In the on-going series of teach-in lectures on nationalism at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Professor Makarand Paranjape had asked if the campus was a "democratic space" or a "Left hegemonic space" and why Leftists had trouble accepting the "legitimacy of the Indian state".

In response, his colleague Professor Ayesha Kidwai said that a lecture that asked if the university was a "Left hegemonic space" was not good academics because the professor refused to let his gaze wander to the other side.

Professor Paranjape's rejoinder is given below.


In response to Professor Ayesha Kidwai’s patronising piece (Here’s how not to teach a class: JNU's Ayesha Kidwai responds to her colleague Makarand Paranjape) on “how not to teach a class” and how to “represent both sides of the argument in a fair manner to the best of your ability,” may I submit that the purvapaksha that she demands of me was found sorely wanting in JNU’s establishment and “revolutionary” Leftists?

Did such earlier speakers in the “teach-in” portray the ideas and actions of their ideological opponents or even the Indian state to “the best of [their] ability” (emphasis in the original)? But let me leave the others aside. If I was one-sided and unfair, I cannot justify myself by others’ misconduct. If my intermediality is neither retaliatory nor expedient, it must stand on its own ground.

That is why, let me begin with the most damaging passage in Professor Kidwai’s criticism:

Tellingly, the enthusiastic questioning cannot get Paranjape to completely disassociate himself from the promise being aired on social media that Umar Khalid, another student accused of sedition, will be delivered the same azadi as the one that was given to 2001 Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru and Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front founder Maqbool Bhat – both of whom have been hanged. Rather, Paranjape says, he cannot “understand what this slogan means”.

It is only with a slow and growing horror that I understood Professor Ayesha Kidwai’s insinuation. By “cannot get to dissociate” did she mean that I had already associated myself with calls on social media for the hanging of Umar Khalid? In offering me teach-in lessons, Professor Kidwai seems to have forgotten my unequivocal responses to Kanhaiya’s five questions during the Q&A, which I cite below:

“Do I condemn those things? Of course I condemn those things. Please. There is no defending the indefensible. There is no defending the indefensible. [Repeated because some didn’t get it the first time.] Please. Do not bracket me and mujhe us katghare me mut khaRaa kareN [do not put me in that dock].”

I go on to condemn Godse, saying go read my book, The Death and Afterlife of Mahatma Gandhi. Then, Kanhaiya, once again specifically repeats the question:

“’Maqbool vaalii azaadi deNge Umar ko’ ke baare meN kyaa kaheNge?” [What will you say about 'Umar will get the same Azadi as was given to  Maqbool[Bhat]'?]

To which I respond:

“Bahut galat hai. Pataa nahii kaun sii azaadi. [It is very wrong. I don't know which Azadi]. I don’t understand. But you can’t take the law in your hands. See, please, you can’t threaten people. You can’t put rewards on people’s heads. You can’t carry out these threats. It’s totally against the spirit of democracy. Totally against democracy. Whoever’s doing it, I am totally against it. Please. Please. Thank you.”

This part is from 5.07 onwards in the following video:


Unlike to Kidwai, my response seems totally clear to Kanhaiya, who goes on to say:

“Is kaa matlab ye hai ke ham log aap ko assure karnaa chahte hain kii aap pe bhii sedition lagegaa, ham aapke saath khaRe hoNge, Sir.”  [This means that you too will be charged with sedition and we assure you, Sir, that we will stand by your side]

I believe he even shook, rather squeezed, my hand then.

So here’s the problem in Kidwai’s innuendos: She will never be able to show one instance of such an association, even one instance where I said that due process should be denied to someone. She will never be able to show me saying that Umar Khalid or his likes ought to be hanged, summarily executed or lynched. That is because I have never said or endorsed such things. What other options would anyone setting out to slander me thus have except hints, insinuations, nudges, and jibes of this sort?

The teach-in

That is why I am concerned about how she has misrepresented my “teach in” and what followed. The lecture series was organised by the JNU Teachers’ Association; indeed, I had been invited by my own colleagues to participate in it. When I reached the admin building, however, I found that the JNU Students Union President, Mr Kanhaiya Kumar, mike in hand, already stood centre-stage, loudly cheered by the partisan audience. When I asked one of the organisers, “Isn’t this JNUTA activity?” she replied, “Yes, but today’s lecture is merged with some student events.”

