As Prime Minister Narendra Modi virtually unveils a life-sized statue of Swami Vivekananda at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus Thursday evening, we tell you when and why the statue was approved, the controversy surrounding it, and why students of the university are protesting.
The statue’s approval
It was on June 30, 2017 that JNU’s Executive Council (EC) first gave approval for the statue. The administration said it was installing the statue to give the campus a more “pleasing look” as Vivekananda had contributed to “nation building”.
It was decided to erect a statue with “proper elevated platform, stone pathways, benches, lights and interconnected works including public utilities”. Rector III Rana Pratap Singh had told The Indian Express the suggestion for the statue had come from the engineering department of JNU.
The statue could be seen as one among a slew of steps either taken or suggested by the administration to instill nationalist fervour in students. Soon after the February 2016 incident of alleged anti-national slogans being raised at the campus, the JNU Vice-Chancellor had recommended installing a military tank on the campus. A road in JNU has also been named after Hindutva ideologue V D Savarkar, and the central library, too, has been renamed after B R Ambedkar.
Admin silent on funding
Once the news was put out in the public domain, all through the remaining part of 2017 and the entire 2018, the administration remained mum on who was funding the statue and how much it would cost. More details on the height of the statue or where exactly it would be constructed was also not revealed.
Then JNU Students’ Union president N Sai Balaji filed several RTIs to know about the funding. In January 2018, he filed an RTI seeking the total cost of construction of the statue as well as the source of its funding, but the university furnished evasive replies such as “no JNU funds are being used”.
In response to another RTI application by Balaji, JNU’s Deputy Registrar (Finance) in May 2018 said that “no request regarding construction of Vivekananda statue at Ad Block was received from the engineering department”.
“It is ironical, as any construction in JNU that takes place is done by the engineering department,” the JNUSU had then said.
Some time in November-December 2018, the construction of the statue began at the administrative block. On December 3, 2018, JNU Registrar Pramod Kumar, in a statement, said “one of its (JNU) alumni” was “voluntarily managing all the expenses involved in making and installation of the statue”. However, no details of the alumnus/alumna have been provided till date.📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram
An open letter to the Prime Minister from JNUSU on behalf of the JNU Community pic.twitter.com/BOCDqZ4jyt
— JNUSU (@JNUSUofficial) November 12, 2020
In November 2019, the JNU administration filed a police complaint saying the statue, which was covered by a saffron veil, had allegedly been defaced and messages were written “particularly directed towards a political party and a group of people donning saffron coloured clothes”.
The administration linked the “vandalism” with protests against hostel fee hike led by the JNUSU, saying they had taken an “aggressive form where students having no regard or respect for JNU are indulging in illegal and immoral acts”. The JNUSU vehemently denied the charge.
Inauguration by Modi and protests
JNU chose to invite Modi to unveil the statue of “one of the most beloved intellectuals and spiritual leaders” was taken as he “often invokes” Vivekananda’s “life and mission” in his speeches, and “reminds the youth of the country to follow his ideals”, according to the JNU administration. However, the invitation to Modi, even virtual, has miffed the JNUSU which is all set to protest on campus. They believe the Modi government “openly supported” violence on campuses and is attacking universities with the National Education Policy which will result in fund cuts and privatisation of education.
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