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Interview with Mr. Shakeel Akhter, BBC Correspondent, New Delhi

Mushtaq: How did your association start with JNU?
Mr. Akhter:
I come from a small town where the students were not much aware of JNU at that time. At that point, one of my relatives was studying in Lucknow University. He was a ware of JNU, as he had appeared for an entrance exam here. I arrived here with him and joined the School of Languages in 1982. My journey in JNU thus began.

At that time, it had a reputation among the prestigious universities. Now, the university has many centres across India for entrance exams, but earlier, the entrance test was conducted only at the campus. Everyone had to come here to take the entrance test. I qualified the entrance and took admission in MA in 1982 in Urdu and then completed my M.Phil. in the same stream. I remember the day when I was working on my Ph.D. research, when I got a job in the BBC. After this chance, I finally left JNU to become a part of the BBC.

Mushtaq: What was your first impression about JNU?
Mr. Akhter:
Even today, JNU, at least, is one of the most beautiful places in India. The first impression was unique. Half of the buildings were in down campus then, and many new buildings were under construction in the new campus with unique architecture. The Library, the School of Languages and the School of International Studies were in old campus and, as I remember, some hostels were in the new campus. JNU was a kind of island and initially it was just like an alien, very different from outside.

The most amazing part of the university was the political culture (which even today is the same as I believe). It was very heartening to see post-dinner discussions in the messes. I remember leaders like Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Raj Narain, Subramanian Swamy, Sitaram Yechuri and other contemporary political figures used to speak here. Who can forget V. P. Singh, who started his campaign from JNU? Those people whom I have seen just on television and heard about them, we were interacting as well as talking with them face to face. It was unbelievable, the first-hand experience to learn. JNU developed a very interactive culture, and that was its beauty and strength.

JNU culture was simple at that time. Even wearing a new shirt was a tough thing. People used to wear it as a sleeping gown for two-three days to make it look old and then only wear it outside.

Mushtaq: How did JNU shape you and help you in your career?
Mr. Akhter:
I did not do many jobs. I started my career with the UNI news agency and then moved to the BBC when I was in JNU, and I am still with the BBC. I think, whatever I am is because of JNU. I would have never been what I am today if I did not join JNU. My understanding is that JNU not only inculcates knowledge, but it also makes you an excellent human being or a humanist. Generally, outsiders perceive that JNU turns you into a leftist, but I feel that it makes you a liberal, a rationalist, a humanist and above all, a good citizen. JNU provided an opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds, regions, cultures and ideas. It evolved students with a much bigger horizon. I still enjoy my association with the campus and cherish every moment I spent on the campus.

Mushtaq: Why did you choose journalism over academics or civil services?
Mr. Akhter:
Actually, journalism was my natural choice right from my school days. This was one idea that I wanted to pursue in my life. My family did not like it, but it was in my heart. They wanted me to go for UPSC or any other competitive exam. But I had no interest in it. Journalism was the field which I chose and pursued.

Mushtaq: How do you see the role of JNU in nation building?
Mr. Akhter:
JNU is one of the finest institutions India could have. We must preserve and evolve it further. You will find JNUites in every field, from Civil Service to academics and journalism. The alumni of JNU have an unyielding sense of responsibility and humanism, wherever they are. They have a very different and positive approach towards issues confronting our country or the world. In that sense, JNU's role is very global.

Mushtaq: How has JNU changed over the years according to you?
Mr. Akhter:
I think the biggest difference is that in our time, most of the students used to choose academics for their career, and many of them used to go abroad for further studies. Competitive exams like UPSC was not the priority for most of the people. Later, the priority and situation changed when JRF (Junior Research Fellowship) and a new class emerged out of the campus which was job focused and professional. A new generation grew which did not want to waste its time in doing Ph.D. or preparing for UPSC. Instead, it preferred getting jobs immediately after graduation or Masters. The time when most of the people used to do Ph.D. by choice is over. Later, due to lack of jobs, it became a compulsion to do that. But I think people have become much more efficient, and the young generation does not want to wait for years to get a job as they have no patience.

Mushtaq: Any personal experience you wish to share?
Mr. Akhter:
There are many memorable experiences which I would not like to share (laugh), but I remember that when I came here, there was a protest in the university on some issue and students were sitting on a hunger strike. The Vice Chancellor used to come every day to meet the students at their hunger strike site and used to sit with them. P. N. Srivastava was the VC, and he used to say that he was there as a teacher and guardian. This was a very touching experience for me that I had never imagined. This was how JNU was at that time. I believe this culture is still alive there in JNU.

Mushtaq: Any message you would like to give to JNU community and in particular, to the students who want to choose journalism as their career?
Mr. Akhter:
Just like the world economy, journalism at this moment is passing through a very challenging time in the world. Social and digital media and internet have changed the way the media works. But journalism has always been very fascinating and will remain fascinating. People, who have enthusiasm and zeal for journalism, must choose it. All the students of JNU are much aware of the social, political and economic issues, and they can do wonders if they choose journalism as a career. shakeel.akhtar@bbc.co.uk


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