From Rohith Vemula to Kanhaiyya Kumar : need for Bahujan-Left convergence

Vidya Bhushan Rawat

JNU administration has not brought itself to glory when it expelled all the students charged with ‘sedition’ activities without giving them a chance to explain their position and when the matter is subjudice. What happens if the courts exonerate the students after some years ? Who will be responsible for ruining their future ? It is disgraceful to the say least as after Rohith Vemula’s expulsion in University of Hyderabad, we felt that teachers and administrators are not butchers but serious people who believe in counter arguments. Kanhaiyya Kumar and others who have allegedly raised those slogans be countered argumentatively and there are good people everywhere. Ideological differences and organizing political meetings are part of students learning process, many of whom may join politics tomorrow. So having politicians will political understanding and commitment will be much better for India than mere ‘jugadus’ and criminals who reach at a position after ‘connections’, at the higher level.

It is not surprising that the ministers and leaders of the ruling party continue to work through their strategy including the electronic media in discrediting the opponents. Such media, intelligence and ruling party alliance was not known earlier though there were journalists, editors, leaders who were in close touch and used media to discredit a movement or leaders but today the worst fears are coming true. Capitalist media has shown its true colors and has become a party in creating obstacles for people to get justice. Efforts are made in the newsroom to spread lies and cook up stories to ‘slaughter’ the political opponents.

Everyday, there is one protest or others in various parts of the country. The students are angry but the response of the government itself is angry. For the first time since emergency we have seen that government’s countering the protests through its political and student wing. BJP has not accepted the fact that it is the ruling party, which gives it bigger opportunity and learn to hear things patiently. Rather, by using its student wing the party has actually shown panicky reaction. In its attempt to get political mileage, the party has even involved some of the veteran soldiers to smear the entire JNU fraternity. While JNU and those who stand with it remain united in protecting its autonomy, the government is bringing outsiders into the debate particularly media and street people to talk about JNU. Are the issues of students and academics so simple to be resolved in ‘chai pe charcha’. The way these serious issues have been painted and polarized in patriots-non-patriotism is nothing but seriously disturbing and need to be settled once for all so that these issues do not take our time during elections or in finding solution.

Rohith Vemula’s death was an important issue highlighting the institutional murder even when we know well that it was not the first one and perhaps, despite such loud protests, will not be the last. So why do we protest if things are unable to change? What changes? Is the protest changes things or the law? There is also talk about ‘Rohith’ act like what the UPA government enacted for ‘Nirbhaya’. The protests are still going on and so are the deaths of students in various institutions but the ruling party seems to be under the impression that the protests are being secretly supported and encouraged by the opposition parties to defame and disrupt the government. The prime minister had already hinted that there is a ‘conspiracy’ to defame his government nationally and internationally by various people including foreign funded NGOs. What is more shocking is that these NGOs are on the target of all the political parties including the right and the left who feel they are ‘depoliticising’ the people and imposing a hidden agenda on them. The NGOs themselves might not think that they are so powerful to dislodge a government as India is a country of political movements and despite all its shortcomings the democracy thrives here and politicians knows it well. Why then the prime minister suggested that NGOs are responsible for his government’s disrepute and that too the ‘foreign funded’. Is the #occupyUGC movement an NGO product? Does the PM think that the issues of IIT Madras’s Periyar Ambedkar study circle or death of Rohith Vemula or the crisis emerged after the JNU student Union’s president Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested was created by foreign funded NGOs ? On the other hand side, the biggest foreign donations are ‘allegedly’ being received the rightwing Hindutva organisations in the name of ‘culture’. Most of these foul mouth organisations are registered in US, UK and elsewhere under the charities, which perhaps have not been properly investigated and asked any questions by any government in India since independence.

