May 20, 2012

Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India

 This post is a personal opinion piece. To know about JNU, please visit

In the four decades since its inception, JNU has made a mark for itself as being the nursery of politics in India. The campus ‘life’ here booms only under that political mushroom, with not much else going for it in terms of the cultural experience. The two best features of JNU are:

a)      Members of faculty across various departments (or ‘Schools’ and ‘Centres’ in JNU parlance). The top rung everywhere is composed of celebrity academicians of their respective fields.
b)     This is a woman-friendly campus. To be able to provide such safe precincts bang in the middle of the rowdy and patriarchal terrain of north India is no mean feat!

Beyond that, there aren’t too many paeans to sing. Being one of the biggest campuses in India (almost 900 acres), it is neither well-curated (like the Benaras Hindu University) nor well-connected (like IIT-Bombay). There is no university bus service for the residents and the condition of public transport is utterly dismal. There is also no Wi-Fi connectivity in the hostels. No need to elucidate on how much discomfort it causes to students!

This campus scores really low on the cultural activity scale. The reason for it brings us to what the campus is most famous for – students’ political activity! This sole factor has a pervasive effect on each and every thing that anyone would want to do here. New students can’t even get the admission done without affiliates of various student parties swooping down on them for providing unsolicited ‘assistance’. Further on, whatever little theatre performances happen are mostly on political issues and films screened are on those themes too. Performing arts’ concerts are barely held, which is a real shame, considering the ample space on campus.

Political hyper-activity here plays out in the form of protest rallies, wall art via huge posters, demonstrations, ‘public meetings’ and, as en vogue, hunger strikes! The issues at hand are almost always those not concerning the students actually studying on campus at that point in time. They ‘fight’ for quotas and accuse the administration of being ‘casteist’, blithely forgetting that most of the students wouldn’t be here if the administration didn’t recognize their quotas. Most protest activities are also publicity stunts with media personnel being especially invited to cover them.

This campus thrives on labels. That, I argue, is their favourite pastime! JNU has made a name for itself as being a ‘Leftist/ Communist’ campus. I still don’t know the difference between them. Though, it is these only on the surface level. Scratch this surface and one will know that these labels (including others like Marxist, Statist, Anarchist) can be afforded to criticize every single thing under the sun, because, well, it’s dirt cheap here! This is possibly one of the most inexpensive campuses in the country, despite all the hue and cry about inflation and price rise in the economy! The reason so much of 'protest' can actually take place on the campus is because they do not have to pay through their nose for everyday survival.

Capitalism may well be ridiculed, but if these so-called politically conscious ‘students’ were to walk merely 1 km. out of the campus, the sting will be out of their agenda! All that money saved from negligible expenses on the campus is spent generously on cigarettes, alcohol and other substances, none of which are officially retailed on the campus. The prices of these products are often hiked for the luxury of being made available within the gates of JNU.

It’s an open secret that the political groupings serve as a ready dating pool for its members. Any change in affiliation to one group leads to instant loss of that network and alienation from those who were your ‘friends’! Dissent in opinion within a group is not very welcome and peer pressure is liberally used to manufacture consent, toeing the respective political line of belief.

JNU is also famous for being the best place to prepare for and crack the UPSC exams in India. Imagine that classic contrast where the people who viciously criticize the state hanker to get employed by the same state! Cases abound of professed ‘Communists' happily leaving behind their affiliations after getting selected through a highly competitive procedure for the administrative services. Clearly then, this is a phony bunch of opportunists who use the space for sharpening their event management skills and avail the university’s ample resources to eventually get a prestigious government job.

In conclusion, JNU is an example of a gated community swarmed by idealists who can afford to champion their cause only within the boundaries of this campus. Temporary occupants here go out of sync with the ways of the world, ignoring the reality of capitalism and market economy. Blessed are those souls who manage to spend most of their lives on this campus, funded by the state, which shelters them from the real struggles outside their gates.


  1. JNU is the cauldron of Vibrating past radical present and promising future. Every campus contain some hypocritic, opportunistic individual...
    but our Country doesn't expect this from JNU.

    you have expressed these facts directly and intellectly. (it is an Eye-opening post)
    Superb(beautiful) work......

  2. wow!! that really opened the gates of JNU for the readers. very well expressed!

  3. Really happy to know about JNU will drop in soon :)

    1. Thank you, Marina. there is always more to know about anything!

  4. As an ex-student of JNU I disagree with a lot of things mentioned here. Firstly, considering how long the admission process is and how vast the campus is, all the freshers were extremely happy regarding the help from seniors. Secondly, it HAS a vibrant cultural scene. Movies and cricket matches get screened, there are usually concerts and there are always hostel nights. The campus has wi-fi connectivity now. Its laugh-worthy that political discussions that go beyond immediate everyday woes are dismissed and not even entirely true. The cheap prices the blogger is talking about is mostly as a result of student politics but one does not expect a disconnected individual with a laptop to know about this. Mostly, the tired accusation of jnu being a bastion of left politics is laugh-worthy and cliched. ABVP came a close second in the recently held elections but facts appear to be a minor trifle in this article. To paraphrase the blogger, blessed are those that can nonchalantly brush off all attempts at ideals and embrace their reality as limited to market economy or the supposed ways of the world. Ah well, it was a prettily written blog nevertheless.

