Dr Rakesh Bhatnagar, biotechnology professor formerly with JNU, took charge as Banaras Hindu University vice chancellor on March 28, six months after his predecessor G C Tripathi was sent on leave in the wake of student protests followed by a police backlash. Dr Bhatnagar gave this interview two days after taking charge. Excerpts:
What are your plans for the university?
BHU is a great university… it has great potential. My priorities will be to promote academic excellence by bringing the best academicians to BHU, nurture them so they stay, research and inspire future generations… I would also like to promote innovations. Either you innovate or you pay for the innovations. Being such a huge country, it is not possible for us to buy innovation. So the easiest way is to become innovators. Our courses should be such that our students are industry-ready, by involving people from the industries to tell us what skills they are looking for.
You said recently you will root politics and jaativaad out of the campus. A court case is pending over vacant faculty posts reserved for SC/ST. Do you think this is because of caste issues in hiring?
I don’t believe in casteism. Once we come into academics, caste becomes irrelevant.I would go for merit… We have to follow the law of the land, mandated by the Constitution. We have a very low rate of vacancy — 20 per cent. It is not such a serious problem. But we will make our best effort to fill these.
You said you would also address alleged corruption in appointments.
I was brought up in JNU culture and I have not learnt anything about corruption. And I do not think that during my tenure I will encourage any such system. The system is well in place, there is a screening process, and we will find the best people through them.
Is law and order an issue? Last year, there were protests after a student was allegedly molested on campus.
As much as I have learnt in the last 48 hours, systems are in place. We will take each complaint seriously. But at the same time, teasing and these things, I believe students and faculty and staff should be sensitised to respect the opposite gender. They should have a feeling of gender equality. All these should be inculcated through seminars and workshops, like respect which is part of our sanskar which we get from our upbringing. and it should be mutual, the respect for each other.
Will you address gender discrimination like women’s hostels not serving non-vegetarian food when men’s hostels do, and different curfew timings for women and men students?
This is the first time this has been told to me, I will certainly look into it. There should not be any discrimination unless there is a valid reason. The majority being vegetarian could be a possible reason. I will look into the merits of the case and sort it out. About curfew timings, to be frank, I have not spoken to wardens, so I will take time to understand the reasons. I would like to know why timings are different and if these are genuine reasons, by all means they should stay; if they are not genuine enough, then it is a different issue. Girls’ safety is most important and I would not like to risk their safety.
Do you or do you not wish to bring back student union elections, which were suspended a few years ago?
I believe I will honestly try to solve students’ problems. But if unions were the answer, those universities with unions like JNU would not have any problems. So unions are not the answer. It all depends on how seriously you would like to solve problems of the students, genuine problems.
Exam papers have included questions on PM Narendra Modi’s schemes and the Padmaavat row; a student performed a mono act on Nathuram Godse in BHU recently. Is the rift between left and right widening on campus?
This is common sense that we cannot set questions out of syllabus. This is not a question of left or right ideologies. I would like to convince them that they have come here to study and they should make their future rather than get into left or right.
You recently said rashtravaad or nationalism is deeply ingrained in you.
That is our culture, that goes without saying… I don’t think any student is an anti-national. They love their country, their parents, the Indian air and the smell of the earth. There are exceptions who have strong views on either side. But we should not be worried about exceptions… Nationalism does not need to be enforced, it comes automatically.