The Jawaharlal Nehru University, the nerve centre of anti-government protests in 2016, on Wednesday announced it would confer on finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman and external affairs minister S. Jaishankar its first award for distinguished alumni.
The decision was taken in the university's executive council meeting on Wednesday. The ministers will be felicitated in August during the convocation, a long aborted event that was resuscitated last year after a gap of 46 years.
Such an award did not exist in JNU before, the university's news release said. The university said that Sitharaman's and Jaishankar's careers and achievements are a 'great source of inspiration' for JNU students.
“The decision to award these two alumni was unanimous. The names were suggested by different schools and centres of the university. We may consider some more names before the August convocation and include them also for the award,” Sachidanand Sinha, a faculty and executive council member, told this website.
The decision has its detractors on the campus. The decision to award Sitharaman, who had called students' political activity 'anti-India' recently, came in for criticism. A section of students saw her selection as a move to appease the dispensation at the Centre.
“There have always been distinguished alumni in the government. So many ministers, ambassadors, high commissioners, etc. Why only them? And I do remember honourable minister Nirmala Sitharaman's comment on JNU. She does not want the university to exist, how can she be a distinguished alumnus of the university. There are numerous other members of Parliament, Sitaram Yechury is one of them. Why only these two?” N. Sai Balaji, the current president of the JNU students' union, asked.
Last year, Sitharaman had said: “I feel sad at what is happening in the institution. It is not encouraging at all. It is very different to have a party, whose ideology I may not agree (with), but the way in which they are probably led by forces which are anti-India. When I say anti-India, definitely it is a stated position. They are waging a war against India in their pamphlets and their brochures. That makes me feel uneasy.” She said this days after an all-Left students' union was elected at the university.
The JNU students' union had demanded that Sitharaman withdraw her comment.
According to the note issued by the university on Wednesday, Sitharaman had completed her MA and MPhil from the School of Social Sciences and School of International Studies, respectively.
Jaishankar did his MPhil and doctoral research in the School of International Studies, specialising in nuclear diplomacy.