In JNU, many a times, an Ambedkarite cannot make out any difference between the Left, Right and Centre, which means one observes striking similarities among them. Because of the so-called Modi “wave”, the ABVP in JNU is trying to play politics by renaming the library, convention centre and stadium grounds after B. R. Ambedkar, APJ Abdul Kalam, and Birsa Munda respectively. In other words, ABVP is trying to fool and loot the Dalit, Adivasi and Muslim minority, in order to use them for larger electoral gains.
In this context, a simple question can be asked: where do B. R. Ambedkar, Birsa Munda and Abdul Kalam exist in the vocabulary of BJP/ABVP? Did they propagate Hinduism? Did they indulge in Hindutva politics? Did they believe in communalism? Did they practice caste discrimination and displacement? None of that suits these figures. Instead of organizing distinguished talks and seminars, discussing their contribution to Indian society and including them in the main syllabi, the BJP’s politics of renaming is just another way to appropriate them. I think renaming has nothing to do with the academic discourse on the campus. A university’s objective is to have academic and political discourses on the campus, for the benefit of students. Further, the Ambedkar chair is dysfunctional because of lack of funds; the Centres for Social Exclusion and Discrimination Studies suffer from lack of funds all over India. Ironically, when BJP came to power (2014) it was for banning the centres, which proved to be an unsuccessful attempt.
‘Libraries in Delhi’; Drawing credit: Unnamati Syama Sundar
In the politics of appropriation, accommodation and ignorance, the right, center and left have neglected Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s contribution to Indian politics and society. There is a sharp difference between the politics of Ambedkar and politics on Ambedkar in the contemporary times. Today, there is a politics on Ambedkar in vogue which is not to rectify the mistakes of the past, but to destroy his struggle. In this context, the demand of ABVP to rename JNU’s central library as B. R. Ambedkar Library, which has now been approved by EC and VC, is meant to only degrade Dr. Ambedkar. The university named as Jawaharlal Nehru University was established in 1969. In the last forty five years of JNU’s history, it has created a world class name; the alumni take pride to be called JNUites wherever they might be, and there are various reasons for this.
JNU is known as a hub for intellectual debate and discussion. But one would be surprised to note that in the last forty five years, Ambedkar’s name has been missing and largely ignored by the student and faculty of this ‘intellectual hub’. Now the right wing ABVP students are trying to rename the central library in Ambedkar’s name. One is forced to ask why all this is happening in Ambedkar’s name? How could the executive council and VC have passed the demand of ABVP without understanding Ambedkar’s politics? The renaming will be disrespectful to Ambedkar’s image.
In the entire history of ABVP, nowhere has Ambedkar been respected by them. On one hand, the Prime Minister Modi says that because of Ambedkar he became Prime Minister today, while on the other hand his supporters say Ambedkar is equal to reservation, and that they hate reservation. In other words, Ambedkar is abused vehemently by ABVP, and now Ambedkar is further belittled by this show of renaming the library by ABVP!
Recently, a faculty member from Law and Governance said that the Dalit and Muslim faculty of JNU are anti-national, without providing any evidence for the same, and went scot-free for such derogatory remarks. The JNU VC, ABVP, JNUTA, did not take any serious step to investigate the case or even ask for a public apology.
How can Ambedkar be accommodated simply with a name for mere tokenism, whereas Ambedkar barely exists even in the syllabi and studies at the same university? What disrespect to Dr Ambedkar, to have an Ambedkar Library in a university named after Nehru! Are Ambedkar and Nehru even comparable? Will this politics of token renaming bring any structural change among university communities? Renaming is not going to bring about any discourse of change among the students and faculty.
If ABVP really cares about Ambedkar and his politics, why don’t they write a memorandum to MHRD, UGC and VC to open new world class International Universities in the name of Ambedkar and do everything in his name? At the BBAU Lucknow, the VC was trying to rename the library as Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Central library, but because of a strong protest by Dalit students, they could not change it in the end. Similar efforts are being made here in JNU. In the last semester some Hindutva supporters released a poster with some unknown name with a caption that said “Ambedkar as Jamblekar and Phule as Jhule.” What is that? Admiration or humiliation?
For the last two years of BJP rule, it has been running after Ambedkar, from his birth to death anniversary and naming the various places associated with Dr. Ambedkar, where he had done historical work or stayed for his studies. Modi even went on to dishonor the five places associated with Ambedkar’s life by renaming them as “Ambedkar Panch-Teerth”. Had Ambedkar been alive, he would have rejected this politics of renaming. In Ambedkar’s vocabulary, there is no space for Teerth. Teerthis are used only in Hinduism, a Hindu visits his/her Teerth place to purify and express blind devotion, which is nowhere to be found in Ambedkar’s philosophy.
In direct contradiction to that, Dr. Ambedkar founded Deekshabhoomi, a place where he renounced Hinduism. Ambedkar’s name is always associated with change, as a source of inspiration and stands against injustice. Whereas now BJP is doing all their Hindutva Politics in the name of Ambedkar. There is a secret news spreading, that one might soon see Babasaheb on the Indian Rupee notes, which has been a long wish of Ambedkarites. In other words, the struggles of Dalit, Bahujan and Adivasi are being appropriated by the BJP. In the context of JNU, Dalits, Adivasi, Bahujan and minority students never wanted their icons to be used for a mere symbolic gesture. Instead, they want to continue their battle until justice prevails.
Jadumani Mahanand is a Ph.D research scholar in JNU.