By Vijay Darda | 22-02-2016
If the crisis managers of the Modi government were to sit back and take a detached and relaxed look at the events that have followed since the arrest of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union president Kanhaiya Kumar under sedition charges, they would be the first ones to accept that this is a self-goal. The nation could have been easily spared the trauma and tragedy of all the events that have followed since then. Instead with the budget session of the Parliament looming ahead, and the economy in a bad shape – the falling sensex, declining exports, and the falling rupee, and the rising bad debts of the public sector banks, this was the time to build bridges with the Opposition and ensure that nothing disrupts the smooth conduct of business. On the contrary, the flawed handling of the deliberately manufactured JNU crisis and the dismissal of a Congress government in Arunachal Pradesh and its replacement by a government of ‘defectors’ have only further vitiated the already damaged political climate.
The main thing about the February 9th event at JNU (slogan shouting, even if anti-India, and protests) is that this has not happened in the country for the first time. Neither is the defence of Afzal Guru taking place for the first time, nor for that matter the people are demanding Azadi for the first time. Waving of Pakistani flags and even the ISIS flags does take place in Kashmir all the time. The BJP’s much sought after alliance partner PDP has never criticised Afzal Guru, even its late chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed had thanked ‘people across the border’ for the peaceful conduct of elections in the state. Nobody is finding fault with the BJP for all this, on the contrary this is seen as a pragmatic way of handling the Kashmir situation with the ultimate mainstreaming of the PDP. So, the most baffling thing this time is the manner in which the Delhi Police went after the JNU boys and this was coupled with the Union home minister Rajnath Singh’s attempt to link the February 9th event with the Pakistan-based terrorist Hafeez Saeed based on tweets posted on a fake account. Can it get more bizarre? Linking students with a Pakistan-based terrorist! For the home minister of India to be tongue tied when a Pakistan terrorist refutes his claim is surely an avoidable embarrassment.
As if these elements of an ugly picture were not enough, there were near riot like scenes in the Patiala House Court complex, where the JNUSU chief Kanhaiya Kumar, journalists, students and teachers from the JNU, and even senior lawyers were physically thrashed, threatened with dire consequences, and abused — all by people wearing black coats (presumably lawyers). These tricolour waving lawless groups of strong-armed people obviously had the support of the powers that be, and the Delhi Police remained a mute spectator as they had a free run. Their ringleaders were brazen enough to boast about their ‘achievements’ and promised to repeat it.
In political terms, just as the BJP’s Congress-Mukt Bharat slogan represents its fierce desire to go to any lengths to ensure that there are no state governments ruled by the Congress, in the same way the RSS-ABVP combine is resolute when it comes to achieving their agenda to root out other students’ organisations from university campuses. This is understandable now that they have an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha. Moreover, the JNU with its left leaning students’ organisations has been an eye sore for them. The almost pathological right wing hatred for all things associated with JNU gets intensified because the RSS has never made peace with the Nehruvian idea of a secular India. But to place all the helpless students of a university in the cross hairs of their political guns simply on the basis of some fallacious assumption is patently unjust.
This is what is happening as the debate over the JNU crisis is sought to be transformed into a battle between the ‘nationalists’ and the ‘anti-nationalists’. The overtly simplified position that those supporting the government’s actions in the JNU issue are nationalists and those opposed to it as anti-nationals would have dangerous and divisive consequences. It overlooks the nuanced reality that an entire educational institution as well as its alumni cannot be painted as ant-nationalists. Or else prime minister Narendra Modi would have droped his minister for corporate affairs Nirmala Seetharaman, his foreign secretary S Jaishankar and the CEO of Niti Aayog Amitabh Kant – all JNU products. Indeed, there is a long list of serving and ex-bureaucrats who have been students at the JNU and are still associated with it in some capacity.
The issue of sedition has been tested time and again in the courts of law, and the position has evolved since the days of the colonial rule when the provision was first inserted into the law books. It would serve as a good reminder that the English who gave us this gift of sedition, have erased it from their law books. We cannot overlook the reality that all our citizens irrespective of their religion, language, caste or creed have always stood by the nation, and we have never had a deficit of patriotism. This has been tested through several wars. It is this spirit of unity and integrity that has provided our armed forces the morale boosting ability to fight all the challenges against the highest odds. This debate needlessly seeks to divide the people on something that has never been questioned.
Students shouting slogans that may not be pleasant to the government’s ears are one thing, and their waging a war to overthrow a government (sedition) is quite another. Besides, the Indian nation state is a robust construct that has withstood the grim predictions of its collapse for the last 68 years. It is inherently strong as it has emerged from a test by fire in the crucible of one of the most heroic battles of independence against one of the most ruthless of imperial rulers. It cannot be shaken by mere slogan shouting. Nor can it be dented by an artificial divide with someone claiming to be a super-patriotic and denouncing the others as seditionists. The sooner the RSS accepts the better it would be for the nation and for them. It does not have an exclusive copyright over patriotism and that all non-Sanghis are equally if not more patriotic than the Sanghis. They did succeed in dividing the nation among the Hindus and Muslims, but then cannot succeed in this game of division. India stands united, nothing doing.
Before I conclude…
Delhi’s police commissioner B S Bassi has perhaps learnt it the hard way that not following the law of the land is not the right career move. His force stood as mute spectators when the lawlessness prevailed in Patiala courts complex. As his ill-luck would have it, the period also coincided with a decision about his getting a post-retirement assignment as the Information Commissioner. But then such are the wages of dereliction of duty in a democracy, that his candidature was opposed by the Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge. Now his political masters may reward him, but Bassi has to wait for that safety net for some time at least.