The former British Prime Minister and a Noble laureate in literature, Winston S. Churchill, of whom I am not an admirer at all, had once remarked on January 7, 1939 in one of his interviews that “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body; it calls attention to the development of an unhealthy state of things. If it is heeded in time, danger may be averted; if it is suppressed, a fatal distemper may develop.”
The JNU, as an institution, has always claimed itself to be the bastion of free speech, ideas and liberty of thought. It claims to have a history of standing and fighting against those, stifling dissents. It always claims to give an appropriate space to the dissenting opinions and difference of ideas. The most of the students studying here and the professors as well, consider themselves the true warriors of free speech and liberty of expression and thought, in this country. But, is that a reality? Do they indeed stand for what they so passionately claim? Do they really respect dissent or differences in opinions? Let us analyse it in a particular context of Justice Markandey Katju, not being invited to JNU.
This is an old saying that action speaks louder than the words and therefore a complete intriguing silence of this institution over issue of inviting Justice Markandey Katju to speak in its Campus, despite Justice Katju’s express intent to address the JNU students multiple times, has proved that these claims of this institution is just an act of ‘shuck and jive’.
Justice Markandey Katju, the former Supreme Court judge is a leading figure in India. He sometimes makes controversial statement which hurt sentiments of people but he certainly wants the Indian people to live a prosperous life. He wants poverty to be eradicated from the country and he firmly believes that it can only be done with scientific ideas and not with meaningless slogan-shouting. He claims to have a scientific and rational mindset. I have been closely following him on ‘Social Media’ for last few years and many a times, strongly differ with his opinions on a range of issues, but that doesn’t make me intolerant of his views. One might disagree with him but can’t chose to ignore him. He is not a kind of person to be so easily ignored.
Justice Markandey Katju, has several times, termed JNU, as an overrated institution, and the students studying there having no scientific ideas to solve the massive problems of the country like massive poverty, massive unemployment, massive malnutrition, massive lack of healthcare and good education, etc. but at the same time he had severely criticized the arresting of JNU students by the police, in case of anti-India sloganeering in the Campus. He had argued that the interrogation of the students can be done without arresting too, though I do not agree with all his stands and contentions on JNU issue. But, it is extremely saddening to note and purely hypocritical of the JNU’s claims to give space to dissenting voice, that Justice Katju is not being invited to JNU Camus to speak on the issues he wishes to discuss upon.
This may be recalled that immediately after the anti-India slogans shouting in the JNU, it had conducted multiple lecture class on ‘Nationalism’ in which many academicians and the people from the civil society had participated and lectured the JNU students about ‘Nationalism’. If those people can be invited to lecture then why not Justice Markandey Katju? Does he hold any less expertise in his field than any of the people invited to lecture in JNU? Or, is the so-called bastion of free speech scared of what Justice Katju were to speak in the JNU Campus?
Initially, it appears that JNU students wanted to invite Justice Katju since one of the students had contacted him in this regard, which Justice Katju had immediately made public through his Facebook post and also put up a gist of what he was going to speak in JNU, if invited. Justice Katju ordinarily makes public, the contents of this kind of his lectures, in advance. He had done it in U.S.A too, when he was invited by the ‘Institute for South Asia Studies, University of California, Berkeley’ dated 19th March 2015, on ‘Future of India’. Similarly, this is what Justice Katju had written on social media dated 6th May 2016, about what he was going to speak in JNU, if invited:
“A student of JNU telephoned me just now and asked me to address the students of JNU on any day. I said that I can come, but on the condition that the students hear me patiently without interruption for some time, and then they can put any questions. But I will not attend a panel discussion. Also, the JNU students association must pass a resolution inviting me. I do not want any controversy that only one section of students have invited me, while others have not. If invited, I intend to begin my speech by saying that JNU is a highly overrated institution, and I have a poor opinion about it, and students like Kanhaiya etc.
Of course the students of JNU know how to shout ‘halla bol’, ‘azadi’, etc. but there is no deep scientific analysis of the country’s problems and how to solve them. It reminds me of a line in Shakespeare’s Macbeth ‘It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’. Some JNU students are regarded great orators and revolutionaries, but if after hearing them one asks what is the substance of what they have said one finds it was all empty froth. The main problems of the country are socio-economic—-massive poverty, massive unemployment, massive malnutrition, massive lack of healthcare and good education, etc. What is the solution offered to solve these massive problems by Kanhaiya and the other ‘heroes’ of JNU? It is zero. So if invited I will dwell on these issues and present my solutions. Let us see whether invitation comes at all.”
This post might have infuriated the JNU students and they would have decided not to invite Justice Katju after reading this post. It was not a hard assessment for Justice Katju’s brilliant mind to anticipate that invitation may not come and that is why he ends his post with the sentence, ‘Let us see whether invitation comes at all’.
Initially, the JNU students would have thought that since Justice Katju has been critical of the present BJP Government at the Centre, so he shall only fulminate against the BJP Govt. and Modi in his lecture and will not say anything against JNU. But, this expectation of the JNU students proved completely wrong after Justice Katju made public in advance, what he was going to speak in JNU, if invited. The consequence is that has not been invited hitherto.
Justice Katju mentions in one of his recent Facebook posts that he recently met JNUSU president Kanhaiya, in an Iftaar Party, where he asked him that why is he not inviting him to JNU to speak? He asked him whether he is scared to of what he is going to speak in JNU if invited. According to Justice Katju, Kanhaiya replied that he was not invited because there was a vacation in the University, which in the opinion of him, can be an excuse.
This ultimately proves that JNU falsely claims that it fosters freedom of speech and expression and gives space to dissent. The American philosopher Elbert Hubbard had once said, “The final proof of greatness lies in being able to endure criticism without resentment.” If JNU really believes it to be the fort of free speech, then it must invite Justice Katju without any further delay.