At the peak of the Stand with JNU movement in February this year when Kanhaiya Kumar, Anirban Bhattacharya and Umar Khalid were arrested for sedition, the JNU Teachers’ Association (JNUTA) had begun nationalism lectures in order to counter the ‘anti-national’ tag given to the university and its students, and to make a point that there were various definitions of nationalism.
These lectures have now been carefully compiled and edited as a book called ‘What the Nation Really Needs to Know: The JNU Nationalism Lectures’ – named after the lecture series, published by Harper Collins and will be available in book stores from January 4 onwards. The 368 page book, which is already available for pre-ordering at Amazon, is priced at Rs 299 and consists of lectures by 24 academicians and intellectuals who delivered lectures at the Administrative Block – now popularly called Freedom Square.
It has been edited by four teachers – Janaki Nair, Rohit Azad, Mohinder Singh and Mallarika Sinha Roy on behalf of JNUTA, and consists of articles by renowned academicians including Historians Romila Thapar and Harbans Mukhia, Economists Prabhat Patnaik and Jayati Ghosh, Sociologists Satish Deshpande and Badri Narayan and Lawyer Lawrence Liang, among others.
While the book largely reproduces the lectures by academicians, there are some additions including an introduction by Professor Janaki Nair, references of other texts on the topics covered, as well as photographs taken during the movement at JNU. Lectures delivered in Hindi have been retained in the Devanagari script in the book.
“The book has formally been published in December and the books will start going out into the stores in early January. We’ll even have an event at JNU sometime to release the book. All the authors are stalwarts in their field, and they’ve got varied opinions – not all of them are Left-liberal people. Although everything was available on social media, bringing it all together in a physical document gives it a life of its own,” Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri, Executive Editor of Harper Collins told the Indian Express.
Professor Nair said “six-seven publishers were interested in the lectures as soon as the series began” and the JNUTA agreed to have it published to “reach a different kind of audience”. She said that it wasn’t just a book, but also a “very important archival document of a very important historical moment in the life of a public university”.
“At the current moment, we are being force-fed one idea of nationalism and I think that those of us who know the more complex histories and trajectories even within India, should speak about these complex histories and not allow ourselves to be usurped by the more singular and even somewhat a false idea of what nationalism is,” she said.
Speaking on why Harper Collins was interested in publishing the lectures, Chaudhuri said, “It’s been a defining moment of what happened in JNU over the last year and a half, and how the internal matter of a university, and the aspect of freedom of speech and expression were taken out of context, and sought to be given a spin by certain people. We cannot have nationalism dictated by somebody. These are aspects which we need to debate, discuss and take a call on .”