It is an old joke, but communicates a message. Once a Seth was being driven in his Rolls Royce and the driver stopped at a petrol pump to refuel. The Seth asked the driver if the car had run out of petrol.
“The car ran out of petrol some miles away,” the driver answered.
“Then how did we get here,” asked the surprised Seth. “The last few miles we ran on the Rolls’ reputation,” was the answer.
Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University has been running purely on its reputation for a very long time now. Sunday’s violence is not an isolated incident – the only time the institution is in the news nowadays is for the wrong reasons. It is no use to dredge up individuals of eminence who might have passed out from the varsity thirty or forty years ago, the present day product has contributed little to academics, or public service. It is known for the extreme nature of its leftist politics and, extraordinarily, the students believe the university will run according to their diktats. They will decide what the Vice Chancellor and the administration does, what is taught, how the teachers will behave, what will happen on campus, what the fees will be, etc. All because they owe allegiance to a political ideology they claim is singularly wonderful and superior to every other.
The ridiculously low fees have meant the emergence over many decades the phenomenon of the professional student – persons bordering on middle-age who live cheaply on the campus, hopping from course to course, enjoying the joys of irresponsibility at the taxpayers’ expense. And, of course, such precious perks are worth fighting for in a united manner, even if it means discrediting every other institution. In Sunday’s incident, while there are claims and counter-claims on who indulged in violence, nobody at all is questioning the criminal acts indulged in by the Left over months to scuttle the admission process, including damaging the varsity’s WiFi equipment to prevent online registration.
Everybody has a right to basic education, but higher education is a privilege that comes at a price. If it is subsidised or obtained through scholarships, it comes with conditions, primarily adherence to the rules, discipline and consistent performance. This has to be judged by the objective standards applied by those paying for the privilege, not those receiving the benefits. Political parties seeking to take advantage of the present turmoil should not damage the future of the genuinely talented students. Universities like this need a thorough clean-up, even if it means closing them down for a couple of years.