Ram Puniyani is the president of the Center for Study of Society and Secularism in Mumbai. He writes about the ongoing university student protest in favour of freedom of thought who are accused of anti-nationalism by Hindu radicals. Modi has targeted Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University because it reflects a “democratic spirit, freedom of thought, and progressive values”.
New Delhi (AsiaNews) – For Ram Puniyani, president of the Center for Study of Society and Secularism in Mumbai, “what is happening is a blatant attack by RSS controlled ABVP-BJP* to crush the democratic secular voices in the country.” The cause for his reaction are the ongoing student protests at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), which have rekindled the debate over freedom of expression in the country, with students demonstrating against the killing of a Kashmiri separatist sympathiser, who was hanged in 2013.
According to Puniyani, Hindu nationalists have “become emboldened to call all those opposing their politics as anti-national and are getting the state support to intimidate the voices for social justice; the progressive voices.” The social activist cites the case of a Dalit student, Rohith Vemula, who committed suicide because he was expelled from the university, losing his right to campus housing.
This, in his view, show how the BJP “and its political associates create a mass hysteria around anti-Nationalism”. Vemula was expelled in early January after he was accused of attacking ABVP members, who tried to get him expelled. The intellectual’s views follow:
On the back of the death of Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad Central University (HCU), one of the most prestigious University of the country Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) has been targeted by the ruling Modi Sarkar. The frightening things which happened in HCU were just the beginning of attack on autonomy of universities, on the free thinking in a democracy. Rohith was forced to kill himself by the machinations of ABVP, which had brought pressure through a BJP MP on the ministry to get Rohith expelled from hostel and to stop his fellowship. Similarly, the local ABVP unit brought pressure through its usual channels to intimidate and stifle the democratically elected student union in JNU.
It is alleged that in JNU some anti India; Pro-Pakistan slogans were shouted. There are confusing versions as to who did it. Truth of the video has come out, it was doctored. On the pretext of that Kanhiaya Kumar, the president of the JNUSU was arrested and the charges of sedition were slapped on him. Now Kumar is a member of AISF, the student wing of CPI, which is opposed to the separatist-pro Pakistan stance and in no way can he be part of type of slogan shouting which is supposed to have taken place. The original video also makes it clear. He neither shouted the slogans nor can anybody be arrested on the charge of shouting slogans. The constitutional position as clarified by noted lawyer Soli Sorabjee is that incitement to violence alone can be termed anti-National.
How come Delhi police enter the campus? The Vice chancellor, a BJP appointee, is indulging in double speak on the issue. On TV he stated that he will be the last person to call police in the campus. The investigation shows that he wrote letters to police calling them to take suitable action. Delhi police, working under Home Minister Rajnath Singh; went on recklessly to put the charge of sedition against Kumar. The lawyers in the court indulged in violence against those who looked like JNU students. One BJP MLA is involved in mercilessly beating up a CPI activist. This MLA also said that had he got the gun he would have shot those raising anti India slogans. One journalist was also attacked by BJP supporters. The same violence was repeated by lawyers the next day also and when Kanhaiya was being brought to court he was also beaten.
Now what is happening is a blatant attack by RSS controlled ABVP-BJP to crush the democratic secular voices in the country. As in Rohith Vemula case the ABVP, has become emboldened to call all those opposing their politics as anti national and are getting the state support to intimidate the voices for social justice; the progressive voices. BJP related organizations are creating a mass hysteria around 'Anti national'. All those who don't endorse the 'RSS promoted Hindutva nationalism' are being called as anti national. Prashant Bushan calls it a fascist onslaught.
All this is a big erosion of the values and practices which India has been nourishing. RSS combine is seeing this as an opportunity to wipe out all the norms and ethos of democratic culture and dissenting voices. It is a matter of shame that the police lacks the spine and professionalism and arrests the likes of Kanhaiya Kumar.
Rahul Gandhi who went to the campus and showed solidarity with the students was shown black flags and stones were thrown at him in Lucknow. Those agitating said that they are very angry as Rahul is sympathizing with anti Nationals. The MLA who beat up the CPI worker also said that anti national activities are going on and so he is showing his anger against those who shouted the pro Pakistan slogans. In TV debates the BJP spokespersons are harping on the same slogans and social media is resorting to the similar language.
The argument has been uniformly spoken by the Delhi lawyers taking law in their hands to those indulging in violence, from the ministers and top BJP leaders to those indulging in street violence. The second observation is that JNU students have been demonized through the propaganda as being anti National, and JNU being the den of anti-India activities. One recalls that all this demonization of JNU has started with this Government coming to power. The RSS affiliates, VHP etc. have been taking the marches to JNU gate to protest against the anti-National JNU students and faculty.
Both these arguments show the deeper agenda in a way. The anti-national rhetoric has been created to generate a mass hysteria against those disagreeing with BJP politics. The resorting to violence on this pretext clearly shows that this is a concerted effort to browbeat the practices and ideas which are not in keeping with the RSS-BJP mindset. This hysteria has been created to distract the attention from the social movement building up around the death of Rohith Vemula. The all-round anger on the Rohith issue had put the BJP on the back foot. This creation of mass hysteria around anti India slogans has been created and is leading to street violence.
This is an attempt on the part of BJP associates to wrest the initiative away from the movement which is building around Rohith. Apart from the attempt to abolish autonomy of universities this is also an attempt to sidetrack the issue of Dalits. The latter has also been reflected in the resignation of three office bearers of ABVP of JNU. These office bearers in their letter point out their dissatisfaction with the Government-BJP-ABVP interference in JNU affairs and their attitude of undermining the Dalit issue as reflected in their attitude to the death of Rohith.
The demonization of JNU again is on purpose. This institute has reflected the democratic spirit, the freedom of thought, and the progressive values, all of which are an anathema to the agenda represented by ABVP-BJP. They want to abolish the autonomy of academic institutions as reflected in their policies in case of FTTI, IIT Madras, IIT Delhi and HCU to name the few. JNU was a particular target due to its outstanding contribution to high level of scholarship and adherence to progressive secular values. The concerted move by the ruling dispensation and its political associates' to create a mass hysteria around anti-Nationalism and to erode the image of a progressive institution like JNU is as such an attack on the principles of democracy in the country.
While hopefully Courts may give some relief to Kanhaiya Kumar, the issue remains whether the mass hysteria and the street violence which has been unleashed on the pretext of anti-India slogans can be brought under control. The massive rallies of the students demanding the release of Kumar, demanding that government should not interfere in autonomy of universities and opposing the demonization of JNU drew a massive response. ABVP and family in a recalcitrant manner is mobilizing all through the country to protest against 'Anti nationalism'. Those who were part of the JNU students meeting and of JNU have condemned the anti-India pro Pakistan slogans. The need is to take up the struggle for preserving democratic values to the masses
* The RSS is the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu nationalist organisation, and the ABVP-BJP is the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad -Bharatiya Janata Party, i.e. the youth wing of the ruling Bharatiya Janata (Indian People’s) Party.