What she meant is that Mr Kanhaiya Kumar had already seized control of the proceedings; the said gentleman thereupon informed me that he would “Chair” my session. Why a public “teach-in” by a professor of long-standing be “Chaired” by the leader of the Students Union would normally be baffling, but given how JNU comrades orchestrate their attacks on their “internal enemies,” I need not have been upset.

Mind you, I had not been forewarned beforehand, let alone consulted about the altered arrangements. I had literally been upstaged; evidently, it was a set-up. Another surprise awaited me: a few minutes into my lecture, Mr Kanhaiya Kumar escorted another speaker to the centre, seating her next to me. I asked, “Do you want me to stop?” but of those gathered many said, “No no, you must carry on.” Mr. Kanhaiya Kumar then said, “Achha, jaldi finish kar deejiye, aap ke baad doosare bhi karyekram hai.”[OK, please finish it, as there are other programmes after you finish]."

In fact, even before I reached, a Hindi pamphlet, with derogatory remarks against me, was being circulated. It claimed that I had signed a Hindi petition which I had not. After I started, some students moved about in front of me with anti-Manuvadi placards, also part of the pre-planned “welcome” arranged for me.

Later, I was also jeered a few times; this stopped only when the student leaders stood up to hush the hecklers. During the Q&A, a couple of respondents made lengthy comments, without raising questions. A Chinese student defended his country and its government for five minutes without responding to my question as to why no support had come in from Chinese universities to the JNU student protests.

All this happened with the blessings of the “Chair,” Mr Kanhaiya Kumar. Then Mr Kumar himself took to interrogating me. He tried to corner me several times, saying I wouldn’t be let off that easily, that I would be held to account. Where, under which convention, does a self-appointed Chair of a meeting subject the invited speaker to such an inquisition?

When I got my turn, he didn’t let answer properly, saying that I had to finish in a line with “yes” or “no.” I protested. All this may be seen on the YouTube video. I am therefore not sure that “great attention and patience,” as Professor Kidwai puts it, best characterised Mr Kumar’s or the audience’s behaviour.

Egregious condescension

Let me now come to the less substantive parts of Professor Kidwai’s attack. She begins with egregious condescension: “the invitation to Paranjape was issued precisely because his is an oppositional voice within the teaching community at JNU.”

Really? According to whom? Those who have constituted themselves as the self-appointed spokespersons of the entire JNU community? If these same custodians of JNU really cared about “oppositional voices,” why was I the first and the last of the so-called internal opposition? Was a great favour done by inviting or allowing me to speak? Do folk of her ideological ilk own JNU so that the rest of us must subsist upon their largesse and sufferance?

Tell me, Professor Kidwai, is the JNU campus really so united behind you and your cohorts? What about the JNU Staff Association, representing hundreds of karamcharis and non-teaching staff? Didn’t they pass a resolution clearly condemning the pro-Afzal event and the stance of the Student Union? What about the dozens of JNU teachers who also wanted a clearer censure of that same event and who do not approve of the manner in which their Association has been bamboozled to make common cause with the Students Union, possibly flouting the JNUTA Constitution in the process? Left-hegemony, Professor Kidwai, is not the same as Left majority. While the Left dominates the campus, do they actually represent it?

Now let me refer to her remarks on Professor Chaman Lal’s comment. I don’t believe Professor Chaman Lal asked me to check my facts. Instead, he cast doubts on the veracity of the Soviet archives, asking me to check their facts, from which the figures of the millions of Soviet citizens who were sent to the Gulags, perished there, or were executed by the State. Actually, there are several different studies and accounts of these numbers, which even if they vary, generally establish the terrible atrocities and misdeeds carried out by the Soviet state against its own citizens. This is also true of Communist China under Mao and Cambodia under Pol Pot. Thus, the outrageous record of Communist regimes in torturing, executing, repressing, and imprisoning their own citizens was not disputed by Professor Chaman Lal.

