The JNU Marches on
By continuously being in the news in media and social media for around four months now since the organization of the cultural program, The City Without Post Office on the anniversary of Afzal Guru’s hanging in the case of parliament attack in 2001, viewed by many as a judicial murder and thereafter, JNU has not only metaphorically but in reality also have transcended from a common noun, institution, to an abstract noun, idea, that has been fast spreading in the campuses of higher education slowly but steadily. The NDA government under Narendra Modi, immediately after taking the charge, began to plan to suppress the dissenting voices in the campuses and to paint them with saffron; to reduce the to the centers of manufacturing sense of devotion and faith from the centers of critical thinking and scientific temperament. The RSS fronts know well that to maintain hegemony over a people, control over institutional knowledge is necessary, as Brahmanism could maintain its hegemony over the vast population of the society by monopoly over definition and impartment of knowledge. JNU being the hub of protests against injustices and oppression, it thought if it could crush the hub, the rest would be easily tamed to conformity. But they were wrong, JNU Marches on. Two of the hunger strikers on 8th day in BHU, have been admitted to hospital. They are agitating for 24 hour library facility. There could be 24 hour channels spreading superstitions and prejudices and rumors, but not 24 hour library that may help students imbibing the habit of critical thinking and innovation, antithetical to those who locate all the great “greatness” in some “golden” past. In order to scare the students the administration, as is its usual tactic suspended few agitating students who do not seem to be cowed down.
The attack was premeditated and planning had begun over a year ago. The names of the students recommended for various penalties, including out-of-bound for five years, by the “High Level Enquiry Committee” headed by the prominent leader of anti-reservation group, Youth for Equality, had long been decided before the premeditated attack on JNU in the dawn of 11th February 2016. The court has stayed the implementation of the recommendations. All these same names are there in the dossier prepared by 11 “nationalist” (read pro-RSS) teachers of JNU a year ago that describes JNU as a hub of organized sex racket and the anti-national activities. Similar views were published in RSS mouthpieces – Organizer and Pamchjanya in 2015. Was this group of “nationalist” teachers assigned the job by the university administration or any government agency or they took the tedious job preparing a 200 page dossier after me5ticulous research over the number of bottles and buts of the cigarette consumed and condoms used by JNU students? In the first decade of JNU the right wing extremists, the self-claimed moral cops slandered JNU as a place, where wine and “women were free”. Confronted by the journalists on crack down over1983 agitation in defense of the admission policy, the then VC had also repeated the same slander. Many lumpens believing the rumor would come to the campus in search of “free woman” and would go back with couple of good lessons. Why slander campaign against JNU and the students? Punishment to selected students is always meant to silence the dissent. But as JNU students, teachers and the alumni made it clear by marching in a very large number defying the fascist order, the dissent of JNU cannot be silenced by terror tactic. The new protagonists of this “ideological battle” have vowed to make it a national movement by joining hands with workers’ and transform it into a movement for defending democracy. It is going to be a long drawn battle between the coercive repression and protracted ideological resistance.
Brahmanism, disguising as “nationalism”, expressing via various RSS organs, is desperate to restore its ideological hegemony. It knows that it could maintain its hegemony by defining and monopolizing knowledge through monopolistic education for thousands of years. Universal, constitutional accessibility to education and its democratization through social justice legislations has challenged their monopoly over knowledge. It is trying to meet the challenge by subverting the education.
The attack on the students by the state and the right wing extremism, represented by RSS that took off with Mr. Modi’s ascendance to power in the center, has intensified in the last one year. The ruling classes, in order to divert the popular attention from the major contradictions and to blunt their edge, overplay some minor, mostly artificial contradictions with sentimental appeals and divert the creative discourse of dissent into reacting to their agenda. Nationalism is very sensitive issue as no one would like to be termed as anti-national. Fascists are intolerant to differing opinions more so in the campuses with left and Ambedkarite student activism. As has been widely known by now, the invasion of JNU with declarations of its being hub of anti-nationalism by government and RSS ideologues on the basis of the stage managed allegedly anti-national sloganeering, was premeditated. Why the vicious attack and slander campaign against the students of HCU and JNU, as has been rightly said by Kanchan Ilaiah, the campuses with a difference (Indian Express, 6 April 2016)? The RSS knows that the Brahmanical values and the hierarchal sense of devotion that forms its ideological bases, cannot flourish without saffronization of the higher education. The campuses like JNU and HCU that encourage and nurture a culture of debate and discourse, a culture of questioning and dissent are unfertile for saffron growth. The presence of ideologically Left and Ambdedkarite students is the biggest hurdle. To break this hurdle the government began to appoint RSS loyalists with redoubtable academic credentials, mostly upper caste, at the helm of academic and research institutions, as the first step to crush this culture.
