The JNU siege

Vrijendra

vrijendra taught in a college in Bombay for thirty years, and has been associated with civil liberties groups for a long time. He can be contacted at [email protected]

The JNU campus is under siege. Last week,, the president of JNU students’s Union was arrested by Delhi police on the charge of sedition for an event he did not even organise! Apparently, this event was organised by a left group in JNU, to protest against the hanging of Afzal guru by the government three years ago. The event was officially permitted by the JNU administration till the ABVP protested to the VC. Then, the administration withdrew the permission to the event. The event nevertheless took place leading to clashes between two groups of students, for and against. In response, The police was invited in by the VC and the registrar. Since then, the police has been camping in the university, raiding hostel rooms to search, interrogate, intimidate and arrest students who are ‘anti-national’. All this has happened within two weeks of a new VC taking over. The VC is a former professor from the neighbourly IIT, Delhi.

The arrest and the quick and loud support for the police action not only by the ABVP but also by the home minister, Rajnath Singh, and the HRD minister, Smruti Irani establishes a few things:

First, the JNU is under deliberate attack and the new VC has been brought in to facilitate the process. And this attack is the latest in a series of attacks on institutions of higher education with some kind of liberal, left ethos. Second,the ABVP is no longer just a students’ group. It has the full, visible support of the government of India, at every level, specifically, the home minister, under whom the Delhi police works, and the HRD minister.

Third, the Modi government is a government of hard Hindutva in educational matters. The primary mask of development that Modi wore during his election campaign, though coupled with the Hindutva twist in many places, was just a mask. The cultural, hard Hindutva of the RSS is the core agenda of this government. Any other reading of Modi is misplaced and misleading. Therefore, one can expect escalating of this cultural war across campuses in the near and distant future until these campuses are tamed into being ‘nationalist’ colleges and universities.

Fourth, the selection of the VC from an elite institution is no guarantee at all that he/she would not follow the RSS agenda. There are supporters of hard Hindutva across elite campuses as well, not just in provincial, regional places, and they are more than willing to play the game as per the RSS rules. May be till now, they were at the margins; may be these are opportunists elements who will do the bidding of the powers that be any time. I do not know. But the message is clear: academic elitism is no assurance of liberal politics and values.

Further, even the top police brass is more than willing to comply with the emerging political culture of the lumpen Right in Delhi. The sheer range of investigation ordered and the number of police team, eight as of now, appointed in this case is breathtaking. Clearly, the academic elitism of JNU offers it no protection any more from any quarters. In other words, the culture of the emergency is truly upon us even if it is not officially declared. But then, it need not be. In any case, the political intolerance of dissent and protests by this government is unprecedented and has all the marks of the emergency code. The new VC of the Delhi university is yet to be appointed. But now we know how this choice will play out as well.

Finally, to those whose ultimate retort in defence of the Modi government – and Arun Jaitley is the most vocal proponent of this formulation- is that he was voted to power by the people and his government is the first one in thirty years to fetch a full majority in Loksabha on its own, and therefore whatever his government does has the approval of the people, my response is simple: this is not what the large number of ordinary voters voted for. It is fair to suggest that when people voted in the last parliamentary elections in 2014, very few people could have expected such an onslaught on prestigious institutions of higher education so soon by the Modi government to implement the core RSS agenda on education.

Unfortunately,looks like these attacks are a part of the much larger design to stamp out even the notion of a secular, socialist, democratic, republic of India. It has always been a deeply flawed idea in practice; it has always been a fragile, fractured idea. But it has been a powerful idea for many and it has always marked the limits of pretence that the government would not ordinarily breach for fear of being accused of betraying the ‘founding fathers’ of this nation. However, for the second time since 1947- the first being the Emergency during 1975 and 1977 with many periodic attacks by the state on people’s rights and movements throughout – this very notion is visibly, frontally under attack by the very people who took the oath to defend the Indian constitution in May 2014. One wonders whether this nation will survive this attack from within or whether we will become the mirror image of our next door, much reviled, Islamic neighbours.