ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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Deconstructing Saffron Nationalism

Defeat the Campaign to Vilify JNU

Vikas Bajpai (drvikasbajpai@gmail.com) teaches at the Centre for Social Medicine and Community Health, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

The arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar, the student’s union president in Jawaharlal Nehru University, and subsequent crackdown on all dissent on the campus, is part of a larger design to stifle the voices of anyone going against the policies of the current regime. 

Much has been said and is being said in the media about Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) over the past few days. Quite clearly, JNU has become the focus of renewed attention of the Sangh Parivar. Even though the pretext for this situation may be new, the present situation has been in the making ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government came to power at the centre.

Brewing Intolerance

Within a few days of Narendra Modi coming to power in Delhi an editorial column was written in Pioneer on 2 June 2014 by K G Suresh, a senior fellow of the Vivekananda Foundation, affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Suresh made the case with reference to JNU that it was time to clean the Augean stables “of those who masquerade as Left-liberals” but “in reality” promote divisive, anti-national agendas. Subsequently there have been many more statements by various functionaries of the Sangh affiliated organisations to the effect that JNU is a den of anti-national elements.

Present Condition

In the present instance, this was not the first time that Afzal Guru’s hanging was being condemned. This has happened earlier, not only in JNU but in different parts of the country. Neither is the support for the democratic right of self-determination for various nationalities and all Kashmiri people—whether we agree with it or not as individuals, been articulated for the first time, either at JNU or in other parts of India. However, what apparently did happen for the first time was that this time around the Sangh aficionados had their script prepared and it must be admitted that they have executed it to near perfection till now. 

It is well known that none of the Left organisations, including the far Left, have ever supported slogans like "Pakistan Zindabad" or "Allah-o-Akbar,” as has been claimed, were shouted in the cultural protest organised at JNU to protest against the hanging of Afzal Guru. According to some reports, these slogans were raised by a section of Kashmiri students, at a time when a rally was beginning to be taken out after peaceful conclusion of the cultural programme, and that too upon provocation by some Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) supporters. However, as another video doing the rounds on social media suggests, this sloganeering could have been the handiwork of the ABVP. It would take a thorough examination of evidence in this regard to establish truth firmly.

Nevertheless, these slogans, whosoever shouted them now appear to have been planted to unleash an entirely new set of events that had nothing to do with that evening’s programme that was organised by some left leaning students of JNU. Indeed, after this incident a well-orchestrated campaign has been unleashed to tarnish JNU and curb dissent, of any political hue.

Anti-Nationals Elsewhere

However this so-called nationalist design of the present government is not restricted to JNU. Even Rohith Vemula (the Dalit scholar who committed suicide at the University of Hyderabad recently) and his comrades were labelled as anti-national just because they wanted to question capital punishment through the case of Yakub Memon and the communal politics that was played out in Muzaffarnagar by screening a film based on the aftermath of the riots on campus. In fact BJP’s condemnation of Rohith violated even the minimal decency that such a tragedy demands. On 2 February 2015, speaking to Hindu, Dushyant Gautam, the chief of BJP Dalit Morcha said, “I think atonement and regret about the fact that he was sent by his family to study but got led astray by Left politics was the reason for his unfortunate step.”

Before that, in August 2015, the BJP government in Maharashtra issued a circular declaring any criticism of the government liable to be treated as an offense under the Sedition Act, which was later withdrawn on instructions from the courts. This happened without any “anti-national” provocation whatsoever. Meanwhile, any criticism of the government’s policies in general is increasingly getting described as anti-national. An ABVP spokesperson said in a recent talk show (Prime Time aired on NDTV India) that it has become fashionable for intellectuals to criticise India and deride government's policies.

However, nothing anti-national is seen by these elements when their own member of Parliament (MP) Sanjay Dotre, from Akola in Vidarbha region of Maharashtra said on 30 December 2014 of the farm suicides in his region that—“Let these farmers fend for themselves. If crops fail, they will figure out what to do. And if they are dying, let them die.”

More than 11 states, including all big ones, are reeling under severe drought; But the raging agrarian crisis is left to its own fate by the rulers; that is not being anti-national.

Even as I write these lines the ghosts of Muzaffarnagar are once again being conjured up by the Sangh to win a by-election in the Uttar Pradesh (UP) assembly from Muzaffarnagar, but this apparently is not anti-national! The rape of virtually all females in the villages except the very old and very small (Kunan Pashpora incidents in Kashmir in February 1991) never deserved condemnation as being an act of national shame. The victims have till date been denied justice. To offer the Indian working classes as cheap fodder for international capital by abolishing all manner of labour laws for ensuring the success of Make in India is apparently not anti-national! 

The United Kingdom can have an official referendum on separation of Scotland from UK; the leaders who led the campaign for separation can be elected to the British parliament and participate in its proceedings without being labelled as anti-national. Catalonia in Spain can have its own referendum for separation in which the Catalonian majority voted for separation from Spain, but the Spanish people do not brand them as anti-national. The Indian diasporas in England and Australia, who are citizens of those countries, openly cheer the Indian cricket team against their national team, but never get labelled as anti-national. The examples are many. But it is only in the world’s biggest democracy so to say that we stand condemned to be called anti-national for even proposing reasoned opposition to government’s policies.

Today a teacher, either at JNU or in other universities, who may well have spent years mentoring generations of students can easily be labelled anti-national just because s/he teaches her or his students to critique the observed reality of the society. All that it would take is a complaint by one ABVP enthusiast who perceives the teachings of a particular teacher offending to his/her nationalist sensibilities. The condescending administration edged on by the Ministry of Human Resource Development will do the rest.

I am indeed in a quandary whether to have my lectures vetted by the ABVP executive members or their affiliates if they are there in my Centre at JNU, to save myself the epithet of being an anti-national; and worse still—to save my job.  

Nefarious Design

There is a difference between criticising the Indian ruling classes and being anti-Indian. The problem however is that our rulers seem to have patented Indianness and the meaning of India unto themselves. So by definition everyone else who questions them qualifies to be an anti-national. We must however see clearly the design behind this kind of insistence.

The Modi government shall apparently brook no dissidence howsoever democratic. While terrorists (real or claimed/acclaimed) can be shot by bullets, but ideas, especially those that pose a challenge to the exploitative regimes and ideas of a better alternative cannot be shot down with bullets. Universities are known to spawn such ideas; at least some universities do so more particularly, ours being one among them.

More importantly JNU has been in the forefront of two most important struggles of late—first, against the scrapping of non-junior research fellowships (JRF) given to scholars by the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the second against the administrative murder of Rohith Vemula. Before this some teachers of our university had been vigorously mobilising support against various measures to stifle institutions of higher learning through the Central Universities Act.

The expedience behind the present moves by the government is not just financial, legalistic or administrative. The purpose is to change the entire structure of education—who shall get educated, through what means and manner, and to serve whose interest? The present campaign to vilify JNU is directed at breaking this resistance that is being led by JNU.

As to the question of nationalism; this is only a pretext to serve more nefarious designs. Nationalism, particularly the chauvinist kind eulogised by the present government at the centre has been the last resort of the scoundrels through history. However, there are examples galore to show how the knees of such “nationalists” from every section of the ruling classes are programmed to bend instinctively before their imperialist masters.

The entire JNU community and the Indian people at large can afford to be silent on the present campaign of the Sangh Parivar only at their own peril. It is wonderful to see that the entire JNU community has rebounded with courage and determination against this campaign over past two days. I just hope the world is listening.

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