#StandWithJNU : Tax debate : the free-spirited parrots who need to be CAGED

A certain section of the country is suddenly concerned about what use the Tax Payer’s money is being put to especially in the case of JNU. Several social media posts have questioned the spending of tax payer’s money on the ‘anti-nationals’ of JNU, as they had done before for FTII and IITs. Before going into the debate of whether this concern is right or wrong, let us first ponder into India’s tax collection and its spending on education.

Graphic Courtesy : tax wordle

It is interesting to know that India’s Tax Revenue as a percentage of GDP is only 17.7% [1]. Countries like Luxemburg (36.5%) [1], Ghana (20.8%) [1] & Zimbabwe (27.2%) [1] have done better at Tax collection than India. Denmark has the best record in the world at 49% [1]. This is despite the fact that when it comes to countries with most dollar billionaires, India is right at top (at No. 4) with a staggering 100 billionaires [2] according to the Forbes 2015. Sweden on this list is at No. 18 with a humble 23 billionaires [2] but is still doing better than India in Tax Collection at 45.8% [1]. The larger point here being are we really serious about Taxes in India? Or are we behaving like Imperialist masters who want return of every penny spent on their subjects?

In India only 2.9% [2] of the country pay Income Tax. India has one of the lowest tax to GDP ratios at 11.1%, lower than the global average of 14%. This is an indicator of rampant tax evasion. A majority of this nation do not pay their taxes and have been successfully doing so for decades now. Hence when a nation or a section starts calling for JNU to be shut down because they feel that their money is being misspent, we must first ask- Do you pay taxes?

Photo Courtesy : Ethixbase.com

Let’s now look at total public spending on education as a percentage of GDP in India and compare it to Global Standards. India till about 2012 was spending only about 3.5% of its GDP on education. On average, most countries devote 12.9% of total public expenditure to education, but values for individual countries range from less than 10% in the Czech Republic, Italy and Japan, to more than 20% in Mexico. Morocco spending the most in terms of percentage of GDP spent on education at 26.4%. This shows our seriousness towards education and how determined we are towards creating an excellent education system which gives us the next pool of brilliant minds. [4]

Now coming to JNU. JNU’s annual budget, is roughly around Rs 150 crore [5]. The total planned expenditure for India for 2014–15 was Rs 4,67,934 crore [5]. Hence public spending going into JNU is 0.03% of the entire public spending done by the government. Is this really a sum of money that the tax payers should be concerned about? Especially when JNU is one of the most premiere institutions in the country and is also considered to be one of the Top universities in the world. The country’s top politicians, journalists, sociologists, researchers hail from JNU.Prakash Karat, Sitaram Yechury, Nirmala Sitaraman, Digvijay Singh,Maneka Gandhi are some of the illustrious politicians from JNU. Notable journalists like P. Sainath who have devoted their entire life to covering rural India also come from this institution. Be it the multiple national award winning Bengali filmmaker Srijit Mukherjee, or the former PM of Libya Ali Zeidan, all are former JNU-ites [6]. So do you want to cut the pipeline which gives the country its most illustrious and powerful politicians, journalists and free thinkers? Only because you don’t agree with some of their views?

The issue is not that tax payer’s money is being spent here. No. Because even the students of JNU and their families are paying taxes right? If not Income tax but definitely indirect taxes on everything. So a part of it can be called self-funding which everyone conveniently overlooked in this over hyped “tax debate”. The actual problem lies somewhere else. Chetan Bhagat summed it up the best, he tweeted:-“Can people in college use the college to study instead of trying to insult the country that is subsidizing their education?” [7] So that’s the problem. Like the typical Indian mindset: “Padho taaki achi job mil sake, aur phir shaadi karke settle ho jao.” The reason why a high percentage of students take up engineering in India is because engineers get jobs much easily when compared to students of Humanities. The entire education system in India is driven towards the sole objective of getting “a job”. Martin Luther King said,” The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character- that is the true purpose of education.”

The British Imperialists set up an education system in this country which did not test our thinking, it did not promote free thinking, critical thinking, and the ability to question. But that was in their interest. They wanted an obedient nation which they could rule easily and also run an education system which supplies them with efficient clerks. Hence an education system which only tests one’s memory and not promote free thinking was designed. But we are liberated now or at least the British have left but India is still not liberated in its thoughts. India is still in the shackles of patriarchal thoughts. Hence the equating of a nation to a mother. In a patriarchal society, people always use the term “mother” to make something sacrosanct, sanctimonious, put on a pedestal so high that its idea becomes beyond questioning and if one tries to question it then mobilizing forces against such voices of dissent becomes a child’s play. The more religious a country is, the easier it is to implement this there. As all religions teach us to be slaves to symbolisms.