Anyway, there are several critical issues out of these entire episodes that emerged so far. One, Rohith, kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid represent the new ideological Indian with several commonalities despite differences in certain perceptions. They have different castes and social upbringings based on their community profiles. Rohith was a Dalit, which was being questioned by BJP and its partner organisations, so that the leaders who are being accused as responsible for his death, can be saved from arrest under Prevention of atrocities on SC-ST Act. Kanhaiyya Kumar, though hail from Bhumihar community, one of the worst offenders of Dalit human rights yet in the class structure, he is an absolute poor whose mother work in the Aanganwadi for a meager Rs three thousands per month to feed her family as his father is bed ridden with paralysis. Hailing from such a background and then becoming the President of one of India’s leading universities is no mean feat. Umar Khalid has openly proclaimed to be an atheist and believer in the Communist ideology even when he hails from a very conservative family of Nagpur with his father a senior editor with a Urdu daily and member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board.

All the three students actually are modern seculars in absolute ‘secular’ term. Rohith Vemula was an Ambedkarite secular whose earlier stint with SFI was not worth remembering except the fact that he blamed the Marxist organization not able to go beyond the narrow confines of their caste order. Kanhaiyya Kumar’s caste today is at the forefront of the Hindutva organization despite an old history of staunch supporter of CPI but today he is not just engaged with the once powerful party, which today is just the pale shadow of the old one but also redefining student politics through his articulations. The new young are attracted to Hindutva politics or interested in the caste mobilsation of Ranvir Sena but idealists are still attract to the old party despite its structural weaknesses. Kanhaiyya has made this realization that issue of caste and social justice is equally important.

Umar Khalid proves that born in a traditional family does not force you to become an Islamic jihadi as many in the Sangh parivar might feel. His absolute unapologetic views on many issues of nationality, resources, Dalits and aadivasis over their resources are nothing new but definitely do not make him popular among those determined to suck them for profiteering. The popular belief that all born Muslims are hardcore Jehadis is debunked by the new generations of the young Muslims for who the issues are important than your birth based identity. India must welcome this change in the mindset of people especially its young who are ready to leave aside these caste and religious identities, which are birth based, and not really chosen by us. All the three chose secular rationalist ways of life and felt that corporate driven Manuwad was dangerous for India. We need our freedom from hunger, malnutrition, poverty, caste system, gender discrimination and many more. The articulation made by these brilliant youngsters raises hopes for us that ideology is more important than your birth based identity as Umar Khalid has been mentioning most of the time as after the JNU incident he was made to accept his ‘Muslim’ identity, the cause of his being targeted by the rightwing Hindu trolls in social media and socio-political life.

Unfortunately the fear of Umar Khalid are true not because the Sangh Parivar and its elements were determined but a basic reality of India’s ugly caste system which the exploiters wants to protect at any cost though under different disguise. Sangh Parivar and its various offshoots have found this ‘identity’ business the best politics to strengthen their cultural agenda of Brahmanism in India. The survival of Brahmanism is important at all cost but it will not be possible if the Brahmins are at the lead role as in the caste conscious society people are asking for their stake and participation in power hence survival of Brahmanism is possible only through identity politics and exploitation of contradictions among various communities.

Let us understand how the Sangh Parivar, the BJP and its allied responded to three incidents. Also important to understand what they did not say and why and that will reflect the privilege that caste brings in India even when you proclaim to be a poor and what is important in the caste identity.

