First Interview of JNU V-C M Jagadesh Kumar after the Kanhaiya episode.

Posted on: March 13, 2016

‘JNU… can deal with its internal challenges on its own’

The vice-chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) likes to keep a low profile – and there’s good reason for him to want to do so. Ten days after M. Jagadesh Kumar joined JNU, it erupted in flames. The police entered the campus in South Delhi and arrested students’ union leader Kanhaiya Kumar – and there was mayhem.
For Kumar, 55, who was a professor of electrical engineering in IIT Delhi before he moved to JNU, this was a new world. Kumar’s father – from Mamidala village in the Nalgonda district of Telangana – was a teacher. Having come from a financially weaker section of society, Kumar says that he can easily empathise with students who belong to deprived sections. He recalls that he walked five kilometres to his college in Hyderabad because he could not afford the bus fare.
A karate expert, Kumar’s initial days in JNU have been ominous. But he tells Sonia Sarkar – in his first interview to the media – that if he could go back, he would still take the path that he followed. “Whether it was yesterday or today, I would have taken the same decision,” he says. Excerpts from the email interview:

TRIAL BY FIRE: M. Jagadesh Kumar, vice-chancellor of JNU

Q: How do you react to the developments that have rocked JNU?
A: I am a team player and I want ideas to start from the bottom of the pyramid and propagate upwards. I was overwhelmed by the way the students, staff and faculty accepted me in JNU. It is this moral support that makes me take my decisions in a cool and calm manner. Even for problems which appear to be insurmountable, my experience tells me that we can always begin with an approximate solution and fine-tune it.
JNU has strong foundations in terms of free speech, debate and discussion on topics that affect our society. Students will have their opinion and observations on what is happening around them. As a scientist and a teacher, I always encourage my students to think out of the box.
Q: You have dealt with students for many decades. What kind of a strategy do you need to follow in JNU?
A: I treat them as equals. I have confidence in them that they can think objectively and progressively. [I will] Provide an environment where they can express their opinions without any fear.
Q: There is belief that efforts are on to stifle the liberal voice of JNU. What do you have to say?
A: JNU has a strong tradition of being open-minded in its approach to analysing societal challenges. We will continue to do so. However, it needs to be underlined that like any other Indian, every JNUite believes in our Constitution. We will never encourage any activity which is unconstitutional and unlawful.
Q: A BJP MP has said that JNU should be shut down and there should be a complete revamp of the institute. Do you agree?
A: We have always maintained that JNU, like any other central university, is an autonomous body. It can deal with its internal challenges on its own.
Q: Looking back, do you think you would have handled the crisis in JNU differently?
A: There is a saying that if you tell the truth, you do not have to remember anything. I always take my decisions in a fair and transparent manner through consultations with my colleagues. Therefore, whether it was yesterday or today, I would have taken the same decision. However, I would like to point out that I will continue to learn through my experiences and improve my world view.
Q: Students everywhere are known to be anti-establishment. Where do you draw the line between what’s anti-establishment and anti-national?
A: For me, our Indian Constitution is the guiding principle. Our Constitution provides the right to freedom of expression, debate and discussion. Whatever we do should be within the boundaries of what the Constitution tells us.
Q: Senior lawyers such as Shanti Bhushan and Soli Sorabjee have said that questioning the government about Afzal Guru’s execution is not seditious. Don’t you think students should have the liberty to ask questions?
A: All of us have a right to question the government and its policies. That is how we provide feedback to the government so that correctional measures can be taken. However, I again underline that whatever we do should be within the boundaries of what the Constitution tells us.
Q: Is there pressure from the government?
A: [There is] Absolutely no pressure from anyone. JNU is autonomous and we handle our internal matters ourselves.
Q: Is there a lesson that you have learnt from these developments as an academic and as an administrator?
A: The guideline I follow is not to panic when a crisis springs up uninformed. Do not lose your smile even in the most stressful conditions and keep communicating with stakeholders. Be objective and never be judgmental. Be a good listener and be approachable.


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  • ranginee09: It is clear, justice eludes many but to imprison a man for his humanitarian deeds in a civilised society leaves an permanent blotch in our criminal ju
  • ranginee09: The article points-out a very pertinent social ill. Social ostracisation in childhood may have unwanted results later in life. A child victim is not a
  • Seeker and her search: Thanks for reading, Anne. Yes, I know what you are saying.
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