Historically, universities globally have had the right to dissent, however powerful the ruling government may be. Massive protests broke out in American Universities during the 1960s and 1970s against the Vietnam War. Almost 80% of Americans turned against their own government at that time. But not one person was charged with sedition. Noam Chomsky, an American linguist, historian and one of the world’s most noted political thinker is the most powerful dissenting voice against his own country the United States of America. A former professor at MIT, Chomsky is the harshest critique of the US foreign policy and its imperialist agenda. He has held his own country responsible for all the major wars held across the globe and equated US military action to state sponsored terrorism but still never was he jailed or slapped with sedition charges.

In India on the contrary, politicians, irrespective of which political party they belong to have always looked at their own citizens as threats to their hegemony. Hence they manufacture consent through propaganda. As Chomsky rightly says,” Propaganda is to a democracy what violence is to a dictatorship.” But there are times where islands of dissenting voices rise up who manage to look beyond the veil of propaganda and that causes the state to panic and then use force to crush or muzzle such voices. Accusing the dissenters of disrespecting any such symbols of hegemony be it religion, nation or army thus allows them to gather support of the masses as they unleash state machinery on the dissenters. JNU has always been one such island of dissenters who have talked about breaking such hegemonies, be it — Religious, Caste, Gender, Free Market, Crony Capitalists, Article 377, AFSPA, etc and that is what is at the crux of the problem. Certain examples of whimsical spending would be

a. 200 crore spent on Saradar Patel’s statue [8]

b. 350 crore spend on Shivaji Statue in Maharashtra [9]

c. Spending on each MP is around 35 lakhs [10]

d. Cost of one Yoga Divas is around 55 crores [11]

As tax payers should we really not be concerned with these issues?

Instead of getting concerned about JNU, as a conscious citizen of India and as a taxpayer, we should be concerned with hundred other issues.

Graphic Courtesy : Indiandreamstime.com

In a report named, “Corporate Karza Maafi”, P. Sainath reported that the government has waived off a whopping amount of 36.5 trillion rupees in 9 years (from 2005–06 to 2013–14) [12] an amount that could have funded MNREGS for 105 years at 2014 price levels [12]. In response to a RTI filed by The Indian Express, twenty-nine state-owned banks wrote off a total of Rs 1.14 lakh crore of bad debts [13] between financial years 2013 and 2015, much more than they had done in the preceding nine years. The Supreme Court of India has asked for names of defaulters who owe 500 crores [13] or more to the banks but still lead a lavish lifestyle. This is one of the biggest scams to have come out in Independent India. One glaring example is that of Vijay Mallya and his Kingfisher Airlines. Kingfisher Airlines took various loans from various public sector banks. Off 7000 crores [14] lent to Kingfisher, banks can now only recover 6 crores. inspite ofthis he still continues to buy IPL players at crores of rupees while his staff still hasn’t received their salaries running into months.As responsible citizens, should we also not question these banks , their money lending processes and their unholy collusion with the powerful crony capitalists in India.

In contrast to these instances of misuse of public money, what is the expenditure on an average JNU student? Anaverage research student in the liberal arts, social sciences and humanities, one who has not qualified for the UGC,NET, JRF, lives on Rs 5,000-a-month and Rs 4,000-a-year contingency grant [5]. Postgraduate students do not get any money. One who has qualified UGC, NET, JRF gets a grant of Rs 25,000 per month and Rs 10,000 per year [5] as contingency grant (for books, photocopies and stationery) in liberal arts, social sciences and humanities.

The bigger question hence is, are you really worried about your money? If yes, then why aren’t you making so much noise about all these scams , instances of land being given away to businessmen like Adani, Reliance and Baba Ramdev at literally throw away prices? Or is it that the issue lies with the students of JNU having views which differ from yours? They dare to question the hegemony and there lies your discomfort.

Graphic Courtesy : thepresidentpost.com

If that is the case then I would like to share a short story about a King who caged the most beautiful parrot who he thought was too indisciplined as it was free spirited- said and sang what it felt like. He then decided to educate it and especially teach discipline. It started stuffing notes, papers and other study materials down its throat in order to teach it the things the King wanted it to learn. After a few days the tutor found that it wasn’t moving at all and not making any noise or sound. On hearing this the King was ecstatic that finally he has been able to teach the indisciplined parrot discipline and how to be obedient. In reality though the parrot was dead.



Edited by : Debolina Mukherjee, Asst. Director, Policy at Engineering Exports Promotion Council, INDIA (Ex Associate -Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations)

Author : Avik Ghosh.

A Graduate from Calcutta University in Bcom (Hons) , Avik is currently pursuing MBA from Vanguard Business School , Bangalore. He is an aspiring film maker too and an active member of Civilian Welfare Foundation advocating and contributing to the various right based activities with respect to child rights, disability, sports and LGBTIQ rights.