Next step of RSS design of saffronization of campuses is the generation of ideological following among the students. That is not possible in the campuses “with a difference”, with democratic academic culture conducive to the creation and recreation of rationality, reason and rebellion, but unfertile to the growth of the sense of devotion and Brahmanical obscurantism. Its student brigade, ABVP cannot have hold in campuses, where the students derive their inspiration from Bhim Rao Ambedkar and Bhagat Singh. Therefore it decided to invade the campuses and discredit the radical student activists, the budding intellectuals as anti-national. By doing so, it imposed a cultural war on students. The students have taken up the challenge. The campuses all over the country have risen in revolt. It is a war between constitutional nationalism and jingoistic national chauvinism as propagated by various RSS fronts. The fascist attack on HCU and JNU brought together various left students groups’ and the followers of Ambedkar on the same platform. Rohith Vemula’s martyrdom proved to be the turning point. JNU students were, at the time, engaged in the protracted Occupy UGC agitation against government policy and planning under JNUSU leadership. Rohith’s martyrdom brought about the much awaited unity of the Jay Bhim and Lal Salam slogans and JNU became the hub of agitation. This made the right wing extremism desperate that invaded JNU for its “anti-nationalism”.
The difference between modern fascism and the premodern princely despotism is that the former has solid ideological following with a sense of unconditional devotion, armed with Goebbelsian machinery of misinformation and rumor that goes down to common people, who are not willing to reason, as reality. It does not appeal to the popular reason but to the popular emotions with its own constructs of nationalism and antinationalism; patriotism and sedition. As we know from the historical experiences, the fascists are most scared of the ideas that question and expose their designs. Therefore their paramilitary brigades disrupt the opponents’ programs and discourses with the war cries of nationalism. Mussolini’s Black Shirts and Hitler’s Storm Troopers (SA) are the glaring historical examples. ABVP, the student wing of the RSS, is doing exactly the same. Instead of organizing its own programs on nationalism, it has been indulging into disrupting others’ programs, be it on nationalism, Ambedkar or Bhagat Singh, with war cries of Bharat Mata Ki Jay. The slogan that once symbolized and evoked a sense of belonging to a historical unity of a place and people evolved through the anti-colonial struggles has become disruptionist ploy in the hands ABVP to scare the opponents. Unable to counter the ideas by ideas, its leaders, it seems, have decided upon single point program of violent disruption of others’ right of freedom to ideas, in the name of patriotism or nationalism.
What is Nationalism? Why are the students of the institutions of higher education in general, and IIT Madras, Hyderabad Central University and JNU being persecuted and branded as anti-national? It is to be noted the aforesaid institutions are ranked in the top five in the country by the Ministry of Human Resource Development. Is the nationalism, as the mythological claim of the right wing extremism, a legacy of some antiquity? Nationalism is not the legacy of any real or mythical past but a historically evolved modern ideology of the modern nation state that rose in Europe on the ruins of a regressive feudalism. As Benedict Anderson has rightly pointed out in The Imagined Communalities, the concept of nationalism as a new identity criterion and as a hegemonic ideology “was born in an age when Enlightenment and revolutions were destroying the legitimacy of divinely ordained hierarchical dynastic realm”. In pre modern days, there was no nationalism but loyalty to the “divinely ordained” and the divinity of the ruler’s authority was testified by the religion as its ideology. From the beginning of the premeditated attack on JNU with aggressive slanderous campaigns, of RSS think tank is pooling its all the intellectual resources to link the death of a soldier on the border with JNU’s “anti-nationalism”. In pre-modern days, the soldier of the king’s army was not moved by any patriotic sense but as a mercenary warrior with allegiance of loyalty to his employer, the king or the feudal lord in the same way as Indian soldier of British Indian army owed allegiance to the colonial rulers. People do not join army for patriotism but for a secure job.
In Europe, nationalism emerged as an ideology of the modern nation state to validate the authority of the national government. The God, as source of the validity of authority was replaced by an abstract idea of “people” and religion was replaced by an undefined notion of “nationalism” as the validating ideology. Historically sedition and anti-nationalism have been used to silence the political dissent. As is well known that the Sedition Law, under which the JNU students are charged, was enacted by the colonial rulers to crush the national movement. Nazi mayhem, persecution of political dissent under McCarthyism in 1950s in the USA and authoritarianism of emergency days in India are just the few glaring examples of oppression in the name of nationalism and perceived national security.
