The HRD Ministry is set to make another attempt at bringing the students and administration of JNU to the negotiating table to end the standoff that started almost three months ago over a fee hike. The Ministry has, however, ruled out the removal of Vice-Chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar.
Higher Education Secretary Amit Khare said that the Ministry will meet officials and members-elect of the JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU) Friday to clarify issues that have arisen “because the two sides do not have proper communication”.
Asked about demands for the V-C’s removal, Khare said: “The basic issue on which the whole problem has arisen needs to be addressed first. Changing X, Y or Z is not as important as resolving the issues that have come up.”
Khare spoke to reporters Thursday after meeting a delegation of JNUSU and JNU Teachers’ Association for close to two hours. Following the meeting, a group of students expressed dissatisfaction over the outcome and attempted to march towards Rashtrapati Bhavan but were dispersed by police who resorted to a mild lathicharge.
Meanwhile, former HRD Minister and senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi called for the V-C’s sacking. In a tweet, he wrote: “Reports are that the HRD ministry had twice advised the JNU VC to implement certain reasonable and working formula for resolving the issue of enhanced fees in JNU. He was also advised to reach out to the teachers and students. It is shocking that the VC is adamant for not implementing the government proposal. This attitude is deplorable and in my opinion such a VC should not be allowed to continue on this post.”
Joshi is the first BJP leader to have spoken out against the V-C since Sunday’s violence on campus, and his comments come four days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi called on him on his 86th birthday.
The last attempt at arriving at a compromise between the students and the university ended with the transfer of the then higher education secretary R Subrahmanyam.
The Indian Express reported Thursday that within 48 hours of the V-C being given an ultimatum to either accept the compromise formula devised by the Ministry or resign, Subrahmanyam himself was shunted out.
On Thursday’s meeting, Khare said: “They (the students) had a lot of grievances regarding the university. We will again be calling the university administration tomorrow to tell them that they should implement the earlier understanding… Students have been called at 3 pm, and we have told them that we are open for discussion. We are definitely of the view that JNU, as a premier institution, should return to normalcy.”
Asked about the V-C’s reluctance to interact with agitating students, Khare said Kumar has been asked to reach out to all stakeholders. “Any student, whatever his or her affiliation, they are our students,” he said, adding that the Ministry is meeting members-elect of JNUSU even though it hasn’t been recognised by the university administration.
The meeting comes after around 100 masked persons went on a rampage inside the campus for about three hours Sunday, leaving 36 students, teachers and staff injured.
According to the formula proposed by the Ministry last month, the JNU administration would charge only the increased room rent, and the service and utility charges were to be borne by the University Grants Commission (UGC). In exchange, the students would call off their agitation and engage in dialogue with the university administration.
To compensate for the lost academic period, JNU was asked to extend the semester by two weeks. The university was also advised to notify the students’ union and withdraw police complaints against students.
Since Subrahmanyam’s transfer from the Ministry, the JNU administration has rolled back the service and utility charges proposed in the hostel fee. The university issued a formal circular late Thursday night, at the ministry’s behest, to emphasize this. However, the remaining points of the compromise formula have not been implemented.
On Thursday, even before going into the meeting, the JNUSU had made it clear that they would not leave until they all their demands were met, and would instead march to Rashtrapati Bhavan.
JNUSU Vice-President Saket Moon said that both students and teachers had categorically told Khare that a resolution is impossible unless V-C is sacked. “We stated clearly that his removal is non-negotiable, especially in light of the violence that took place on Sunday,” he said.
“Dialogue is not the response to the injuries I have sustained on my head. The response to my injuries has to be the MHRD instructing the V-C’s removal,” said Aishe Ghosh, president-elect of JNUSU president.