The BJP was on defensive with the death of Rohith Vemula as ABVP was definitely the one who have been complaining against all those they feel work against the Hindutva but this incident backfired with massive protests of Dalit-left-secular forces. They realized the damage and the best way to counter being anti-Dalit was to deny that Rohith was a Dalit. The strategy was well planned as friendly parties in Telangana and Andhra worked on that. The chief ministers of the two states refused to speak on the issue or even make a statement. One day a Telangana Rastra Samiti’s Member of Parliament who happened to be a Reddy, powerful privileged caste of Andhra and Telangana states, claimed that Rohith was not a Dalit. Despite the certificate issued to Rohith by the relevant authorities, Telangana government continued with its witch-hunt on the issue and came out that since Rohith’s mother married to a man who happened to be a person from backward community. Now why they raked up the issue whether Rohith was a Dalit or not. His father’s caste may not have been categorized as one of the scheduled castes but the community definitely is among the Most Backward Community, many of whose conditions are similar to Scheduled Castes. Secondly, Supreme Court has categorically stated that if one of the partners is a Scheduled Caste, the child will get all the facility meant for the Scheduled Castes and will be known as such. Do our politicians not know this? How come the Union Minister spoke the same patriarchical language about the caste of Rohith and terming it as if this was ‘internal’ conflict of the OBCs or Dalits and not a murder of an innocent student just because of his caste? Was the Minister or the Ministry unaware of the Supreme Court order? Can any one deny the fact that a number of OBC students particularly those from rural background too face the discrimination at the academic institutions? Why the Ministry tried to portray it a conflict between the OBCs? Why is there an attempt to even deny dignity to Rohith in his death by continuously asking for his caste? The fact is the Sangh Parivar is trying to heap indignity even in death on Rohith by using the caste card that he ‘stole’ their reservation. They are defensive yet they feel that offense is the best defense and try to further divide the community for their political gains.

The case of Kanhaiyya Kumar and Umar Khalid clearly show the privilege of castes in India. If it was mere Umar Khalid for the JNU controversy, the top BJP leadership would have gone attacking but did you see any one from Bihar including M/s Giriraj Kishore and other fire brand ministers who were sending every one of us to ‘Pakistan’ speaking anything on Kanhaiyya issue. In-fact, none of the Bihar’s loudmouth leader spoke anything about Kanhaiyya even when ‘lawyers’ at the Patiala House Court were ready to lynch him. Imagine the dilemma of Sangh leaders from Bihar when the issue was blown up by the media and Kanhaiyya was being beaten up at the Patiala House Court none from Bihar uttered a word, for or against him. Suddenly, we found that aggressive ‘Bhumihars’ got a new leader talking about ‘azadi’ from Manuwad. Were the leaders disturbed by this as this could influence the results in UP which goes to polls early next year with a sizeable Bhumihar community in the eastern parts particularly districts like Balia, Ghazipur, Mau, Azamgarh and Varanasi. If the government, the BJP and the Sangh Parivar along with friendly media went ‘slow’ on Kanhaiyya Kumar, it is due to the caste that he belong to even when we all believe that there was no criminality in it and universities have right to organize an event or not, discuss some issues which are politically uncomfortable for the government or just shut the debate.

This brings us to debate the irony of Umar Khalid, a brilliant young man pursuing his research on the tribal issues in JNU. Umar comes from a traditional Muslim family background. His father is a journalist and was also member of Student Islamic Movement of India when it was not banned in early eighties. He had left it long back but when the JNU controversy erupted Umar Khalid became a ‘Laskar-e-Taiba’ terrorist who visited Pakistan and other countries and was ‘planning’ to do similar kinds of shows in other prominent universities of India. The scholar who rejected invitation to go for higher research in the Yale University and who does not even own a passport so far was charged by ‘patriotic’ channels as being LeT operative in several countries. An atheist therefore was forcibly ‘returned’ to the ‘identity’, which came to him imposed through his father’s leaning or birth. This is the biggest challenge today for every one who believe in that individuals have right to decide their choice as why should any person be given a ‘religious’ identity imposed upon them. Shouldn’t we have a right to decide? Why can’t we allow our children to grow in a free atmosphere without any fear and decide about their faith or identity once they are adult?

