It is not the first time political rivalry between the traditional arch-rivals, the DMK and AIADMK, has spilled over onto the field of higher education depriving Tamil Nadu of key educational institutions.
On August 31, the Tamil Nadu government tabled a Bill in the Assembly to merge the newly formed Dr J Jayalalithaa University in Villupuram district with the Annamalai University in Cuddalore district.
The AIADMK members created a ruckus and walked out of the Assembly protesting against the Bill which will repeal the Dr J Jayalalithaa University Act 2021 passed by them in February this year.
The DMK government has denied any political vendetta behind scrapping the university and has justified its decision stating that Jayalalithaa University has remained non-functional since the time it has been instituted. Moreover, it was set up during the fag end of the previous regime without planning for funding.
On the other hand, the AIADMK has alleged that if the name ‘Jayalalithaa’ disturbs the DMK they could just rename the university and refrain from merging it with another one.
Interestingly, two universities have already been named after Jayalalithaa. One is the Tamil Nadu Dr J Jayalalithaa Fisheries University in Nagapattinam, which was established in 2012. In 2019, the Tamil Nadu Music and Fine Arts University was rechristened as the Tamil Nadu Dr J Jayalalithaa Music and Fine Arts University, Chennai.
Born out of bifurcation
The new Dr J Jayalalithaa University came into existence on February 5, 2021, when the AIADMK regime passed a Bill in the Assembly to establish the Dr J Jayalalithaa University in Villupuram. It was to start functioning from this academic year. However, the construction of the university itself has not been completed largely because of the state assembly elections which had delayed the project.
The university was bifurcated from Thiruvalluvar University, Vellore district and was meant to cater to the higher education needs of students from Villupuram, Cuddalore and Kallakurichi. The colleges in these districts which were earlier affiliated with Thiruvalluvar university got disaffiliated.
It is against this backdrop, the DMK decided to scrap the university. This decision however has stirred up a debate as to whether the DMK is acting out of political animosity.
However, the DMK leaders cited two examples to drive home the point that DMK was not hitting back at their arch-rival – the AIADMK. One being Chief Minister MK Stalin’s decision not to remove the embossed images of J Jayalalithaa in school bags since it would save the state school education department ₹13 crore. Similarly, the government had not changed the name of the state-run chain of subsidised eateries – Amma Unavagam.
A political revenge?
This is, however, not the first time higher education initiatives have been shelved or discontinued due to political animosity. There are many examples to prove that be it the DMK or the AIADMK, they overlook the fact that the state is losing out some good research institutions due to their rivalry.
For example, in 2017, the Centre for Research on Dravidian Movement which was established in 2006 at University of Madras to study the historical significance of the Dravidian movement, was shut down apparently because of lack of funds. However, V Sivaprakasam, former professor and one of the research associates who had worked in this Centre alleged that it was closed due to corruption.
In 2007, the then syndicate members of Thiruvalluvar University had approved a proposal to set up the Department for Dr BR Ambedkar Studies and the Ambedkar Chair. But even after 14 years, the university has not yet established the department. The anti-Dalit activities of the department had led to the delay of setting up this department, alleged university officials.
Besides, some universities have paid obeisance to right-wing forces by dropping a book from the syllabus. This was the case of the Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, where Arundhati Roy’s book ‘Walking with the comrades’ was dropped from the post-graduate English syllabus in November 2020 but it was reinstated after opposition from educationists.
‘Universities need funds’
Former professor and educational activist A Marx said that it is condemnable for political parties to involve the field of education in politics.
“If there is any problem in the university, you should try to rectify it. This move to scrap the university since it bears the name of Jayalalithaa and merge it with another is very wrong,” he said.
Also, the practice of political parties appointing their own party supporters as Vice-Chancellors has further diluted the purpose of education, he added.
According to Dr T Veeramani, president, Tamil Nadu Government Collegiate Teachers Association, DMK’s move to scrap Jayalalithaa University in Villupuram was a practical one.
“Cuddalore district is near Villupuram, which has the Annamalai University. This university has no affiliated colleges under it. During the AIADMK regime, the government decided to take that university under its control and is spending its money to run it. The university does not generate any revenue so by scrapping the new university and affiliating the colleges in three districts with Annamalai University, the institution will now be able to raise its own funds,” explained Veeramani.
Interestingly, the University of Madras has a separate department for Anna Centre for Public Affairs (named after DMK founder and former CM CN Annadurai), set up by former CM MGR in 1983.
“During the past regime, the Vice-Chancellors of the university gave importance to Anna Centre but left the Dravidian Centre in the lurch,” said Sivaprakasam. Following the closure of the Dravidian Centre, in 2018, the then AIADMK government had announced that it would establish a MGR Centre.
But it is yet to see the light of day.