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At JNU, student ‘flame flickers’ against India’s Modi before election

Will the polls at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University after a four-year hiatus also impact the general election starting next month?

New Delhi, India – A Bollywood film called JNU will be released across India next week. The tagline on its publicity posters asks: “Can one educational university break the nation?”

The film is only the latest, thinly veiled attack on Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), one of India’s premier public universities that for decades has also been a cauldron of political activism, with admission criteria designed to ensure that students from some of the country’s poorest and most neglected regions get a shot at quality higher education.

The university, a traditional bastion of left-liberal politics that is named after independent India’s first prime minister, has been a central target of political attacks from the country’s Hindu majoritarian right, especially under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rule. Like in the film, the university’s critics affiliated with Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have described JNU as an “anti-national” hub over its politics. Students and ex-students have been jailed for treason. Teachers have accused the university administration, appointed by the BJP government, of weakening quality standards and processes for appointments to stock the faculty with ideologically aligned professors.

Amid a heated campaign for national elections scheduled for April and May, the university held its own vote last week for the JNU Students Union (JNUSU), which has historically been one of India’s most powerful and influential student bodies. These were the first JNUSU polls in four years, and results came out on Sunday.

Nationally, the BJP is predicted to win. At JNU, it lost.