JNU Vice-Chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar.
Under pressure from protesting students and teachers to quit, JNU V-C M Jagadesh Kumar may well dig his heels in. For, barely a month ago, he had his way.
The Indian Express has reliably learned that Kumar was given an ultimatum on December 11 to either accept a compromise formula to end the standoff with agitating students or resign. In less than 48 hours, the then Higher Education Secretary R Subrahmanyam was himself shunted out.
According to the formula proposed by the Ministry, the JNU administration would charge only the increased room rent and the service and utility charges were to be borne by the University Grants Commission. In exchange, the students would call off their agitation and engage in dialogue with the university administration. To compensate for the lost academic period, JNU was asked to extend the semester by two weeks. The university was also advised to notify the students’ union and withdraw police complaints against students.
Following the ultimatum on December 11, Kumar is learned to have agreed to the compromise, but he backtracked a day later. Subrahmanyam was transferred on December 13 and was replaced by Information and Broadcasting Secretary Amit Khare.
Incidentally, Kumar met Khare Wednesday morning amidst calls for his resignation in the wake of the violence unleashed on campus by masked men this week.
When asked whether the government was considering Kumar’s removal to restore normalcy on campus, a Ministry official said, “No. The calls for his resignation only strengthen his position.”
In 2017, the HRD Ministry had nudged the then V-C of Banaras Hindu University, G C Tripathi, to go on leave as the students were up in arms against his alleged mishandling of protests by women students over an incident of alleged sexual harassment on campus.
Since Subrahmanyam’s transfer from the ministry, the JNU administration has rolled back the service and utility charges proposed in the hostel fee. However, none of the remaining points of the above compromise formula have been implemented.
When contacted Wednesday, Subrahmanyam, who is now Secretary, Social Justice and Empowerment, declined to comment on the matter. Kumar did not respond to this reporter’s phone call and WhatsApp message.
Express Cartoon by E P Unny. Click on the image to see more.
At Wednesday’s meeting with Khare, Kumar was advised to initiate a media outreach and also a dialogue with teachers as the first step to restore “normalcy” in the university. “Instead of putting out press releases, he was advised to speak directly to the media. And if he feels the students are not listening to him, then he should try and talk to the teachers,” said a Ministry official on the condition of anonymity. “What happened on Sunday was not a law and order issue. We don’t expect such a situation in a central university.”
Kumar was also advised to extend the date of registration for the new semester, following which a week’s extension was announced Wednesday. “The violence which broke out on campus this week was partly because of the panic among students who want to register before the deadline and the disruption caused by the registration boycott by another section of students. We asked him not to rush the registration process,” the official said.
View of rampaged Sabarmati Hostel of Jawaharlal Nehru University. (Express photograph: Tashi Tobgyal)
Students at JNU have been protesting since October 28 against the hike in hostel fee, especially the service charges for maintenance, mess workers, cook and sanitation and utility charges for power and water consumption. While the JNU administration is now only charging the increased room rent for the new semester, protesting students want a written assurance that the proposed utility and service charges will not be introduced in future. The administration hasn’t done so. The rent for a single room has been increased from Rs 20 per month to Rs 600 per month, and for a double-sharing room from Rs 10 per month to Rs 300 per month. Till date, 3300 students have registered for the new semester and agreed to pay the increased room rent. JNU has roughly 7,500 students.
On Sunday, even as a section of students continued to boycott registration for the new semester (with increased room rent), masked men wielding sticks, rods and sledgehammers entered hostels and attacked students and teachers, leaving 36 injured. The JNU administration has linked the violence to the fee hike protests in their public statement and their report to the HRD Ministry.