Distortions and misrepresentations

I would also like to ask Professor Kidwai how she concluded that I signed a petition for the dismissal of Professor Sheldon Pollock from the directorship of the Murty Library “because of his endorsement of the JNU resistance”? On what evidence did she make such an assertion? How did she come up with such casuistry? She stoops to ascribing a base and retaliatory motive to me, which I totally reject. But there will, I hope, be another occasion for me to explain my position on the Murty Library.

Another example of her faulty causality is her astounding assertion that I had “traced the crackdown on JNU to … the absence of compulsory attendance in classes.” Professor Kidwai was not present at my Sahitya Akademi paper, the date of which she erroneously cites as February 16 instead of February 19; she does not reveal the source of the claim, which could only be the PTI report, which only reported on a small section of my paper. But even in that report, the state crackdown and the lack of compulsory attendance were not connected. I had mentioned the latter only to show the prevailing culture of academic unaccountability in JNU.

Likewise, what are the “epistolary proclivities” that she accuses me of? She claims that I “have for some time now endorsed a pro-government, pro-Hindutva positions.” Apart from the earlier mentioned Petition on the Murty Library, I joined a group of academics voicing concern over how universities in India had become war zones of a very dangerous and divisive caste politics, and lent my name to a statement on “Hypocrisy and Indian History.” How is this a pro-government or pro-Hindutva position

Why, moreover, should every such position be necessarily or automatically damned? As if name-calling in itself were sufficient grounds of censure and dismissal? Is there is no need to critique the actual content of a statement? Isn’t this what constitutes bad politics, bad academics, and bad pedagogy? Is the Left so short on substance that they have nothing more than tired and repetitive ad-hominem attacks? Despite her hectoring, superior tone, it is Professor Kidwai who seems to have shown herself deficient in thinking clearly and making rational arguments. To me the fight is not only between opposing ideologies, but between ideology and integrity. I respect the Left when it shows integrity, but not when it cynically distorts, misrepresents, and targets its ideological Others.

Not only does Professor Kidwai totally distort what I stand for, but also seems to deny me the basic courtesies due to another human being, let alone a fellow-academic and colleague. I see little generosity here, only misunderstanding and prejudice.

But I do not wish to accuse her of stooping so low as to malign me through insinuation and innuendo. Could it be that she is genuinely confused, anxious and fearful that people like me have suddenly turned viciously homicidal?

Or is it that that her ideological certitudes have so completely and utterly blunted her from perceiving, let alone appreciating, that those who do not subscribe to her politics are also capable of caring for humanity, justice, equality, and truth? If so, ideology destroys humanity. Isn’t that what we learn from George Orwell Arthur Koestler, Andre Gide, David Caute, and a host of others?

Some questions

To conclude, what happened, Professor Kidwai, to the responsibility of purvapaksha? Did you absolve yourself of your own pedagogical imperative after enjoining it upon me? At least in the above-cited passages, far from representing my position to “the best of your ability,” you have failed to accord it even the slightest benefit of doubt.

Instead, you have superimposed a monster of your own making on me, projecting your own paranoiac fantasy of horror and intolerance. Worse than a straw man, you have turned me into an effigy of murderous bigotry and hatred, which even those who largely profess ahimsa might not hesitate to set on fire.

Tell us, Professor Kidwai, you who so readily denounce and brand others, have you spoken out against such divisive and hate-mongering politics so virulent on our campuses? Did you take a stand against our own JNU campus being turned into a site of pitched battles between feuding political factions? Let me assure you that if you did, I would applaud your mediality and stand with you.

But as long as Left patricians and partisans selectively attack, condemn, and conspire, all the while arrogating to yourselves the moral superiority of “objectivity,” “history,” or even “science,” you will continue to be critiqued and questioned. Evidently, such lessons don’t please you: is that why you resort to falling foul and crying out, “here’s not how to teach … this is not a good class”?

Makarand R. Paranjape, submitted his PhD at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign at the age of 24, has authored and edited over 40 books, published more than 150 academic papers, and been Professor of English at JNU for 15 years.