Why has the Modi Govt Declared a War Against Central Universities?
BEHIND the smokescreen of the pseudo-nationalist rhetoric of the Sangh Parivar and the Modi government, is a sinister design to malign and change the character of central universities. Starting from IIT Madras, University of Hyderabad, JNU and now AMU, the attack of the right wing forces on institutions of higher learning is spreading like an “infection which is turning into gangrene”. A surgical intervention is needed to restore the credibility and the sanctity of the constitution on the one hand and save higher education from this mindless destructive onslaught on the other hand. The spread of protests against this rightwing onslaught is precisely aimed at building alliances to counter this attack by rightwing and neo-liberal pseudo nationalists.
AGENDA 1: DISINVESTING IN
The intention to run down and destroy the university system is evident from the successive budgets of this NDA government. The public expenditure under university and higher education has remained at about 1.45 percent of the total budget in successive years between 2012-2016. The allocations in NDA budgets for grants to central universities and financial aid to students pursuing higher education are the following:
Budget Estimates (in crores)
Grants in Aid to Central Universities
Financial Aid to Students
Percentage of Higher Education Budget to Total Expenditure
The table above shows that the grants to central university has gone up by 26 percent between 2014-15 and 2016-17, but most of this increase is in the non-planned expenditure which only takes care of the enhanced dearness allowance of the salaried faculty and staff. For all other research and activities, the grant is miniscule that is Rs 1870 crores. Hence 70 percent of the expenditure is on non-plan activities and faculty and students are meant to generate research funds from private agencies. But even here, the government is warning minority dominated institutions like AMU that they will close their campuses outside Aligarh for the lack of funds.
In order to facilitate the interface between universities and private agencies the government has announced the formation of a Higher Education Financing Agency which will draw funds from the open market and corporate players under corporate social responsibility. Though the government explicitly states that the agency will be a not for profit enterprise, the links between the private agencies and research has a potential for promoting the privatisation of common knowledge and doing market oriented applied research. Such a link is likely to have an adverse impact on social sciences and humanities as well as on pure sciences, disciplines that promote research as a social enterprise for the good of society at large. Thus, it is evident that the government is fast pushing the higher education system in the American way where research is closely linked to private interests. But there is one difference, in America public funding for research is of a much higher order than in India. Therefore if this happens the investment of the government in the university system (in terms of non-plan expenditure) is likely to act like a subsidy for research that serves corporate interests. This indeed is the commercialisation of education that goes beyond the opening up of private institutions or the hiking of tuition fees or the withdrawal of student scholarships.
The other thing that is clear through this table is the money for student scholarships has in fact declined over the last one year. This particularly needs to be seen in the light of the Occupy UGC movement which was against stopping Non-NET fellowships to students. Significantly, the JNU Academic Council had also passed a resolution opposing this move. Though the level of student borrowing in India is relatively low, it has been increasing at an alarming rate in the last decade. In a recent study on India, P Geetha Rani shows that the number of accounts of educational loan is 2.3 million in 2011-2012, which increased from a mere 0.11 million in 2000-2001. The proportion of students enrolled in higher education, who are sanctioned education loans constitute about 1.3 percent of total number students enrolled in 2000-2001 and increased to around 9 percent by the beginning of 2011-2012. Further, the average annual growth rate of loans was 33.5 percent between 2000 and 2012, whereas enrolment in higher education only grew by 11 percent in the same period (P Geetha Rani, ‘Education Loans and Financing Higher Education in India’s Higher Education for the Future, Vol 1 (2), 2014, pp.183-210). These figures raise a warning bell as they show that shrinking public financing of education will open up credit markets that will increase the indebtedness of households, particularly from lower middle class and deprived households. The Agency being set up by the government is meant to address this by entrapping students from deprived backgrounds into loans and debts that they will spend their whole life repaying. This move is obviously being opposed and the assault on the university system and public financing of education has to be seen in this context.
AGENDA 2: FABRICATE & POLARISE
The second obvious agenda of the Modi government is to polarise the debate on communal lines by fabricating evidence against opponents so that they kill the opposition against their communal neo-liberal agenda. This is crucially important for the Sangh Parivar before the impending elections. One example of this is Venkaiah Naidu’s article “The Congress-Left Bulldozer” (Indian Express, March 7, 2016) which not only economises on the truth but also spreads a “conspiracy theory” for which the pseudo-nationalist Hindutva brigade has become infamous since it came into power in May 2013. At the outset, Naidu writes that the support being accorded to the students in protesting universities is “crass political opportunism” and that “gullible university students are being targeted by forces inimical to the country”. This charge is a familiar one from rightwing ruling parties which usually blame the opposition for all their troubles when they have no answers to the questions against them.
It should be noted that both the incident at University of Hyderabad (which resulted in the suicide of Rohith Vemula) and the February 9, 2016 incident in JNU were instigated and carried to their logical conclusion by the ABVP. Incidentally the ABVP appears to have taken the moral responsibility to report all the “anti-national” elements who oppose Golwalkar’s conception of nationhood. In both cases, the government, the university administration and the ABVP consulted with each other to create an impossible situation which led to protests by teachers and the students. This has been proved by the doctored video evidence and the invitation to the selected ‘sympathetic’ TV channels and the police by the ABVP on February 9. As the faculty of University of Hyderabad argued, Smriti Irani has ignored the medical documents and preliminary evidence on the Rohith’s case in order to fabricate facts in her speech in parliament. If she had spoken the truth she would have been morally bound to resign as the minister MHRD and take responsibility for the institutional killing of Rohith Vemula.
In his article, Naidu once again says that a handful of activists with “ultra leftists and Maoists” backgrounds are fueling unrests in selected universities. This is a patently untrue observation as the unions of the protesting campuses are largely dominated by students and teachers who believe in the constitution and its conception of a democratic nation. The fact that the burning of a fictitious Lord Rama’s effigy in JNU is considered a ‘mischievous’ act shows that Naidu himself espouses an upper caste Hindu conception of nationalism which contradicts a culturally pluralistic conception of a nation as advocated in the constitution. The article also characterises the observance of the ‘martyrdom days’ for Mahishasura and Afzal Guru ‘mischievous’. This formulation is not only problematic but also shows the ignorance of the minister. Mr Naidu, please answer: Is being ‘mischievous’ the same as being ‘anti-national’ and ‘seditious? Further can a dalit mythological figure like Mahishasura be equated with Afzal Guru in any logical way? Such a characterisation only shows the anti-dalit bias of the minister and his party. Further, Smriti Irani’s use of the derogatory reference to Durga in her speech was ostensibly from a pamphlet of the JNU ABVP which misrepresented the position of the All India Backward Students Forum (AIBF). Hence the mischief was created not by the AIBF but by the ABVP, who is apparently accountable to no authority because of the protection it receives from the central government.
The use of influence over university administrations to take unjustified actions and dilute the autonomy of the university is seen in all universities facing unrest, the latest one being the case against Richa Singh in Allahabad University. At the same time, the open invitation for ABVP and Bajrang Dal cadres (even ministers are inciting violence) to attack opponents, not only ideologically, but also physically is meant to scare those who do not agree and mobilise extreme right wing Hindu pseudo nationalists into action. Any opposition to such an agenda is now being viewed as ‘anti-national’ with the active cooperation of a section of the corporate media. But this smokescreen has been lifted through the sustained and united opposition of all democratic forces, particularly the united opposition of teachers and students in central universities. It is of crucial importance that this unity is maintained and the struggles further intensified in defence of both the liberal and democratic idea of the nation and the constitution.