliath the giant that is Narendra Modi - is one which sees the forests in the play as a labyrinth.
In Greek mythology, the Labyrinth is an elaborate structure designed and built by the legendary craftsman Daedalus for King Minos of Crete. It was meant to hold the Minotaur – the man with the bull’s head. So crafty was the design of the Labyrinth that even its builder Daedalus could barely escape from it. Coming to the point, JNU is a state of mind which is no better than a labyrinth. And a large number of people who practise the craft of politics to justify their overstay on the campus no better than Minotaur.
Before anybody thinks this Notebook is a command performance at the behest of the Sangh Parivar, let me make it clear that I really do not see the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) as the Athenian hero Theseus, who would kill the Minotaur. In fact, here the plot is quite different from Greek mythology. Having created the Labyrinth called JNU for the left-wing Minotaurs, the Congress-dominated Indian establishment never planned to kill them. It only designed to tire them out.
That the plan worked efficiently is best evident from the fact that in the last Lok Sabha polls the percentage of votes polled by CPI (Kanhaiya Kumar’s party) was less than one percent and that of its senior partner CPI (M) was 3.3 percent. Together these two Communist parties polled a meagre 10 percent of the votes polled by Narendra Modi-led BJP. It goes to the discredit of the Indian television channels that it ran live shows and reruns of a David being born in JNU to take on Goliath.
What is surprising is that in lapping up the adaptation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” being enacted at JNU, the media preferred to ignore the prologue to the play – The script of the High Court order, which released Kanhaiya Kumar. In the order delivered on March 2, Justice Pratibha Rani said, “Spring season is a time when nature becomes green and flower blooms in all colours. This spring why the colour of peace is eluding the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) situated in the heart of Delhi needs to be answered by its students, faculty members, and those managing the affairs of this national university.”
The television for its own vested interest decided to take sides in the duel, where Kanhaiya’s role was not better than that of a buck bringing much amusement to people watching him relentlessly locking horns. Why they ignored the aforementioned observation by the Judge and also her comment that “Suffice it to note that such persons enjoy the freedom to raise such slogans in the comfort of University Campus but without realising that they are in this safe environment because our forces are there at the battlefield situated at the highest altitude of the world where even the oxygen is so scarce that those who are shouting anti-national slogans holding posters of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhatt close to their chest honouring their martyrdom, may not be even able to withstand those conditions for an hour even.”
And the most pertinent of her observations in the 23-page report was, “As President of JNUSU the petitioner (Kanhaiya) was expected to be responsible and accountable for any anti-national event organised in the campus.” I am ready to believe that Kanhaiya Kumar decided to act better than a Minotaur in the Labyrinth on return to the campus, where he delivered a speech, which our media in its enthusiasm to foist a David called historical, was in tune with the spirit of the HC order.
The Judge, however, has left a greater task for everybody associated with the pristine campus. She has said, “The reason behind anti-national views in the mind of students who raised slogans on the death anniversary of Afzal Guru, who was convicted for attack on our Parliament, which led to this situation have not only to be found by them but remedial steps are also required to be taken in this regard by those managing the affairs of the JNU so that there is no recurrence of such incident.”
Those responsible for JNU, for heaven’s sake, should not get interpreted as the sole responsibility of HRD Minister. Those responsible for JNU include its faculty, leaders across political ideologies, media persons keen on showing themselves either partying with Kanhaiya or playing the party pooper, and the Indian tax payer. The last of these definitely has the right to know what price it pays to keep the campus “lively”.
Those who study and live on JNU campus form part of the social elite, howsoever they may preach against elitism. There are many poorer students, who manage their academics without the subsidy which a scholar at JNU enjoys. The greatest challenge before those forming part of JNU was to battle academic inertia which is increasingly taking the campus in its grips. And the reason for it is ideological parochialism, which is disallowing a robust academic growth.
(The author is President, Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and Consulting Editor, Millennium Post. Views expressed are personal)