Nobel Laureate Abhijit Banerjee enjoys the dubious distinction of having been lodged in Tihar jail for ten days for “gheraoing the vice chancellor of the JNU” in 1983.
The Indian-origin economist had won the Nobel prize on Monday (October 14), along with his wife Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer, “for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty”.
In a scene very much like the 2016 JNU sedition episode, Abhiji Banerjee described the incident in an article in The Hindustan Times in 2016, wherein he stated that he and a few other students were “beaten up” by the police in 1983 for “gheraoing the vice-chancellor in his house for the umpteenth time” for expelling the president of the student union.
Abhijit Banerjee, the Indian-origin economist who won the Nobel prize on Monday, spent 10 days in Delhi’s Tihar jail for participating in a protest as a student of Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Abhijit said he and his friends were kept in the Tihar jail for 10 days and were beaten up. “It was in 1983…we, the students of JNU, had gheraoed the vice-chancellor in his house for the umpteenth time. The pretext was the expulsion of the president of the student union, the Kanhaiya Kumar of the day, for reasons that escape me now,’ …and we were beaten (I was) and thrown into Tihar jail, charged not quite with sedition, but attempt to murder and the rest. The charges were eventually dropped thank God but not before we spent 10 days or so in Tihar,” he said in the article.
Abhijit added that the police action was backed by Congress government at the Centre and the Left-leaning faculty. He pointed out to the allegations that the student body president was expelled to instigate protests, which could be used to change the admission policy, which gave weightage to students from rural areas.
“What it undoubtedly was is an attempt by the State to establish the lines of authority. We are the boss they were telling us, shut up and behave,” Abhijit Banerjee had stated in the 2016 article.
Pointing out that a similar attempt was made in the JNU in 2016, Abhijit Banerjee said that the government intervention in the matter once again showed that it wanted to establish authority over the university campus.
Abhijit Banerjee said that the government action in both cases “endangered the safe space that universities have traditionally provided.”
Banerjee asked the governments to stay out of the shared spaces in universities. “Students often say things that they will one day change their minds about, but also things that change our minds when we think about them. We need the space. Please stay out.”
The Nobel Laureate has been a strong critic of Modi government’s financial policies. He recently stated that the “Indian economy is on a shaky ground” and “the government should do pilots of policy initiatives more carefully”.