Local vocal – Biography of a university

A book attempts to debunk `myths’ about JNU If you are among the many who think Jawaharlal Nehru University is a leftist institution, here’s a new book that attempts to change this and several others perceptions. Authored by a JNU academic, the book tries to chart an intellectual and political history of the university set up in 1969. “Different people have their opinions about the university and sev eral labels have been attached to it. The purpose of the book was to try to debunk some of the notions about the institution,” says Rakesh Batabyal, author of JNU: The Making of a University, an alumnus now working at the Academic Staff College and the Centre for Media Studies on campus.

With a background in contemporary modern history, the author has not attempted to analyse the rise of an educational institution in the context of national and international issues.”For instances, a popular notion about JNU is that it is a `Marxist university’ but when I visited some communist countries in East Europe, I discovered what truly Marxist universities are like,” says Batabyal. In those countries, scholarship is regimented and research on Marx has stagnated unlike at JNU, where critiques and counter-critiques in an open atmosphere helped the university “naturalise Marx’s ideas” into its culture, he contends.

He relates an anecdote: Once on a visit to JNU during the emergency, Morarji Desai asked why the institution teaches Marxism. To this, someone replied, “We are professors. We decide what to teach.”

“Similarly, I have tried to debunk several other no tions that shape people’s ons that shape people’s image of JNU,” he informs.

Having spent more than 10 years here, Batabyal was exposed to diverse views on the university.

Being part of the Academic Staff College, he could interact with fellow academics that helped him know their understanding of the institution, adds Batabyal, who took about eight years to write the book. “For the first five years, I only read the reference material.”

Some of the sources cited by him include private papers by education ministers, educationists, memoirs, journals and dissertations by JNU students. “I also found some interesting sources in books on Stanford and other Ivy League universities that look at how these institutions impacted American society,” says Batabyal.”Even though I have interviewed people related to the university, I have tried to give facts precedence over opinion.”

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