That Morning at Diwan-e-Bhambri…
“Jawaani ke dino me toh koi nahi aaya… face ke liye” (Nobody came for my good looks during my youth)—was Professor Emeritus C.P. Bhambhri’s response to my request for an interview for our section called ‘Faces’. The following is the ‘Bak-Bak’ (chit-chat) that unfolded on the morning of 11th February 2016, in his glass cubicle which he calls ‘Dargah-e-Bhambhri’; I prefer to call it ‘Diwan-e-Bhambhri’.
I’ve heard that the Centre for Political Studies at JNU was established by you. What was your vision behind its establishment?
We are part of a society that is prone to rapid changes. In a society as dynamic and transitory as ours, there is a need for systematic analysis of complex social issues. For a society that is increasingly exposed to drastic changes, an analysis is a necessity. The Yuga (era) you live in is not the same as your mother’s. Your mother’s Yuga was different from that of her mother’s. The Yuga we live in is constantly changing. A society undergoing transformation is perturbed by miscellaneous problems.
It is marked with a clash of competing worldviews and ideologies, a clash of conceptions of the correct path to prosperity. ‘Which direction do we head towards?’ First, in order to understand and explain this clash we need to foster curious interest in social studies. Second, the practice of social studies should be scientific and systematic. Political Studies is the most important of all social studies. It deals with the Shakti (power) of Raj (governing authority/state). If the unbeatable Shakti of Raj can enlighten and enrich, it can also misdirect and misguide. It can also obstruct a radical change in status quo. As social scientists, we study and scrutinize the state.
Study of the Shakti of Raj is of utmost significance because of Raj’s entrenched role in economic and societal matters. In our society, the ideological clash reveals itself through the democratic functioning of the state. For a scientific engagement with this collision of ideas, we equip ourselves with Theory and Method. These are the two pillars of analysis. A theory is the ‘neecchod’ (extract/essence) of ideas— from Plato to Post-Modernism. While the method is the ‘way of conducting’ research.
Politics is widely discussed by newspapers and lay persons. But the nuance of our Vishleshan lies in its far-sightedness and investigative disposition.
Sir, what is Vishleshan?
Vishleshan means Analysis. … Vishleshan requires a kind of specialized training. This training helps us detangle dilemmas and conundrums we face on a daily basis. You must have wondered as to why the police are stationed at the gate on your way to JNU. Similarly, questions regarding poverty, exploitation, the rich-poor divide crop up in your mind. What is exploitation? Not everyone can exploit; the one who exploits should also possess Shakti in order to exploit. Therefore, we’re researchers of Shakti. We wanted our students to be capable of independent and critical thought process. What constitutes Paddhatti was our job to teach.
Now what does Paddhatti mean?
Method. Tareeka. How do you raise a question? Which questions are relevant and which irrelevant? What are facts? Facts are not what are visible to bare eyes. Facts rest in the background. We see the poor, but why does poverty exist? The poor are symptomatic of a vicious disease that ails the larger structure of the society. We can’t diagnose this ailment till we understand the skeletal arrangement of the structure. Fever is only a symptom! A person down with fever needs diagnosis— what is it?! Malaria/ Typhoid/ Tuberculosis? We teach you the diagnosis. The symptom is a warning of exploitation. How does a person assume the Shakti to exploit? Where did this Shakti come from? Who is the protector of this Shakti? The Raj. Henceforth, you are a student of the state and we train you to understand it. Have we been successful? You should ask the students.
You spoke about transformation and change. In the long time that you’ve been at JNU, how has it transformed over the years?
JNU hasn’t changed even a bit! Democratic debate and Vad-Vivaad (deliberation and discussion) flourish at JNU. It has been encouraged from the very beginning. We have taught this to our students. We debate, so do our students. Friction and collision of contradictory visions— this hasn’t changed. We’re preparing you for the society. JNU should not be a secluded island. Students from physical sciences tell me they’re not interested in politics. I tell them: in case you’re rendered unemployed, would you not want to seek the reasons behind your unemployment? We’re preparing you to look for those reasons.
