Universities are hallowed grounds – they are centres of academics, free thought, and progressive ideas. They equip the future generations of our country with education and the capability to bring about change. The teachers and students from these institutions discern right from wrong and keep both politicians and press in tow. The sad truth about Indian universities, however, is that they have been the target of politically motivated protests and at times even corruption at the highest quarters. Over the past few years, a number of universities in India have been involved in controversies.
The nature of political dissent and the level of politicking on university campuses has been brought sharply into focus by the current Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) row. A group of students organised a cultural event called “A country without a post office – against the judicial killing of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhatt”. The students allegedly shouted anti-India slogans and a video showing the sloganeers soon went viral. The Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad (ABVP) was quick to protest and the Delhi Police stepped in and sedition charges were brought in against many students including JNU Students Union President Kanhaiya Kumar. JNU students, in turn, protested his arrest. The dilemma now is that while the government faces criticisms of intolerance against students and any voice of dissent, JNU, a leading university in the national capital is now being increasingly viewed as anti-national. While we still await a resolution on this controversy here are some others that have struck Indian universities in the recent years.
The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Madras, is one of the most coveted technical and engineering institutions with thousands applying for admission each year. In May 2015, an anonymous letter to the central government (Human Resource Development Ministry) alleged that a student body, the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle ,was involved in “creating hatred among students in the name of caste” and the group attempted to “create hatred against the honourable Prime Minister and Hindus”. Even as news of this letter was communicated to the IIT administration, the student body was derecognised and its activities curtailed. The announcement caused major outrage on Social Media sites with the government being criticised for banning a student body based on political criticism.
3. Nalanda University
Nalanda University was inaugurated in Rajgir in Bihar in November 2010, to revive the ancient legacy of higher education in Nalanda and the glorious tradition of Buddhist education in the country. Back in 2007, with the UPA government at the helm of India’s central administration, Nobel laureate Professor Amartya Sen was appointed as the chairman of the Nalanda Mentor group. As the university started functioning, Sen was appointed Chancellor. Later, the Comptroller and Auditor General reports criticised a number of practices undertaken by the chancellor and the NMG, such as lavish tax-free salaries, unwarranted foreign travels, and lack of transparency. In 2015, when Sen’s name came up for re-election as the chancellor, the NDA government led by Modi allegedly delayed assent. Sen withdrew his candidature and the political drama that ensued was highly publicised by the media. Sen maintained that his disapproval of Modi as PM candidate was the cause for the delay while the NDA government denied any such allegations.
4. Panjab University
Panjab University (PU) is one of the premier educational institutions located in the north west of India and is also one of the oldest (established in 1882). In 2015, the university was swept up in a major controversy regarding misappropriation of funds. In April 2015, the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) had complained to the union Ministry of Human Resource Development about embezzlement of funds in the university hostels. The ABVP organized mass rallies and protests. University Grants Commission (UGC) held back most of the university’s funds till the issue was investigated. The fund crunch adversely affected salaries and other benefits causing protests among the faculty. PU received a fund infusion and breather only in 2016.
5. Visva Bharati University
The Vishwa Bharati University was founded by Rabindra Nath Tagore with the proceeds of his Nobel Prize. He envisioned an educational institution that would cultivate free thought and liberal ideas. In 2014, however, the university remained enmeshed in a scandalous controversy when the Vice Chancellor Sushanta Duttagupta faced allegations of financial irregularities and sexual harassment. A 3-member probe panel was constituted which indicted the VC on 5 counts of financial irregularities including 25 illegal appointments, and awarding of contract worth crores without proper tendering. The sexual harassment claims could not be proved. In an unprecedented move, the President Pranab Mukherjee issued Duttagupta a show cause notice following which the VC resigned.
6. Delhi University
Delhi University has been a veritable hotbed of controversies. Being at the heart of the national capital has certainly not helped. The UGC and Delhi University remained at loggerheads through most of early 2014 over the controversial Four-Year Undergraduate Programme (FYUP). The programme was certainly not a very popular one. UGC believed that it was in violation of the National Policy of Education, students protested against it, and the media criticised it. The University, in particular the vice-chancellor Dinesh Singh, continued to admit students. UGC delayed DU student results sparking another major row. Teachers’ groups supporting the FYUP went on hunger strikes. Eventually, the matter died a natural death as colleges affiliated with DU quietly reverted to the three-year program.
7. Jadavpur University
Jadavpur University is well known as a centre for higher education that churns out intellectuals and politically conscious individuals. Back in April 2012, however, something as harmless as circulating a cartoon with a political theme got Jadavpur professor Ambikesh Mahapatra into trouble. When the professor sent out e-mails showing CM Mamata Banerjee and her aide Mukul Roy plotting against another party MLA, he was assaulted by TMC workers and later arrested by the police. The incident sparked off large-scale protests on and off the university. The incident, along with an ongoing debate about Article 66A and Social Media censorship, became the centre of a raging controversy. Eventually, the Calcutta High Court ruled that the arrest was unconstitutional and directed the state to pay monetary compensation to the professor.