In India, nationalism emerged as an anti-colonial ideology. The Indian Freedom Struggle generated many ideologies. Some sought to unite Indians as a nation of a composite culture across the regional, social and religious diversities. Some that sought to perpetuate such diversities and divisions to derail the nationalist march. The colonial rulers with the memories of the popular unity of 1857’s “India’s War of Independence”, still fresh in the mind, adopted the policy of divide& rule and began to utilize all the possible social cleavage for the purpose. It is to be noted that but for the treacherous colonial loyalty of India’s princely states, like Shindhia’s of Gwalior 1857 could have proved to be the end of colonial rule and plunder. As Gyanendra Pandey ha well documented in his book Construction of Communalism in the Colonial North India, communalism has been a deliberate colonial construct. The reactionary sections of Indian society, knowingly, unknowingly became colonial tool against the anti-colonial, inclusive nationalism by propounding ahistorical theories of religion based nationalism – the Hindu and the Muslim nationalism. This, as is history now, gave rise to two-nation theory leading to the cruel partition of the country, the wounds of which continue to bleed in the form of Kashmir issue.
Thus like nationalism, communalism too is modern ideology born out of the womb of colonial capitalism on the foundations of supposed religious exclusionism, communal diffidence and hatred. The communal ideologies, promoted by imperialist forces emerged in opposition to secular, inclusive and composite nationalism being shaped by the various streams of anti-colonial struggles. Hindu and Islamic communalisms in India, represented by Hindu Mahasabha and RSS and Muslim league and Jamat-e-Islami respectedly, are not ideological cousins but twins, which not only complement each other but also reinforce each other as both exhorted their followers not to waste energy in fighting the British rule but preserve it for fighting each other that they did when the end of colonial rule became imminent. Golwalkar is categorical in condemning both the streams of freedom struggle – the Gandhian and the revolutionary represented by Bhagat Singh and his Comrades -- as born out of the darkness of ignorance, while RSS aims to take the country at some undefined glory. A comparative study of communal ideologies is beyond the scope of this article; they hold not only similar but congruent views on most of the substantial socio-economic and political issues. On the basis of its role in the freedom struggle, Congress assumed the power after the partitioned independence under the leadership of Nehru. The constitution drafted by Baba Saheb BR Ambedkar envisions a democratic, secular India committed to social and economic justices to Indian masses. The concept of Hindu or Muslim nationalism is violation of the spirit of the constitution embodied in the preamble. According to the noted historian, Eric Hobsbawm, nationalism is allegiance to the constitution. Branding the radical young scholars of JNU and HCU as anti-national and their arrest for using their constitutional rights of freedom to thought and expression is a contempt to the constitution and hence anti-national. Claims of being a Hindu nationalist are violation of the preamble of the constitution and hence an anti-national act. The paradox is that anti-nationals are issuing certificates of nationalism.
The Brahmanical, fascist onslaught on the campuses of the higher education beginning with the ban on Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle(APSC) on the charge of “spreading hatred” against the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Hindus, does not seem to stop so does the students’ radical resistance to it. The repression by state’s coercive machinery is added and abetted by ABVP and other RSS fronts. Like the Nazi Storm troopers in Germany in 1933 have taken upon themselves to violently disrupt the opponents’ programs with Police as mute spectators. The physical coercion, including the tortures and abuses to Hyderabad Central University (HCU) teachers and students by the Police, is consistently accompanied by the aggressive hate campaign of sedition against them. The Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi called upon the BJP workers in its national executive meeting to make the nationalism as the main plank of political mobilization. Before that BJP President, Amit Shah had exhorted the workers of the party and other RSS auxiliaries to focus on JNU. Just before that, the Finance Minister of the country had told a gathering of BJP’s youth wing, BJYM that the ABVP has won the “ideological battle in JNU”. Subsequently, he elaborated his point by telling the PTI that their view has been accepted by the majority, probably through some astrological referendum. All three of them, in a clichéd pattern continue to repeat the Goebbelsian lie about controversial slogans despite the proven fact that the videos with Bharat Ki Barbadi (destruction of India) slogans attributed to JNU student leaders, telecasted by the “nationalist” channels were doctored.
Mr. Jaitley is right in terming the ongoing tussle between, metaphorically speaking, JNU and jingoism, as an ideological battle. But his proclamation of victory is too hasty and doubtable as the battle is on, only the future will tell the result. This might prove the first battle of the seemingly long drawn ideological/intellectual civil war between the ideologies of constitutional nationalism, as proclaimed by the students and communal jingoism, propagated by RSS; between the forces of progress relying on reason and historical observation and the forces of corporate-Brahmanism relying on irrational belief and Goebbelsian propaganda.
Dept. of Political Science
University of Delhi