Students have come in large numbers from a lower-middle class background to JNU. Among the changes that JNU has witnessed, various schools like the School of Languages have a chunk of students coming from the middle class in recent times. They mostly enroll in courses on foreign languages. Their way of life and style of dressing is different. Earlier, Jeans/Kurta Pyjama, jhola and bidi were part of JNU’s vogue— we were called ‘the jhole-wale intellectuals’. But this is not the case anymore. I don’t mean to say that this is bad.
However, the youth of today is more career-oriented. In the past, students were ambitious but they understood their social responsibilities. For instance, Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury could’ve easily become IAS officers. But they realized their larger social purpose. They were some of our brightest students. They were what I call ‘Rejectionist’. They wanted to transform the society. Now, students who thrive for this are very few.
As part of the student community, I am very curious to know about that turning point in your student life that continues to inspire you even today. Would you like to share a memory that changed your outlook towards the world we live in?
Yes, I was your age when I learned about Marx. It was part of the curriculum. I discovered that the liberal theory is weak and lacks ‘jaan’ (substance). In the tussle between values of liberty and equality, liberal scholars eloquently defended liberty but couldn’t protect equality. They couldn’t abolish the institution of private property— root cause of inequality. Marxism helped me understand the link between freedom and equality of opportunity. Only when the institution of private property is abolished can we have equality of opportunity and freedom that is not superficial.
And I am absolutely against the Sangh Parivar because I’ve learned that religion is accidental. Nobody was asked which religion they want to be born into. Therefore, it is a private affair. Public life and politics shouldn’t be dominated by religion. The concerns of the public sphere are liberty and equality. We can discuss various standpoints on these two values.
I’ve read about your areas of interest online. Could you tell me what you’re currently working on?
*Points towards a copy of his latest publication, ‘Narendra Modi: An interpretation- Politics and Governance’*
How was your teaching experience at JNU different from that of experiences at other universities?
When I used to teach, all colleges and universities had ‘jaan’ (life). Now, the ‘jaan’ has vanished. Universities are cold and limp. They’re in turmoil. JNU still has that ‘jaan’. This is a living institution. Take for instance your idea of starting a newspaper; this kind of ‘Khapatipana’ (innovative zeal) comes from JNU. Were you this way before coming to JNU? You came to JNU and felt that there is a need for a student newspaper. The seeds are here, in JNU—the seeds of intellectual ‘khurafat’ and ‘khalbali’ (mischief and stimulation). Henceforth, JNU is an island in terms of its unique culture.
Do you have any non-academic interests/hobbies/past-times?
I never had time for that. I have struggled a lot. I was born in the city of Multan. Have you heard of Multan? It is now in Pakistan. At the time of Partition, people on both sides became ‘jahil’ (uncouth/uncivilized). The ones who survived continued to struggle. Our parents wanted us to stand on our feet and become someone. So I never had a hobby of any kind. I do have a hobby of luring people into my lair and wringing them up! *laughs* If you call this a hobby then it is one— causing a ‘fatoor’ of questions in your mind.
And what is ‘fatoor’?
Fatoor means ‘Disturbance, curiosity and anxiety’ —about what is happening around us.
What would your message be to the student community at JNU?
Job, career, and identity are very important things in life. If you don’t have ten thousand rupees in your hand every month, how would you be respected? Your work defines your identity. ‘Who am I?’ If people are selfish and self-centred then there is no point to an education. We are part of a larger society; we’re nothing without a society. ‘Human is a social being’. We are who we are because of the society we inhabit. What are we giving back to the society? We have grown up in a society; the society has educated us. We adopted certain beliefs and often challenged many others. Our society had evil traditions of Sati and child marriage. Inculcation of ‘hatred’ and ‘anger’ towards societal evils is what is needed —a ‘rejection’ of what is wrong, but with caution.
Aakanksha D’Cruz is an MA student at CPS and works for The Informer.