The tragic part of it is that the Hindutva inspired media and trolls ignored the academic and ideological traits of a person who is openly confessing being atheist and a secular. Do we know the prize of being ‘atheist’ or ‘secular’ in countries, which are under the Sharia laws? It is death penalty to claim atheist or non-believer Islamic law for apostasy does not allow people to even convert or adopt a faith of their choice because once it is granted people will get rid of the imposed view. The brahmanical Hindutva’s notion of ‘birth-based’ identity is actually very similar to the same where your ideology is subservient to your birth based identity. A Kanhaiyya Kumar will be protected and iconized while a Khalid languishes in the jail just because of their identities. It is not for ‘ideological’ reasons that the Sangh ‘embrace’ Ambedkar, Subhash, Bhagat Singh and Raja Mahendra Pratap. They are purely reduced to their basic identities, as none of them will be politically comfortable for Sangh Parivar in terms of their ideologies hence the easiest way is to exploit their identity and ‘nationalism’. Imagine, if any one of them were living today, what would have been Sangh’s response? What would likes of Arnab Goswami and others speak about them if they were alive?

The only person who the Hindutva’s ideologue could not use so far was EVR Periyar whose scathing critique of Brahmanism ensured that Tamilnadu’s politics revolve around Dravidian nationalist identities though it has its own shortcomings yet it definitely countered brahmanical hegemony in politics and social lives. One need to introspect as why the Sangh is not offended with Ambedkar’s ‘Riddles of Hinduism’ while highly offended with Periyar’s ‘True Ramayana’. The answer needs to be probed fairly. Probably, the Sangh and Hindutva feared Periyar’s politics and ways to expose the brahmanical lies and deceits provocatively in public. It is equally important that Periyar’s birth-based identity does not suit Sangh Parivar’s identity politics in the North, North East, Western and Eastern India.

In the identity politics, the right to ‘criticise’ or ‘abuse’ is totally with the power elite. In Today’s time, we don’t ‘expect’ Muslims to respond to all the questions of autonomy, identity and nationalism. According to this theory, Muslim only need to ‘appreciate’ and support the ‘mainstream’ ‘nationalism’ defined by the brahmanical forces if they wish to remain in India ‘peacefully’. We were told they organized a meet to ‘glorify’ Afzal Guru who hailed from Kashmir. Let me categorically suggest here that we had condemned the attack on Parliament and termed it as an attempt to eliminate India’s entire political leadership and bring chaos in the country. Any one who subscribed to such idea or even faintly near to that whether he or she participated directly or indirectly cant be the friend of those who are fighting the battle against intolerant communal zealots politically. Having said that, we also need to understand the constitutionality of the issue. Many senior lawyers felt that Afzal was wrongly convicted and they have a right to do so even when the Supreme Court has passed the final verdict and Afzal exhausted all the avenues of mercy. There are thousands in Kashmir who felt commuting death penalty into life sentence could have sent positive signals in Kashmir. The alliance partner of BJP in Kashmir, PDP openly supported the view on Afzal but nothing was said. All these issues cannot be handed over to semi literate lynch mobs who have no understanding of the historicity of the issues like Kashmir or north-east and which look at them with purely Hindutva grand ‘nationalist’ perspective.

India has a history of leaders making motivated statement. While all the forces in India are under strict scrutiny, we ignore many glaring fact when criticizing the armed forces in a very generalized way does not help and only encourage those who want to communalise the armed forces. The Jawans who goes to serve their country are obeying the order of the civilian government hence they can’t be held responsible for brutalities. It is the government who need to be questioned and not army. An army is there to maintain law and order, it is the fault of the government which consider the issue of political nature as law and order. When Indian army was in Sri Lanka, the Tamilnadu politicians condemned them and as soon as VP Singh’s government came to power in 1989, he withdrew Indian Peace Keeping Force from Sri-Lanka. Similarly, after the operation Blue Star in the Golden Temple in June 1984, many in the Sikh regiment revolted and decided to avenge. The Sikh Officers who led the operation Blue Star in Punjab were threatened with dire consequences but worked hard despite threat to their lives. General A S Vaidya, the former GOC of Indian army was killed by the militants from Punjab in Pune for his alleged role during the operation Blue Star. Both Punjab and Tamilnadu government wanted to release or commute the death penalty of many of the convicts in the jail and waiting for their ‘term’. The assemblies of both the states passed resolution regarding the same but no government in the center dare to question them. Armed forces are important part of a nation and not beyond criticism but criticizing them a very generalized way itself creates crisis which is dangerous for democracy. They must be kept out of political football and ensure secular constitutional values inside the great institutions meant to serve the country and help it during the internal problems and emergencies when civil administration fails.

