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Tribute to professor C P Bhambri

By Satya Narayana Sahu | PUBLISHED: 10, Nov 2020, 9:24 am IST | UPDATED: 10, Nov 2020, 9:24 am IST

Tribute to professor C P Bhambri
Celebrated social scientist professor C P Bhambri who passed away on 8th November 2020 in New Delhi had a distinguished record as an academic and taught generations of students in several universities including JNU which he joined in early 1970s and it remained central to his life and work till his sad demise. He along with professor Rasheeduddin Khan and  Professor K. Shesadri founded the Centre for Political Studies (CPS) in JNU and became the moving force behind its onward progress. He had famously said that CPS was founded to give a new kind of political science different from behavioural approach or structural-functional approach to explain power politics and political persuasion. Therefore, he contested and interrogated professor Rajni Kothari who founded Centre for Study of Developing Societies. 
He was well known across the academic world for his deep scholarship and academic excellence. I was familiar with the name of Professor C P Bhambri during my pursuit of political science honours course while studying BA in a small college in Odisha during 1977-79. His text book on Public Administration was recommended by our college teachers as part of the catalogue of books for our study and understanding of the theory and practice on public administration. In fact that book became the texture of academic profile of generation of students who studied the subject of political science at undergraduate level and for various competitive examinations. So when I joined JNU for MA to study political science and came to know that professor Bhambri was one of the faculty members in CPS I could not believe that I would be taught by a teacher whose book I read while doing my BA. 
In JNU he taught us a subject "Politics in India" in the last semester of MA and I can never forget his first lecture  in which he outlined the two methods to study social science- Marxist and Non-Marxist. With great clarity he explained that   while in Marxist stream the State is held to be an instrument of the ruling class in non-Marxist stream it is held to be an institution to arbitrate diverse and conflicting interests for the purpose of sustaining the system. Frankly speaking my understanding of the two approaches to study social sciences improved with the insights from that very first lecture. He also said that the non-Marxist stream was best represented by Max Weber and all those who followed him. He added that while centrality of human labour enabled  Marxists  to understand history and explain the material dimensions of society the Weberians gave the theory that Indians were too contemplative and meditative and so had a mystic dimensions to their outlook to life. Then he added that if Indians were so contemplative and meditative how did they produce such  fine textiles and other material objects which marveled the world. At that age I  was indeed impressed by that short and succinct analysis which made a deep impact on my mind and continues to do so even now in my limited engagements with study and research. 
I did not do well in his paper on Indian Politics but his explanation of the subject was quite persuasive. His conviction flowing from his Marxian understanding of politics was very strong. It was evident in  one of his   lectures in our class in CPS located in down campus of JNU. When  my fellow class mate Vanita Sinha, now Shastri, and currently Dean of Social Sciences, in Ashoka University, entered  the lecture room a few minutes after professor Bhambri had commenced his lecture he took an uncomfortable pause and gravely said "Once I enter the class nobody should enter". When she apologetically said that she was slightly late because she had another class in SIS building professor Bhambri made a cryptic remark by saying, "I am equally class conscious". That summed up his unwavering commitment to Marxists approach. Those four words got imprinted in my mind and I can never forget that profound remark which defined his approach to his academic pursuits.   
But he was not dogmatic and remained open to ideas and sustained the culture of interrogation characteristic of a well cultivated academic. My CPS MA class fellow Vanita  wrote,  "I have fond memories of Prof. Bhambri, he was my MPhil thesis advisor. At first I was scared to have him in that role, him being a known Marxist and I, who was not one. But ideological issues never came up and his supervision of my thesis was very smooth sailing. He was a good scholar and teacher. A role model for his work ethic." His open minded approach was evident from one of his numerous articles on contemporary issues. One such  insightful piece "India: The Dalit Question as Answer to Hinutva" published in Communalism Watch on  1st February 2016 underlined a point. He observed,  "The Dalit leadership understands that the complex Indian caste question is linked with history and political economy of India. The Dalit movement alone cannot deal with the challenge of  “caste” without forging alliances with other like-minded, progressive, secular, intellectual, social and political forces of the country." 
In another article "India: Sangh Parivar’s Wish - Education for Hinduisation" published in the Tribune on 11th March 2016 he wrote about universities where free atmosphere of debate and dissent give rise to blooming of thousand flowers. (  It yet again underscored his open minded approach even as he remained wedded to his own worldview anchored on Marxism. 
Much after I left JNU and while serving President K R Narayanan he once called me and I was pleasantly surprised to talk to him. He always asked for some material or report for writing articles or for other  academic purposes. It was indeed delightful and educative to see professor Bhambri so passionately pursuing academics even at that advanced stage of his life. 
When JNU faced relentless attacks from Modi regime in 2016 and some students faced sedition charges he emerged as one of its  staunch defenders. Observing with deep anguish in the aforementioned article that "...JNU has been asked to defend its "nationalist" credentials before the RSS-led Sangh Parivar and its affiliates who claim to be the champions of Hindu Rashtravad and patriotism", he sharply observed "The Hindutva project of education as defined and interpreted by the ideologues of the Sangh Parivar cannot be pursued under the present university system which has been nurtured on the basis of values enshrined in the Constitution of democratic, liberal, secular, Republic of India". 
Noting that "Conflicts on the campuses are nothing new" he referred to the  polarisation and "anti-Vietnam" war protests  in the USA during 1960s and 1970s and the  revolt in Paris campus in 1970. He also recalled philosopher Jean Paul Sartre who in the context of campus revolt in Paris had  observed that campuses would  play a transformative role. Then he added by saying,  "Neither the US nor the French government declared the students, "anti-national". Democracies grow only in a free atmosphere of debate and dissent but the BJP Government in power does not consider universities as centres of ideas, where a hundred different flowers bloom."
His legacy rooted in such worldview would inspire generations to defend the idea of India and idea of JNU. Long live professor C P Bhambri.

.The author served as Officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary to President of India late Shri K R Narayanan and had a tenure in Prime Minister’s Office and Joint Secretary in Rajya Sabha Secretariat. Views expressed in the article are in his personal capacity.
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