Jawaharlal Nehru University: A Battleground for Ideology and Identity

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Jawaharlal Nehru University: A Battleground for Ideology and Identity

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Dhananjay, the newly elected president of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Student Union, boldly declares, “JNU jhukeganahi (saala),”with a mischievous grin. This statement comes in the wake of a new film, JNU: Jahangir National University, whose teaser suggests the campus is a hub for conspiracies that threaten the nation’s unity. As the film’s tagline “Behind closed walls of education brews a conspiracy to break the nation” makes waves, JNU finds itself once again in the spotlight, a familiar place since its 2016 branding as a centre of “anti-national” activities.

The campus’s long-standing reputation for political activism and radical discourse has always invited scrutiny. The film, featuring actor-singer-lyricist Piyush Mishra, takes a hard stance against “intellectualism” and leans into a narrative that sees the university as a breeding ground for dissent. Mishra’s performance, including a parody of Habib Jalib’s iconic anti-establishment verse Main nahi manta, has drawn both outrage and support, highlighting the polarized perceptions surrounding JNU.

Despite the negative portrayal in the film and certain media outlets, JNU remains a vibrant academic community. It has consistently ranked among the top universities in India, offering affordable education and attracting students from diverse backgrounds. This diversity has contributed to a dynamic campus environment where political and ideological debates are encouraged.

Yet, the university faces significant challenges. Administrative interference, a lack of modern infrastructure, and a narrative that undermines public-funded education pose threats to JNU’s legacy. The film’s depiction not only targets student politics but also questions the existence of public-funded institutions that promote critical thought and debate.

Dhananjay, the first Dalit president of the JNU Student Union in over two decades, suggests that the government’s targeting of JNU stems from its role in leading protests and criticizing anti-people policies. Despite the constant scrutiny, JNU remains a unique space for intellectual exchange, with its eclectic mix of students and courses fostering a sense of community and resilience.

As the film’s release coincides with a critical election season, the question remains: Can JNU justify its existence to a public increasingly influenced by social media and sensationalist narratives? The campus’s ability to maintain its revolutionary spirit while adapting to changing times will be crucial in determining its place in India’s academic and political landscape.