“Tanks” or Think-Tanks

The reason put forth by the people who support placing of an army tank on the JNU campus is that the university gives degrees to the cadets who go through, and pass out of, the prestigious National Defence Academy and that about 50,000 officers of the Indian Defence Forces have been awarded degrees issued by the university. However, these people are, at the same time, claiming that now the “Gadh” (stronghold) has been captured, the next target should be Jadhavpur and Hyderabad Universities. This ‘expression of interest’ only goes to prove that creating this NDA connection with the university is just about an attempt to rationalise their indiscriminate and uncalled for utterances made by the Vice Chancellor and his supporters in an academic institution. This rationalisation is like the rather irrational arguments, so frequently, seen to be put forth by some of the ill trained, opinionated, unethical and argumentative counsels in lower courts – which are meant to project themselves as bullies and create an impression on their client and the other litigants in the courtroom.

In the first place there has to be a clear-cut understanding of what universities are all about. If the word “university” which is derived from the Latin universitas magistrorum et scholarium, roughly means “community of teachers and scholars”, there is no reason, whatsoever, to have a ‘war weapon’ on a university campus. The Vice Chancellor of JNU and his buddies in politics might think that this would inculcate an increased sense of nationalism but, for all we know, it might be absolutely counter-productive. Instead of trying hard to inculcate nationalism through the sight of an immobilised tank that has served its life, the Vice Chancellor and the party in power should have thought of some better and subtle means of meeting the responsibility that they have, for some reason, taken upon themselves.

It is difficult to believe that all those people who have taken on this task of defining nationalism and bringing people around to follow their definition cannot come up with something that creates a better buy-in. Starting the nationalism “paath” (recitation) at the university level – and that too initiating the drive on a campus like JNU – is an ill-conceived idea and determination. India is too complex a country for such knee jerk initiatives aimed at re-enforcing the spirit of nationalism in students on the campus. It calls for working out a plan developed after engaging with a large cross-section of people across regions, political parties, academics, and communities. On a campus like JNU, an effort of this kind is only a provocation to resist something that is not only good but desperately required.

All those people who are wanting to change the character of JNU have to take a call on whether they want to prepare themselves to answer even the most illogical questions, which are based on some absolutely irrational hypothesis, that are put forth by the inquisitive and the curious academic free-floaters that are wanting to challenge the validity of institutions and dogmas or do they want to curb their ability to think beyond what they want them to think. At the university level, the effort should be to help ‘build’ minds and not ‘fill’ them up with something that is desired by the party in power directly or through their representatives in academics. The inability to convince people is a good enough reason to look within oneself and, collectively with fellow-travellers, find answers that would help enrol the answer seekers and not run them down just because they think differently. Even after close to two and a half millenniums we are still not able to evolve to a level that Aristotle, so aptly, had articulated – “it is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it”.

An attempt should be made by all the stakeholders to ensure that the discourse on campuses remains academic and an environment is created wherein there is space offered to – and not to be grabbed by – every ideological dispensation. People have to be sitting together and talking and debating and trying to convince each other about what they think and believe in and not shouting slogans and hurling abuses at each other. But, looking at the conduct of the political leaders in Parliament and in State Assemblies, it would be rather naive to expect any sensitivity from them on such matters. There is, obviously, political patronage given to aligned student groups but it is not generating the spirit of ‘convince’ or ‘get convinced’ but confrontation and this, at times, turns ugly. The party politicians who steer student leaders are so bereft of an understanding of the need to have healthy debates that expecting them to make a positive contribution is as difficult or unlikely as expecting a rapist to be a women’s’ rights activist.

The other issue that needs to be understood is that if a product that is used by armed forces is put on display it does not, necessarily, generate the required respect and goodwill for all those brave soldiers who risk their lives, and attain martyrdom, to provide us with the opportunity of pursuing our dreams and passions. A person needs to be motivated through a gentle pat on the back while being taken on the path of exploration-driven understanding of the role that the defence forces play in keeping the nation together rather than being whipped into seeing and paying obeisance to a ‘not in use’ tank kept at a university crossroad.

Even if the students and the faculty in institutions like JNU have a point of view that sounds repulsive to a large section of the society and the party in power, they should still be encouraged and given the freedom to pursue their academic exploration, think differently, and come up with new ideas and concepts.   The government in power and the other political parties need to encourage the development of the capability in people to ask them tough and embarrassing questions and give them ideas because from this, seemingly un-structured and irrational discourse, would emerge answers to the questions that are relevant but not taken because making an effort to answer these would require introspection and ideological and operational course correction.

Even if the electorate gave a party or a coalition an overwhelming mandate and the opposition became redundant, there is reason to create and nurture the intellectual wealth in institutions and encourage it to keep asking questions and proposing alternate models of social and economic development. It is an accepted fact that the ability to think and think beyond the defined boundaries is more with academicians and intellectuals as compared to politicians and even those amongst them who get involved with governance. We need to develop a strong symbiotic relationships between people in power, those aspiring to be in power, and the academic community.   It is time that we encouraged the development of ‘Think Tanks’ in universities and stop thinking about where to place “Tanks”.


Cartoon in Words :

1.PM Modi walking with his team in the corridor of the Ministry of External Affairs and the External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj, walking by his side. Sushma Swaraj to Modi: Now that I have ensured the Passport would be in Hindi as well, can I make a goodwill trip to Maldives.

2.All the members of the All Party Hurriyat Conference sitting in a meeting. Syed Ali Shah Geelani announcing to his Hurriyat colleagues: I want all the kids to know that they are pelting stones for freedom and not for fun.


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