Tanked by nationalism?
by Rijul Singh Uppal on 15 Aug 2017 6 Comments

In a major blow to the last bastion of left-liberals, Jawaharlal Nehru University held its first ever commemoration of Kargil Martyrs on 23 July 2017, where Vice Chancellor M. Jagadesh Kumar set the cat among the pigeons by asking Union Ministers Dharmendra Pradhan, General V.K. Singh and veterans such as Maj Gen G.D. Bakshi for help in procuring a tank for display at a “prominent place” in JNU.


Expectedly, this led to an uproar among the usual suspects and a flood of snide news items and op-eds followed. Even Professors in foreign universities chipped in with their opinions and were duly published by Indian media houses.


At the same time, as if inspired by a idea floated in a common messaging group, opinions poured in on how nationalism cannot be equated with a tank and that the VC and the nation should not forget the contributions of educated, liberal, middle-class intellectuals who have contributed in nation building in their own respective fields, and that we must look up to the heroes of the non-violence movement. All the voices had a common refrain. They started with outrage, moved to the contributions of the intelligentsia, and concluded with grim warnings against ‘hyper-nationalism’.


Did the JNU Vice Chancellor merit such a torrent of advice? Kumar only said that an Army tank put on display on the campus would remind students of the sacrifices and valour of the soldiers. Besides, it continued his initiative of erecting a Wall of Heroes on the campus earlier in May, possibly an idea conceived to wipe the shame of the attempt to commemorate convicted terrorist Afzal Guru on the same premises.


A second lot of critics have called the tank a symbol of psychological warfare, militarism and oppression. Yet, unknown to most people, JNU has an intimate connection with the Indian Army.


Cadets of India’s National Defence Academy (NDA) are awarded degrees of the Jawaharlal Nehru University. The NDA has been affiliated to JNU since 1974 and as such a huge chunk of India’s serving and retired officers are alumni of JNU. The alumni of JNU rank among those that have sacrificed their lives at the border and during counter insurgency and counter terrorism (CI/CT) operations.


As such, JNU can never view a tank as an instrument of oppression. It befits the alma-mater of the Indian armed forces to display with prominence a tank with a raised gun turret (a mark of a tank that was victorious in battle).


Finally, the most exalted lot of critics assert that educational institutes should not be used for instilling the spirit of nationalism. If not educational institutions, where will children learn values of nationalism? Everywhere in the world, this is inculcated in educational institutions. From the sacrifices of those who revolted in 1857 to Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekhar Azad and countless others, to the valiant attempts for an armed insurrection led by Subhas Chandra Bose, their lives and struggles, as taught in educational institutions, have stirred young blood in generation after generation. This feeling was best captured by Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri when he roused the nationalist spirit with the cry, “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan”.


M. Jagadesh Kumar’s critics seem oblivious of the fact that some schools in the national capital (and doubtless many across the country) have long solicited aircraft and other mementoes for display on their premises, with the same objective of instilling respect for those who defend the nation.  


Among the Central universities that have such displays are the Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia; both have a MiG on display. But then, these institutions have failed to produce students who can chant “Bharat tere tukde honge” and condemn the hanging of Afzal Guru as a “judicial murder”.


Clearly, these symbols of national pride had either not been noticed earlier, or no one had drawn attention to their presence. Hence, they never became worthy of a news item or op-ed.


But now, post-2014, with an avowedly nationalist government backed to the hilt by military veterans, nationalism is becoming an overt virtue in the country, indulged and sometimes even abetted by the courts (recall the Madras High Court ruling on Vande Mataram). Hence, the growing unease, because future generations will grow up with zero tolerance for views such as, “Afzal hum sharminda hain, tere qatil zinda hain”.  


The author is a Delhi-based Advocate and freelance journalist. He tweets at @therijuluppal


The article was originally posted at Pgurus on July 27, 2017, but following a series of attacks on their website, was corrupted and could not be restored

Courtesy https://www.pgurus.com/tanked-nationalism-controversy-jnu-not/

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