In democracy dissent is essential but in India the capitalist religious thugs are enjoying freedom to criticize and lampoon others as they have mass media and capital power with them. They are threatening others with legal actions and roaming free everywhere from the ground to social media without any fear of law. They tried to bully the young minds in universities and colleges by defaming them under the garb of ‘nationalism’ and ‘national’ ‘identity’ as if it can only be defined by the Sangh Parivar and its different offshoots who had rarely participated in India’s freedom movement but with the media in their hands they created war cries and intimidated all those who differ with their view point. The students, activists, academics, journalists, lawyers and all those who believe in rule law and social justice need to be complimented for coming together and fighting against this onslaught on your thoughts and social justice. The religious capitalist assault is not on any particular universities or institution but broadly on the idea of secularism and social justice, which are inherently interlinked. The whole turmoil is being created to discredit the idea of social justice, secularism and the responsibility of Indian state to provide equal and quality education to all. The attempt to bring big business into education and health sector has already done huge damage to Dalits-OBCs-Aadivasi students who will be denied quality education in the absence of heavy fees. The state is denying them not just education but also scholarships and access to other important tools to ensure their success.

We must also desist from falling in trap of ‘Americanised’ way of ‘constructing’ leadership, which is against the whole culture of ownership by all. Kanhaiyya Kumar is an ‘international’ figure today thank to media who went after him and the other who ‘lapped’ up every word that he uttered. It is understandable that these youngsters are articulate and can speak things, which are politically difficult as they are beyond the party politics but they should also realize the fact that speaking to media daily and joining every political debate will boomerang on them. Kanhaiyya Kumar got media support because of his caste and ‘poor’ background. He suits well in their scheme of things of projecting ‘economic’ criteria ‘important’ for ‘reservation’. Now, Kanhaiyya want a law against ‘caste politics’ which is very dangerous. One does not know what he meant but if caste politics is just what Dalit Bahujans are doing then Kanhaiyya is returning to the politics of rhetoric suited to brahmanical interests and must be countered.

The importance of these protests lies in one factor that all of them have realized that Brahmanism is the biggest threat to India hence we might have many differences because of diverse ethnic, caste identities but need to come together leaving all the differences to form a Common Minimum Programme so that the communal divisive forces are defeated politically and for that development of Bahujan left is the dire need of the hour. The students all over the country have shown the way, it is time for political leadership of different political parties particularly those who believe in secularism and social justice to take the call and act accordingly as any failure to do so will only be charged with betrayal for the cause of the communities and social justice. The new Bahujan left must build a collaborative leadership of diverse sections of society and refuse to glorify one individual as messiah, which is nothing but dictatorial attitude. Kanhaiyya Kumar and others have been wronged by Indian state and must be supported but it does not mean we accept their political philosophy or utterings as gospel truth. It needs loads of work, convictions of ideas and connectivity with the masses to develop the huge movements. Merely reacting to one threat will not us anywhere as those who oppose the Sangh Parivar too need to come clean on their politics of denial of space at the higher levels to Dalits, Aadivasis and Muslims in their own structures and calling the Dalit Bahujan identity politics as merely ‘caste politics’ or ‘identity politics’ too shows lack of convictions and commitment towards social change on part of the brahmanical left and therefore need to develop Bahujan left forces that not just fight against corporate driven communal agenda of the Sangh Parivar but also work against brahmanical patriarchy and absolute annihilation of castes, without which we will never grow and succeed.