An interview with Shri D.P. Tripathi (Member of the Rajya Sabha)
Wafa: What was your first impression of JNU?
DPT: I first came to JNU in 1973, 13th of July. My first day's experience was memorable. I had distinction in English but I didn't speak the kind of English that the public school educated breed of students did. I was having tea at the Club Building in the Old Campus. So two girls came there, quiet modern, well educated and said Come on! The vice chancellor is there. Let's go and see. And I said that madam I am having my tea. I pronounced it in a typical Hindi accent. So one girl looked at the other and said let him be. Looks like a rustic poor guy. That day I decided that I would work hard and speak better English than the forefathers of those girls. Incidentally I topped the admission list for the Centre for Political Studies and then with time I got to know those girls as well and all of them became my friends. But thanks to them, I started learning English in my room, 105 Kaveri Hostel. I used to come after classes and political work and listen to BBC and speak to the walls for practice. It took me only a month as I did know English; the problem was only the accent. I am the first village born student to be president of JNUSU. The ones before me were not from poor families nor were they born in a village. My father was a tea stall keeper in the suburb of Calcutta, Howrah, and was born in Sultanpur. He used to sell tea and was the backbone of our family. Since my birth I was visually handicapped partially and the doctors told my parents that I shouldn't be sent to school or else I would gradually lose my vision completely. So I was not sent to school and gradually learnt my alphabet by writing with coal on the ground. The first time I was admitted to school was in class 4. It was only after my high school that I earned a national scholarship and then of course I went to Allahabad University for graduation and then JNU and after that I did not have to look back to those doctors.
Wafa: How did JNU shape the way you think and help in the path you took?
DPT: Although I was politically active before coming to JNU it was nothing compared to my involvement here. My total political baptism began in JNU. I was a political fellow but I was basically devoted to my studies
The first time I came they made me a candidate for the council which I lost because I was campaigning more for Prakash Karat and less for myself. The next year I won the council seat. Incidentally I was against Prakash Karat's re-contest as I was against re-contesting on principle. But then the party decided to go with Prakash Karat and as I had predicted he lost against Anand Kumar. And Anand Kumar was a deserving winner. Then the next elections on 31 January 1975 I won. I was also the first SFI candidate to lead in the School of Languages. Although there were great apprehensions because of my situation and disability but still it worked. The first guest I called to JNU as the President of the students union was Mother Teresa. The Statesman on 21 Feb wrote that the SFI Marxist President of JNU asks the students not to ask any political questions to Mother Teresa. But one person, Pankaj Sharma, a Hindi poet, asked Mother what about the Naxalite prisoners? And Mother Teresa gave a wonderful answer. She said “I pray for them.” We also had a movement in JNU which was historical which one can read about in Economic Weekly. It was called Butter and Jam strike because it began with the mess bill problem. There were other issues as well but this was one of the major ones. So the university went on a sine die strike. This was the first time in any University in the world that all of us complied. And the Student administrative body decided that if the JNU administration would not run the University, we will. So students prepared lectures and took classes. JNU is not merely Jawaharlal Nehru University but Just National Understanding according to me. So classes were started and running and the greatest amazement for the country was that the library run by students was open 24 hours and none of the books were lost and this is recorded. Later obviously the issues were resolved.
I was arrested on 11 Nov 1975 and released on 25 Jan 1977 along with Arun Jaitley. When I came to the campus on 27 Jan 1977 in club building quadrangle and almost The entire student community, staff and even the faculty were there to listen to me and then I was taken to the Students Union office and installed there. So in that sense I was the longest serving JNUSU President from 21 Jan 1975 to 25 April 1977.
After that there was a demand for fresh elections by Free Thinkers and the proposal was accepted in General Body Meeting.
After being voted out I thanked my General Secretary the most who was a Free Thinker, S.S. Singh. Then 22 or 23 April 1977 elections were held. We made Sitaram Yechury the candidate. Prakash Karat said that I should re-contest and I refused as I was against it. The two names came from the General Body and I made sure that Sitaram was voted as a nominee and not me. In that election the entire CPM was convinced that Sitaram would lose. Prakash Karat did not even campaign. I coined the slogan for him “Badi ladai ucha naam Sitaram Sitaram!” Sitaram won the elections.
Wafa: Are their any changes you see in JNU over time?
DPT: There are many changes taking place in the country and JNU cannot be removed from these but I still think that JNU is the best university in India and I am not saying this because I am from JNU. There are reasons for that, firstly it's a national university, It's a residential university; the teaching is direct and more practical rather than bookish, self study. But depoliticisation has taken place to a certain extent which is in keeping with the trends in the world which is in turn governed by the market. But even then the atmosphere continues. The worst thing that had happened to JNU was the stopping of JNU elections. We had all gone to appeal to the court as well. There was no communalism, no casteism and no gender bias. In fact JNU was the first university to have norms and a body against gender bias. When I became President e that there were joint hostels. Moonis Raza, the then Rector called me and said that these joint hostels should be changed as we live in India. The girls should be allowed to go to the boys' hostels and go to the mess but the hostels should be separate. I agreed with him and convinced my council as that was the demand of many people as well. But many girls surrounded and questioned me and called me a chauvinistic pig. It took me seven hours to convince them but ultimately they accepted because of the affection for me. And the VC, Nag Chaudhary and the Rector congratulated me. Politics and personal relations were separate. There was a sense of tolerance. And students voted based on issues and agendas. When I stood for elections many of my classmates like Jayshankar or Malay Mishra or Shushant Mishra who are well known names now opposed me whereas some who were not my classmates or especially close to me supported me based on their viewpoint. There was always a dialogue and endless discussions over tea with the ones who were opposing me politically. They would give their feedback on what they thought was lacking in my agenda and I would do the same for them. This aspect should not change.
This interview was taken some time ago.