    1. Thank you, Jasmine for dropping by and airing your comment.

      the HOSTELS still do NOT have wi-fi...nowhere have i denied the absence of wi-fi in most centres and library in the post.

      how 'vibrant' is the cultural screen on campus is a relative opinion. one is bound to differ from another. i have also NOT denied the screening of films at JNU.

      yes, student politics and pressure has resulted in cheap prices. that's possible on the campus simply because of state funding to the institution. if those running the eateries were out to make a decent profit, full meals wouldn't cost less than rs. 20 at some places (like the SOL and SSS-2 canteens).

      thanks for labeling the blogger as 'disconnected'. now, that's a new one!

      you are free to laugh at all the cliches. it doesn't mean they are not true or do not exist! and yes, the cliches do evoke laughter mixed pity.

      ABVP came 'close' to second. it did not alter the political or ANY other scenario in JNU even a bit. facts do not imply tangible impact.

      being pretty isn't any less a virtue than being idealistic.

  5. I didn't read the wi-fi bit carefully and for that I admit my mistake.

    And when I said movies get screened, I meant even mainstream, commercial films and not just ones with a "theme".

    No one has denied state funding in JNU but part of the reason why JNU gets it is because of the pressure put by the student unions. Just today there was a rally held regarding distribution of viva marks, hostel issues, etc. I bring this up because you said the issues don't concern the students whereas I am yet to see any other campus where the politics are so student-centric.

    I am an ex-JNU student that just cleared the civil services and I get a lot of flak from people because I too criticized the state a lot when I was a student. And it was because I knew they could do so much more. Being critical of the state is not a rejection of it. If an organization has internal critics then wouldn't it imply internal checks which would be a win-win situation. Also, shouldn't people be glad that more civil servants are vocal about what the govt is doing wrong instead of being mere yes-men?

    And if people are "leftist/communist" in JNU then what is so bad about it? I don't see how being communist can in itself be a criticism.

  6. Firstly, its possible I am commenting a second time because my screen froze.

    Regarding wi-fi, I didn't read the sentence properly so I admit my mistake.

    I mention the movie screening because I meant that even mainstream/commercial movies get screened and not just ones with a theme.

    Now, noone is denying state funding. But why the state chose to fund JNU is because of the pressure the student unions put. Moreover, you say student politics is disconnected from the students but just today aisa held a rally regarding viva marks, hostel issues,etc. Infact, I am yet to come across a more campus-centric form of student politics.

    I laugh at the cliches with exasperation. Why is it such a problem if a campus has leftist leanings? Why is being a communist a criticism in itself?

    And if the problem is regarding people joining the government then are you saying someone that votes communist should not join the govt as a bureaucrat.

    Being critical of the govt is not a rejection of it. Infact, it is recognizing that it can do so much more. Shouldnt people be glad that it is not only yes-men that join the govt? Wouldnt this ensure more internal checks and less of a mindless reliance on precedence?

    1. hey Jasmine, i hope both the above comments are from you, because the id.s are different.

      Congrats on clearing the civil services! the joy of that negates the naysayers, doesn't it?:)! all that flak coming ur way is only temporary. :P

      i do not believe that leaning towards the Left is a problem (if there is a Right, there has to be a Left). in fact, it's also somewhat necessary here because it isn't like this anywhere else (hazarding a guess, i suppose state govt.s with Leftist rule probably have university/ colleges that are coloured Red).

      so, on one level, it's nice that the govt. does support these voices and actually lets them thrive on a well-respected campus in it's capital city.

      my grouse is with the phony-ness of it in JNU. i see the lifestyle most of these guys lead and then ALSO proudly proclaim themselves as 'Communists'. that. for me, is a mismatch and disconnect. i do also know of people who actually practice what they preach, but these are very few and far in between.

      while it is commendable that student politics and pressure has kept the prices low in JNU (and Nescafe out of here!), i'm dismayed by it's lack of impact on events and decisions outside the campus. i wish there was more correlation over there.

      i'm not at all implying that 'someone who votes communist should not join the govt as a bureaucrat.' i'm only hoping for some hardcore, palpable impact of subscribing to an ideology. if their job stops at voting for the communist, too sad!

      AISA and others keep holding all these rallies (it's their job!). these, i consider, as exercises in publicity and honing of event management skills. they only rarely succeed in having their demands getting that last JNUSU election conducted due to the hunger strike preceding it.

      problems like lack of hostel rooms is not seriously attacked and solved. last year, the new hostel built (now called Shipra)had begun, on paper, as a co-ed hostel. no one does anything concrete about the fact that SO many boys are languishing without a hostel room of their own.

      my daggers are not out exclusively against the facade of political activeness of students. the admin. spends crores on building a fancy Convention Centre which is used less than 5 times a year. that lack of adequate living space on SUCH a huge campus is done nothing about.

      students' can be proud of having achieved low prices for food and an brand new JNUSU...and it stops at that.

      yes, a small set of films screened are not political in nature but that no. is dismal compared to what i have previously experienced at other prestigious campuses in this country. alas, one is always left wanting for more.

      thanks a lot for dropping by and sharing your views. :)

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