The Baba Ramdev-JNU episode – Some Notes on Politics and Education

Here’s a quick observation on the Times Now Newshour Debate on barring Baba Ramdev from speaking at a conference at JNU.

Shehla Rashid, JNUSU vice president and AISA activist said that she and her comrades would not have physically stopped Ramdev and that this was a “civil way of protest” by writing a letter of opposition to the JNU administrators; that this was a case of “principled opposition” – i.e. the main reason for barring him from speaking at the conference was because of Ramdev’s regressive views and because they saw it as an attempt to thrust right leaning elements down the throats of JNU students.

The argument by Prasenjit Bose (ex-JNU, economist) went like this: it is an academic keynote address – you cant question a person who delivers such a lecture because they are supposed to have impeccable academic record (like “Nobel laureates”, in his words), so naturally the question of rebutting Ramdev’s views at the conference does not arise, thereby him being barred was legitimate. This is a very dangerous mindset – how can someone be considered beyond question, no matter how decorated their academic record may be? This culture of defining “scholarship” by degrees or how many papers they have presented in famous institutions or published in celebrated journals or how many awards they may have bagged is deplorable. There are so many of these scholars who can speak unimaginable bullshit, devoid of any factual or logical consistency. Surely all of us who were unfortunate enough to sit through these painstaking academic sessions must have experienced that. Most of us may be too conformist to admit that.

Both of them seemed to agree on one point – that it was not about physically preventing Ramdev from entering the campus or addressing a politically organized event but they were opposed to him giving a keynote address despite him not having “scholarly credentials”. This was more vociferously emphasized by the latter. But Shehla Rashid said that it was a principled opposition – so why couldn’t that opposition be in the form of showing black flags or shouting slogans or standing with placards and posters and so on? Why couldn’t it be by taking him head on during or after his keynote address? Besides, if it is about barring him from a talk because of his regressive views, why only limit that censorship to an academic session? In fact, by this logic, it should be much more important to stop Ramdev from addressing a politically organized event, where the crowd could be much bigger and where the formalities of an academic speech would also not be applicable. Shehla Rashid also she mentioned how after a keynote address by some right wing ideologue at an event organized by the ABVP, the leftists were not allowed to question the speaker. So what should be done about it then? Bar the speaker from giving a speech? It was not clear what solution she was offering.

Shouldn’t leftists try to conceptualize education in a more inclusive and broader sense?

This insistence on protecting the sanctity of scholarly or academic events and processes – in this instance by saying Ramdev is not qualified – is tantamount to upholding existing standards of bourgeoisie education which is stifling, limiting and exclusionary in more ways than one. Besides, leftists of all should know well that the dominant interests are protected by establishing hegemony through precisely such institutions as the university.

Don’t or at least shouldn’t we acknowledge the limitations of the existing education system? Is the education provided within the four walls of the university or college or other institution exhaustive or even meant to be exhaustive? Isn’t education a much more fluid process, in a state of constancy, as we pick up experiences and learn from multiple sites and sources in our everyday lives? Why should leftists, especially those who claim to be communists, don’t conceptualize an education system beyond its present limitations?  Why are they so eager to abide by the current definitions of the contours of the academic world? I know some may object at this juncture – pointing out that my challenge to the present structure of education will only give legitimacy to the unscientific crap spewing rightist brigades. I will disagree with them – I don’t think that sticking to ridiculous protocols like not holding famous academicians accountable or exempting them from being subjected to criticisms and questions (from “lesser” people particularly) or celebrating formal degrees is what has allowed knowledge production to flourish. Besides, only one KIND of knowledge production has blossomed – the kind that is usable by the powers that be in the society (dominant castes, classes, genders etc) to reproduce the status quo in which their dominance and hegemony are secured. By embracing a more exploratory, a more open ended definition of education, without compromising on the rigors of scientific enquiry, we will only be improving the quality of knowledge production, in a way that will be accessible and useful for one and all.

They would have been ok had it been an event organized by some org like ABVP who endorse right wing views but they oppose it because it was the JNU administration which was providing an official platform. There is some strength in this argument; of course as long as the university is considered to be an authoritative provider of education. Even then, it would have been better to allow him to speak and then challenge him (breaking the protocols of keynote address if need be)

As always, Arnab decided to only let one side speak properly, this time, for some reason, he decided to suppress the rightists on the panel. Arnab kept on going about how Ramdev does not have the academic expertise to talk on vedanta. When someone said he would have talked about yoga and practical vedanta, he first reacted as if this term is being fabricated, and when he heard that it was a term used by swami Vivekananda, he kept on repeating like a broken record as he typically does, that you cannot compare Vivekananda with Ramdev which this rightist really did not (he could be heard saying in the background that they are followers of Vivekananda). So Vivekananda (who has also spoken loads of crap in his lifetime) is someone to be revered. What ridiculously inconsistent standards! In fact Arnab was behaving in the most fascistic manner possible by shouting at the top of his voice saying Ramdev doesn’t know about this and that topic. I mean, how the F could he be so sure? Besides, he wasn’t in the least interested as to what Ramdev would be speaking about and if at all he could possibly have knowledge of the same in that domain.

Well if it is yoga, from a practical point of view, Ramdev certainly does seem to know a great deal about that. It was an absolutely preposterous piece of hosting by Arnab but what else to expect of him. “Respect Indian culture” – he says, once again trying to act as if he speaks on behalf of the whole nation.

“Just shouting does not make you right” said Arnab! Lol right!! Look who’s talking!

Besides, what kind of stuff gets discussed in many of the seminars on vedic or vedanta philosophy? I have heard the stuff these “experts” talk about in such seminars – totally unscientific nonsense (vedanta is full of crap anyway). Moreover, even “experts” from other disciplines like economics for instance also routinely speak crap in seminars or classrooms. What about that? It is like differentiating between two terrible drivers but privileging one over the other just because they have a formal license.

The ABVP representative kept mentioning that the Ambassador of USA was stopped from entering and that a course on Foreign policy of Israel was discontinued. I don’t know the facts behind these but certainly, there is no point in physically stopping the ambassador from coming to the campus but protesting during his visit would be a better idea. This whole idea of keeping the university a sacred progressive island is monumentally problematic. Besides, it is also pointless to discontinue a course on Israel.

As for right wing trolls who show intolerance and lack of civil on social media, that is hardly a monopoly of the right.The criticisms of Ramdev’s regressive views and unscientific products by Shehla Rashid or Arnab were obviously perfectly legitimate. To her credit, as well as to another professor on the panel, she did point out that it is possible to have an anti imperialist stance while also recognizing genuinely scientific knowledge of indigenous origins but without encouraging voodoo science of course – the kind that was discussed at the Indian Science Congress recently.

What was extremely disturbing apart from the problematic stance on “scholarship” was that there was no protest against Arnab for his aggressive silencing of the rightists. Let us not forget that this is the very show that Kavita Krishnan along with others had decided to boycott because of this same kind of behavior, only that time the victims of his abusive and nasty bullying were the leftists.

by Kisholoy



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