In the aftermath of the American presidential elections, streets in several cities of America rocked with the slogan “Not My President”. This sloganeering rose against a person who went into election (and won the same) with a campaign catchphrase ‘Make America Great Again’. The protestors termed his win ‘unusual’, ‘unexpected’ and ‘unconventional’ and feared the ways he would realise his dream of making America great again! Mr Donald John Trump, a real estate mogul, businessman, pageant owner and a billionaire reality TV star is the new President of United States of America. Defeating all pollsters’ predictions, crushing the media agenda and undermining the popular votes, he surged to victory and set a new paradigm of the American character of the presidential candidate. His win should be looked at with a deeper insight and meaning crossing beyond the Democratic and Republican Party politics.
In 1998, while being the head of an alliance of 26 political parties, the then Prime Minister of India, Atal Behari Vajpaee, once frustratingly said that India should look for the possibility of adopting the presidential system which, in his view, would be more permanent and representative. However, amongst all the political compulsions and political opportunism, some of the electoral arrangements at the Centre and in the various States went on for another decade by making coalition politics almost a permanent feature of Indian politics. But the BJP’s sweeping majority in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections brought this trend to a halt. Political pundits were left with no option but to redo their political calculations. Nationwide data of the Assembly elections substantiate this point by making a strong case for a one-party rule. The first half of the second decade of the 21st century has witnessed a political scene in which 23 States, including Delhi, have one party in a position to form a majority government while there are only six such States where governments are being formed by pre- or post-poll alliances.
“A University is a place ... where students come from every quarter for every kind of knowledge; ... a place for the communication and circulation of thought ... It is a place where inquiry is pushed forward ... discoveries verified and perfected, and ... error exposed, by the collision of mind with mind, and knowledge with knowledge. ... Thus is created a pure and clear atmosphere of thought, which the student also breathes”.
John Henry Newman, 1854, The Idea of a University
John Henry Newman’s The Idea of a University is a classic work on university education which conceptualised university as a society in which the student absorbs the graces and accomplishments of a higher form of life. It is a place where the pursuit of truth and the active discussion of its meaning integrate into a wider culture, in which the ideal of the gentleman is acknowledged as the standard. (Ker, 2011:19)
This commentary appreciates Newman’s idea of ‘University’ and the analysis of universities in India being ‘steered’ from outside and ‘managed’ internally to accept changes as per the political anticipation of the ruling parties. For the last five decades, after every general election, whenever there is a change in government at the Central and State level, universities are the first to be affected by the ideology/policy-related ambitions of the political party which forms the government. This trend is in fashion since long and is not specific to India alone. Even in Germany, when Hitler seized political power, Frankfurt University was the first one targeted for ideological reasons, owing to which the liberal democratic-minded professors and intellectuals were forced to leave Germany. This eventually benefited the UK and US universities not only in making their higher education more liberal with the help of these intellectuals but also enriching their scientific research and inventions in the post-World War period.