February 28, 2016

The Social Counter Revolution and JNU Crackdown

Archana Prasad

THE ‘undeclared emergency’ by the Modi government and the onslaught of Hindu Right against Jawaharlal Nehru University have brought into focus the challenge of how to intensify the ideological campaign that is being waged against a democratic and progressive idea of India. Liberal and democratic public opinion has correctly highlighted the authoritarian nature of the fascistic government and the attack by the BJP on the character and autonomy of central university. However the links between these tendencies and the widespread neo-conservative social campaign which is led by mobs and lumpens of the Hindu Right needs to be unpacked with the aim to strategise and delegimitise the forces of social counter revolution that have been strengthened by corporate backed ruling classes.




The Report of the Education Commission (1964-66) stated that there is a “direct link between education, national development and prosperity which we have emphasised and in which we deeply believe, exists only when the national system of education is properly organised, both qualitatively and quantitatively....Quantitatively, education can be organised to promote social justice or to retard it. History shows numerous instances where small social groups and elites have used education as a prerogative of their rule and as a tool for maintaining their hegemony and perpetuating the values upon which it has rested. On the other hand, there are cases in which a social and cultural revolution has been brought about in a system where equality of educational opportunity is provided and education is deliberately used to develop more and more potential talent and to harness it to the solution of national problems” (Kothari Commission, p.7).

As this excerpt from the Kothari Commission shows, there could be two ways of looking at education by different social classes. The first, were the elites and the ruling classes who used education as a hegemonic tool to maintain their own dominance and social values. The repeated attempts of the Sangh Parivar to tamper with the democratic character of education and universities (of which JNU is the latest example) can be placed in this category. These attempts are also linked to the larger processes of a social counter revolution that strengthen anti-reservation, anti-dalit and patriarchal politics. It is obvious that such politics has links with tendencies that impose moral policing, not only in terms of dress codes for women, but also in terms of how people should behave and who they should worship. Thus it is not surprising that the FIR and the police report on the JNU incident clearly shows this when it states that “Two hidden groups have been found indulging in anti-national activities. Sometimes, they have prepared nude and objectionable pictures of deities and affix them on the wall to hurt sentiments. They have mourned the death of Afzal Guru, they have celebrated the killing of CRPF jawans in Dantewada, they have worshipped Mahishasur in place of Goddess Durga, demanded beef, invited SAR Geelani for a lecture at the university”. This kind of profiling and prescription is symptomatic of ruling class nationalism that uses dominant cultural stereotypes to impose its own code of conduct within educational institutions.

In contrast, the linking of social change with education through the creation of equal opportunity is a product of the struggles for equality that were fought both during the freedom struggle as well as through the post-independence period by working class and other democratic movements. The success of these efforts and their links with larger processes of social transformation has been supported by a democratic fabric that allows for the diversity of opinion and cultures. It is not coincidental that the Hindu Right is envious of the progressive culture of learning under practice in the disciplines of social sciences, humanities and languages. It is well known that this culture is a result of the influence of progressive movements amongst students and teachers in JNU. This progressive politics is quite the opposite and antithetical to the politics of cultural homogenisation that supports conservative social institutions, ie, the politics being currently practised by the Sangh Parivar.




However the struggles for social diversity and transformation within educational institutions have miles to go to fulfil their dreams. The old admission policy of JNU which allowed for social representation and regional diversity was unique in its character. Even with the changes in the policy, a semblance of social diversity was maintained and fostered through the continuous process of debate and the pressure exerted by progressive teachers and students. The admission policy has been crucial to the cosmopolitan character which is also the foundation stone of radicalism and liberal ethos in the campus. But this is not true of all institutions of higher education. The official educational statistics on higher education reveal the following picture:



Social Composition of Students and Teachers in Higher Education, 2014-15



Percentage of Total Number



Students Enrolled

Teachers Employed

Scheduled Caste










Scheduled Tribes










Other Backward Classes










Persons with Disability




















Other Minority Communities











Source: Calculated from All India Statistics on Higher Education, 2014-15, MHRD

The table above shows that the number of students enrolled in the categories like Scheduled Caste and Other Backward Classes which have reservation in the admission process enjoy some advantages over others. In the percentage of OBC students enrolled exceeds the quota (ie, 27.5 percent for OBC), but for the STs (who are meant to have of 7.5 percent in admissions) and SC (meant to have a quota of 15 percent) percentage of enrollments is far below the required quota, but it is still higher than the participation of other minority groups which have no reservation. As far as the proportion of teachers employed is concerned, the situation is much worse as the proportion of teachers employed even in the reserved categories is far below the stipulated quota. Hence it is possible to surmise that this data indicates that even after decades of struggle, the access of historically marginalised groups to higher education remains limited. The unfortunate observation of the Supreme Court on  October 28, 2015 asking state and central universities to follow the ‘merit’ criteria should be seen in this context and is symptomatic of the emerging polarisation of public opinion against reservations. That such a move and tendency has the blessings of the Sangh Parivar is evident from Mohan Bhagwat’s statement of September 20, 2015 where he pitched for the review of the quotas in education saying that the ‘right people’ were not benefiting from them. This standard right wing argument is designed to ignore the successes of affirmative action and its obvious impact on the politics of dalits, adivasis and the minorities.

Seen in this context, the attack of the Sangh Parivar and its government on JNU, FTII, Hyderabad University and IIT Chennai represents a concerted effort to subvert the larger struggle for a socially just and democratic system of education. It is well known that these campuses are centres of anti-discrimination campaigns and struggle against the Hindu Right. Support for both Kanhaiya Kumar and Rohith Vemula are part of the same campaign against conservative social forces. Thus the attack on JNU is part of a larger design that is aimed at reversing the gains that universities like JNU have made in fostering a composite culture through an inclusive admission policy. This recognition of different cultures and types of deprivation is necessarily against the ideology of a culturally homogenous nationalism that is propounded by the Sangh Parivar and which militates against the very purpose of setting up central universities. The attempt to demonise and change the essential character of JNU is thus part of a larger politics to spread a socially conservative conception of society. It is also linked to the revival of neo-conservative movements and the strengthening of their patriarchal social institutions. Hence the ‘Save JNU’ struggle, which has got wide support from intellectuals and progressive movements across the world, must strengthen its links and embed itself in the larger struggles for social transformation and intensify the ideological counter hegemonic campaign against the Hindu Right.