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JNU's tryst with Emergency

During those tumultuous times, the man who emerged as the face of JNU and later proved to be a national leader was D.P. Tripathi

Sunday January 12, 2020 11:58 AM, IANS

JNU and Emergency

[Sitaram Yechury as a student leader in JNU reading the memorandum presented by students on September 5, 1977 to Indira Gandhi, demanding her resignation as chancellor of the university. (HT file photo)]

New Delhi: June 25, 1975 to March 21, 1977 was a period in India's political history that is looked down upon as the "worst phase" when Indira Gandhi had declared Emergency to stifle democratic rights. Like political leaders, many students too went up in arms against it and needless to say, the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) had played a key role then.

An SFI unit of the varsity had spearheaded the JNU resistance. Calling any supposedly anti-student policies as "draconian" may have become a fad in JNU in 2020, but in the truest form the JNUSU had fought the real "draconian" state policies back then.

Students who fought the Emergency had to face arrests, jail terms, expulsions, and disciplinary actions. The SFI had brought out quite a few leaflets in the name of "The Resistance". In fact, they formed an umbrella body, the Democratic Students Forum, to fight Emergency together.

One such pamphlet read: "The police action carried out under the Emergency exposes the character of the Indira Gandhi regime today. Who is the Emergency directed at? Is the Students Union right reactionary? Are the nine students falsely charged under D.I.R. right reactionaries? Now the Vice-Chancellor at the behest of the Prime Minister's Secretariat has announced in the latest prospectus that Union membership will henceforth be voluntary. It is in order to cripple the Union and destroy its representative and democratic character that this move has been made under the cover of the Emergency."

However, much of its tone, tenor and lexicons still has been carried on till 2020, with the expression of JNU's anti establishment mindset caught in a time warp.

During those tumultuous times, the man who emerged as the face of JNU and later proved to be a national leader was D.P. Tripathi.

Tripathi, who very recently lost his battle with cancer, had fought the Emergency, went underground and eventually ended up in jail, along with many other student leaders from different political schools of thoughts.

One of them was Arun Jaitley, with whom he had a lifelong cordial relationship, in spite of their sharp political divides. Their jail stay during Emergency solidified the friendship.

Tripathi was believed to have infamously stopped Indira Gandhi's daughter-in-law Maneka Gandhi, another JNU student at that time, studying German, from attending classes. This was to force her to join the anti-Emergency class boycotts.

As Tripathi, the face of JNU's anti-Indira, anti-Emergency fight, died earlier this month, CPI-M chief Sitaram Yechury referred to him as "comrade, college-mate".

As JNU students have continued to hit the streets regularly over the Citizenship Amendment Act and hostel fee hikes and as the varsity has seen recent spate of violence, where the JNUSU President herself is a suspect, many realise the varsity has a long history of dissent, protest and even violence which had forced Indira Gandhi to shut it down temporarily.

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