June 27, 2020
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Code Orange U-Special

Delhi University has of late seen a sustained charge by the RSS brigade. What of the future?

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Code Orange U-Special
Jitender Gupta
Code Orange U-Special

What’s wrong with Delhi University reprinting an old Hindi book on the 16th century saint-scholar and reformer Sankar Dev from Assam? Nothing really, if it is deemed in isolation. But once one takes into account the record of Delhi University’s publication wing in reprinting old manuscripts, eyebrows were bound to rise. This was the first time, claim old-timers, that the Hindi directorate had reprinted a book not published by itself. The decision to print or reprint books generally follows a procedure, is referred to an expert committee and takes over a year or more before the final publication. But in this case, nobody knows who was consulted and how the selection was made. Nor was it clear what the urgency was.

The DU went a step forward by holding an impressive function last month to launch the book—again an apparent first. The invitation to RSS ideologue Krishna Gopal to speak on the occasion—though the invitation card carried only the name of journalist-editor Ram Bahadur Rai, a former socialist who has drifted to the RSS—intrigued many till Sangh sources explained that he had been deputed by the organisation to look after university affairs.

The function was not conducted by anyone from the directorate which had printed the book. The honour was given to a teacher appointed barely a month ago. And he kept referring to Krishna Gopal as “Dada”, either to impress the audience about his closeness with the chief guest or to indicate that it was a function less of the Delhi University and more of the Sangh. For good measure, as many as five BJP MPs from the Northeast were in attendance and also present was the MoS for youth affairs and sports, Sarbananda Sonowal, who belongs to Assam. If invitations were sent to other MPs from the Northeast, it remained a closely guarded secret.

Little or no time was given to Sankar Dev’s Bhakti works; much was made of his use of the word ‘Bharat’.

The high-profile function was atte­nded by a large number of top functionaries of the university, inc­luding vice-chancellor Dinesh Singh, pro-vice-chancellor Sudhish Pachauri and director of the South campus, Umesh Rai. So could all this have had anything to do with the assembly elections in Assam, due in 2016? Of course not, say outraged officials, indignant that such a suggestion was even made. But there are those who are convinced that Delhi Uni­v­­ersity and its resources are being used for political and ideological purpose. If more evidence was needed, say critics, one could refer to the speeches made on the occasion when little or no mention was made to Sankar Dev’s works in the Bhakti tradition while much was made of his use of the word ‘Bharat’.

Critics say the technique is to advance a fishy political agenda behind a goody-goody facade. For instance, as part of the DU’s programme to facilitate a better understanding of the country through travel, students were taken to North­eastern states last year. Aptly christened ‘Gyanoday Express’, prima facie there was nothing suspicious about the trip except that once again the unofficial ‘Dada’ Krishna Gopal was at hand to enlighten the students at an orientation session (attended by the V-C as well).

At the session, Gopal dwelt at length on the importance of the Northeast to India and the influence of Hinduism in the region. It’s not known if the composition of the student group included people from diverse backgrounds and religious groups.

Several members of the academic council complain that V-C Dinesh Singh has violated statutory provisions while allowing appointment of teachers. “Sub-standard candidates with bare minimum marks of 55 per cent and little or no teaching experience have been appointed due to caste, regional and political factors,” asserts council member Rudrashish Chakraborty. He also confirmed that in many cases candidates who have not qualified through net have been forcibly thrust upon colleges in violation of an SC judgement that debars such sel­e­ctions. Abha Dev Habib, teachers’ representative in the executive council, says she regrets that despite having drawn the attention of the Visitor (the President of India) and the department of human resources development, no action has been taken against the V-C.

“The V-C is a feudal and an opportunist. He earlier tweaked rules according to the wishes of his new political masters.” Nandita Narain, DUTA president   “There’s been no fresh notification from the UGC on appointments. All appointments were made as per guidelines.” Umesh Rai, South campus director

“DU has 4,000 vacant posts. The impression is that extra-academic factors have influenced many appointments.” Abha Dev Habib, Executive council   “It isn’t illegal to hold RSS shakhas inside the campus; they are meant for nation-building, it’s not unconstitutional or against institutions.” Rakesh Sinha, Director, India Foundation

It’s not as if the inroads into DU are being made now. Umesh Rai, known to be close to Krishna Gopal, was appointed director way back in 2010. With a Modi wave blowing across the country in 2013, DU officials abandoned all discretion and began wooing the RSS openly. Soon, RSS leaders like Suresh Soni, Ram Madhav, Indresh Kumar and Gopal and became regular invitees to the campus. 

The recently concluded Delhi Univ­ersity Teachers’ Association elections witnessed the vigorous participation of the National Democratic Teachers’ Front, the teachers’ body backed by the BJP. (The Left candidate, Nandita Narain, just about managed to hold her own and got narrowly re-elected as president but the NDTF had made its presence felt.)

Photograph by Tribhuvan Tiwari

A senior professor says such open display and advancement of one’s political leanings has not been witne­ssed before on campus. “Earlier, we were aware who subscribed to which ideology but now teachers don’t mind flaunting their RSS affiliations,” he says.

Easter celebrations were disallowed citing SRCC’s ‘secular’ nature.... Then came the ‘Mata ki chauki’ invite.

RSS shakhas are also now a regular feature on the DU campus. Every morning, about 10-25 college students in khaki shorts can be seen going about their drills at Buddha Vatika, across the V-C’s office in the university’s North campus. With the trademark ‘bhagwa dhwaj’ fluttering on one side, students also play kabaddi while shouting “Bha­rat mata ki jai” every now and then.

Sri Ram College of Commerce, which had been one of the first to invite the then chief minister of Gujarat, Naren­dra Modi, to address students, is among the favourite haunts of BJP leaders. In February, Smriti Irani, as HRD minister, visited the college to ‘interact’ with students. Significantly, in srcc college authorities denied permission for Eas­ter celebrations on its lawns in April on the ground that it is a ‘secular’ college. But a ‘Mata ki chauki’ was allowed on the college premises on July 4. The invitation went out from the officiating principal to all faculty members.

And now students are under pressure to invite Union home minister Rajnath Singh. On August 17, veteran BJP leader L.K. Advani visited Hansraj College. Such visits by political leaders and min­isters were virtually unknown in Delhi University but the winds of cha­nge are blowing for all to see. 

Disillusioned by the steady saffronisation and the perceived ‘fall in academic standards’, there’s also been an erosion of teacher talent from the university. Some have taken up jobs elsewhere while others have gone on fellowship. Some have moved to the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library while others have opted to join private universities, not necessarily for higher salaries.

“The disillusionment is due to the tweaking of rules for the convenience of certain sections, appointments on the basis of social contacts and caste rather than merit, and the slow and steady saffronisation of the teaching staff by filling up posts with RSS/BJP supporters,” claims a head of department. Petitions have been filed in the Delhi High Court challenging DU’s all­e­ged manipulation of the SC/ST/OBC ros­ter in violation of constitutional pro­­visions. The next date of hearing on this only comes in December this year.

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