The stunning sequence of events in Delhi in the last few days has appalled all who care about democracy in India. The unprecedented alacrity with which the Union Home Ministry, Delhi Police and sections of the media swooped down upon allegations of some controversial slogans having been raised inside JNU campus on the third anniversary of the hanging of Afzal Guru, the police crackdown, the arrest of the President of the elected Student Union and witch-hunt of other activists of the Students’ Union and Left student groups on absolutely ridiculous charges of sedition, the harassment and arrest of Delhi University teachers on similar grounds, acts of vandalism by rightwing goons targeting the CPI(M) Central Committee office in Delhi, the shocking and absurd attempt by the Union Home Minister to link the JNU events to Hafiz Saeed followed by a warning by the Delhi Police to the student community of the entire country, the detention of cultural activists for the ‘crime’ of ‘looking like JNU students’, the open assault on students, faculty members, journalists and activists right in the premises of Delhi’s Patiala House Court by a group led by Delhi BJP MLA OP Sharma with the Delhi police watching cheerfully – it looks like the Modi regime has declared a veritable war on students, teachers, journalists and activists in Delhi.
Soon after Modi took over as the PM in May 2014, it became clear that while the government was desperate to turn India into a lucrative laboratory for aggressive corporate acquisition, it was equally anxious to hijack and control, and even destroy, the institutions of higher education and research, the laboratories of creative freedom where ideas developed through debate and dissent, and where voices could thus emerge even from the otherwise most deprived and oppressed sections of India to challenge the age-old structures of exclusion and domination, including those of the universities themselves. The new regime wants its handpicked persons to decide the academic content and environment of these institutions so dissenting and inconvenient ideas can be nipped in the bud and intellectuals can be subdued and string-pulled by the puppeteers of the Sangh brigade. The conspiracy revealed itself first in IIT-Madras and then in FTII Pune, and now almost simultaneously and in quite similar fashion we see the script playing itself out in Hyderabad and Delhi.
In both Hyderabad and JNU, the allegation is of students indulging in ‘anti-national’ activities. If raising questions about the hanging of Yakub Menon and the screening of a documentary film on the 2013 Muzaffarnagar carnage were dubbed anti-national in Hyderabad, remembering Afzal Guru on the third anniversary of his hanging and the raising of certain slogans by some people – the identity of several of them is not clear from the footage while some are now apparently exposed to have been from the ABVP itself – have been branded as sedition. The modus operandi is also quite similar – local ABVP unit complains to local BJP MP who then writes to ministers and the entire state gets into the act of a concerted and systematic persecution. The ABVP is thus playing the role of saffron stormtroopers on the ground while the government, police and a heavily pressurized and increasingly saffronised university administration are working in tandem to push the Sangh agenda.
In the case of JNU, it should be remembered that the RSS has long been campaigning to defame the institution and vitiate the democratic environment of the campus. Long before Modi came to power, the likes of Subramanian Swamy have been openly abusing women activists with a JNU background on television channels and print and social media, especially in the wake of the December 16 anti-rape movement of 2012 and the powerful resonance it had across the country. More recently, JNU students’ role in the Justice for Rohith Vemula movement and in #OccupyUGC and fighting privatization in education made the saffron brigade even more determined to target them. Of late, the RSS has been carrying a strident tirade against JNU with a continuous campaign of defamation and disinformation in its journals which has now reached this climax with physical attacks on JNU students and faculty, police crackdown in the campus and the loud Sanghi clamour for shutting down the University.
Some of the slogans raised in the said JNU event were opposed on the spot itself by the students’ union leadership that was there to avert violent clashes sought by the ABVP. Many well-wishers of JNU and the Left student movement have also found some slogans ill-advised and liable to be misunderstood. We should however consider the context of the provocative slogans that the ABVP in JNU have been known to raise and that were raised by them from the sidelines even in the widely televised and hugely attended meeting in the campus following the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar. For example, ABVP slogans included ‘jo Afzal ki baat karega, wo Afzal ki maut marega’ (whoever talks about Afzal Guru should be hanged just as he was).This slogan incites violence against the many in India, and not just in Kashmir, who have quite persuasively articulated the position that Afzal’s hanging was judicially untenable and wrong.
ABVP also raised several other slogans with violent imagery such as ‘Desh Hai Pukarta, Pukarti Maa Bharati, Khoon se Tilak Karo, Goliyon Se Aarti’ (The Country is Calling, Mother India is Calling, Anoint Yourselves with Blood, And Worship with Bullets). As for slogans calling for destruction of India, it is patently unthinkable that any activist of the Left student movement in India would raise such slogans. On the contrary, disintegration and destruction of India has been the Sanghi agenda which it pursues relentlessly through its policies of corporate plunder and communal polarisation.
The BJP thought it had found in the JNU incident the perfect weapon to crush the radical student politics of JNU and tarnish and isolate the Left movement as being ‘anti-national’. But in the process it has only managed to trigger a massive solidarity movement within JNU and powerful protests across the country. If the BJP thought it could escape the heat of Hyderabad by targeting JNU, it has only succeeded in further strengthening the bonds of solidarity between the struggling students, and now 40 universities including Hyderabad have come out in support of JNU. Even a party like the Congress which had initially begun to toe the BJP line has had to change its stance and stand up in support of JNU and against the Sangh-BJP assault on democracy. A leader like Mayawati who usually keeps quiet on such issues has also come out in opposition to the BJP’s tactic of using the colonial era sedition law against the students.
Indeed, in every corner of the country, it is the BJP which has now been thoroughly exposed and isolated, not only on the question of democracy but also on the plane of patriotism. The progressive vision of patriotism which combines consistent anti-imperialism with the struggle for justice, dignity and democracy for the oppressed millions, and views the nation, first and foremost, in terms of the people and their needs, aspirations and rights is being articulated boldly and eloquently all around us. The legacy of Bhagat Singh and Ambedkar cherished by generations over the last eight decades and more, and now brought ever closer in articulation and action by the resistance emanating from Hyderabad and JNU, will give a crushing defeat to the fascist project of the Nazi-inspired pseudo-nationalists of Nagpur.