Nationalism as anathema
by Sandhya Jain on 08 Mar 2016 36 Comments

The most dangerous and unheeded aspect of the recent controversies rocking universities across the country is the communalisation of nationalism. The radical leftist elements, mostly deracinated Hindus clamouring for freedom to lionize convicted seditionists and terrorists (even if that itself is not sedition) have overlooked the fact that each idol being juxtaposed against the nation hails from one community. In the nation-wide ferment over India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, triggered by this dispute, there is a danger that an entire community could be tarnished.


Saner elements in the Muslim community have either not realised this or perhaps hope that this aspect of the radicalism backed by the Congress, Communist Party of India, and Communist Party of India-Marxist, will escape the notice of the general public. Perhaps they feel that a discrete silence is the wiser course to adopt at a time when the international environment is vitiated by terrorism in large parts of the globe, which has been further complicated by unwarranted US and NATO-backed interference in some Muslim countries.


It is true that some of the State-funded ‘inquilabis’ have invoked solidarity between Muslims and Scheduled Castes (they use the missionary term ‘dalit’ and call themselves Ambedkarites), but the fact remains that men like Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar helped frame the Constitution of free India. Hardly any eminent Scheduled Caste personality has attacked the unity of India; this group has always sought accommodation and honour within the constitutional framework.


Hence, there is no dodging the fact that the campus radicalism at Hyderabad Central University and Jawaharlal Nehru University (with echoes in Jadavpur University), has been exclusively about supporting those who have attacked the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India. Maqbool Bhat, co-founder of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, was convicted and sentenced to death for an act of terror. Yakub Memon was convicted and executed for involvement in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts in which nearly 166 persons died and many more were injured. Afzal Guru was convicted and hung for his role in the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001.


So when JNU Students Union president Kanhaiya Kumar, granted conditional bail with some strictures by the Delhi High Court, tries to be cute and says that Afzal Guru is not his hero, but Rohith Vemula is, none can miss the fact that the raging controversy around Vemula pertained to his group’s role in idolizing Yakub Memon. Sadly, Vemula did not spell out the reasons for his disillusionment with the varsity’s Ambedkar Students Association, which doubtless played a role in his tragic suicide. His sharp observations about some political parties and leaders have since come to light.


What is pertinent here is that out of the trio of Bhat, Memon and Guru, two were associated with violent conspiracies to separate Kashmir from India, but Memon was associated with a wider communal polarisation that resists giving the country’s civilisational ethos its due eminence as the nation’s foundational ethos. Kanhaiya Kumar, who was admittedly present at Umar Khalid’s illegal function to protest the “Indian occupation” of Kashmir and the “judicial killing” of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhat on the JNU campus, seems to have switched effortlessly to a larger and potentially more lethal platform of instigating communal polarisation in the country. Clearly, he is being mentored by some very astute persons.


Now, as the adept rhetorician travels to help the beleaguered Communist parties in the elections in West Bengal and Kerala, the Election Commission would do well to monitor his speeches. Journalists who have been swooning over Kumar’s speech after being released on bail – actually just a string of one-liners bound in an overarching narrative of hostility towards the government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi – must already be feeling the deflation that follows a hangover as the Congress party, angered at the realisation that the ‘cult of Kanhaiya Kumar’ has pushed Mr Rahul Gandhi’s popular rankings further down, will ensure that he remains a communist mascot. This is bound to affect the internal coherence of current attempts at opposition unity.


It would be in order to note that while granting interim bail to Kanhaiya Kumar in the sedition case against him, Justice Pratibha Rani observed that JNU students, faculty members and authorities need to explain why peace eludes this prestigious institution. The February 9 function, touted as a ‘poetry reading’, was revealed by posters to be something else, which compelled the authorities to withdraw permission. Interestingly, this permission was sought on February 8, the same day former Delhi University lecturer S.A.R. Geelani booked the Press Club of India premises for his anti-India celebration of February 10. It seems difficult to believe that this is a coincidence.


Citing some of the objectionable slogans raised at JNU, the presence of persons with faces covered, and Kanhaiya Kumar’s claim to enjoy freedom of speech and expression under the Constitution, the judge observed that freedom is subject to reasonable restrictions and the student community needs to introspect about the posters of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhatt, which are visible in photographs of the incident. In a thinly veiled reprimand, she said the JNU faculty has to play a role in guiding students to the right path. In advice that will rankle long after this event is over and done, she said the faculty must discern the reason behind the anti-national views in the minds of students and find remedial measures so that such an incident does not recur.


In a stern indictment of the university and its faculty, the judgment asserts that the thoughts reflected in the slogans raised by some of the students of JNU who organized and participated in the February 9 programme, cannot claim protection under the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression. On the contrary, the judge said, “I consider this as a kind of infection from which such students are suffering which needs to be controlled /cured before it becomes an epidemic”.


Forced to give an undertaking that he would not participate actively or passively in any anti-national activity and, as president of JNUSU, would make all efforts to control anti-national activities on the campus, the adroit All India Students Federation activist has reinvented his nationalism as a thinly-veiled mockery of Indian democracy and the freedom of expression. It is this derisive scorn of the Court, the Constitution, and the Nation that has won such rapturous applause from the armies of fellow travellers that emerged from every nook and cranny to anoint the new proletarian messiah.  

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