Times of India Editorial
January 7, 2020
Deepika Padukone at the JNU campus in Delhi on Tuesday
Masked goons wrought violence at Jawaharlal Nehru University on Sunday night. The visuals of terrified students leaving their campus, thugs bearing rods and lathis on the rampage, power lines snapped, with policemen watching as mute spectators seemed surreal. But it was all too real. This is one of India’s best known universities, which has allowed a tense standoff between university administration and a Left-backed students union to linger too long. For a start, the Union HRD ministry needs to put its crown jewels in better hands. The university peremptorily blaming the violence on a select group of students who have been challenging its polices, cannot distract from vice-chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar’s incompetence.
As students from Puducherry to Oxford protest in solidarity with JNU students, the university administration and Delhi police have much to answer. Why did the administrators not push for proper police action the very moment masked intruders with weapons were seen on campus? The office of Delhi’s deputy commissioner of police (south-west district) is right across the JNU campus and yet the sizeable contingent of police personnel or their supervisors didn’t intervene in time. If police waited for further word from the administration to enter, even as masked goons were attacking students, such misplaced sensitivities would be sweet music for vigilantes.
The cruel irony that no ‘permission’ was needed to enter Jamia Millia Islamia or wield disproportionate force on unarmed students there, is too recent to be forgotten. No less grievous was the police failure to maintain law and order outside JNU gates on Sunday night. With medical personnel also attacked while police idled, Indian Medical Association has decried the shocking state of law and order in Delhi. Cabinet ministers and JNU alumni Nirmala Sitharaman and S Jaishankar too have condemned the violence.
Yet the closing of ranks will help only when concrete action materialises and police unmasks the perpetrators. So far the policing failures reflect poorly on Union home ministry, which oversees policing in the capital. The opportunity to stop the mob in their tracks was squandered on Sunday night. Now clues like phone numbers in right-wing WhatsApp groups allegedly created to foment violence and cellphone footage must be probed punctiliously. Meanwhile the masked stormtroopers at JNU have cast further international ignominy on an India reeling from nationwide anti-CAA-NRC protests. Beyond this, fear shouldn’t enter universities as it has in Jamia, AMU, JNU in recent weeks; they are India’s best hope for braving 21st century’s bewildering developmental, technological and environmental challenges.
(This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India)
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