Kuldip Nayar on JNU row: Let pluralism survive

“The situation is becoming more and more emergency-like by the day and I can see the fissures reappearing in society”

Kuldip Nayar | March 2, 2016


#JNU   #jnu row   #human rights   #law   #sedition   #supreme court   #nationalism   #kanhaiya kumar  

Photo: Arun Kumar

On their way to independence, the Muhammad Ali Jinnah-led Muslim League chose to create a separate nation on the basis of religion. While Pakistan was conceived under the two-nation theory as a home for the Muslims of the former British Raj, India opted for pluralism.

The country’s government further strengthened the concept of pluralism when it passed the 42nd amendment to add the words ‘secular’ and ‘social’ to describe the nature and philosophy of the sovereign democratic India. However, in view of the recent incidents, while we can still call India a democratic nation – people still queue up to exercise their franchise – but it is nowhere near being the pluralist nation that the constitution mandates it to be.

I recently met an engineer in Kashmir. He recently relocated back from Bengaluru because it had become unbearable for him to handle people’s attitude towards him. “Oh, so you are a Kashmiri,” they would say in disgust. “And when they heard that I am also a Muslim, their looks said it all,” the man told me sharing his experience and the feeling of alienation, while on our way to the airport.

His experience is not an isolated example when you see it in the context of the recent developments and incidents in Muzaffarnagar, Dadri and Faridabad.

When I hear of Muslims being referred to as ‘Pakistanis’ in India, my thoughts drift to one or two years before the partition to which I was a witness. Sialkot had started to see the influx of people based on religion. Separate pitchers labelled ‘Hindu water’ and ‘Muslim water’ had started to be placed at the railway station. And though Quaid-e-Azam had categorically said that after the partition you will cease to be a Hindu or a Muslim and remain either a Hindustani or a Pakistani, the amalgamation of the eastern and north-western regions on religious lines made Muslims irrelevant in India. It was the overpowering nature of religion that made us kill over a million people on either side.

During those days, one or two years before the partition, I was studying at the law college in Sialkot. The fissures had started to appear. The college had decided to create separate kitchens for the followers of two religions, but the students still flocked together. In fact, I recall we would jokingly tell them to get mutton from their kitchen, while they would ask us to pass on vegetables from the Hindu kitchen. But now the institutes are getting polarised, which was never the case earlier. This is creating a big challenge before us. The ruling party today comes from a particular ideology. Unfortunately, this ideology contradicts the spirit of our constitution.

There have been two important phases in this country: the post-independence era and the post-emergency India. The emergency necessitated changes in the law and the 44th amendment of 1978 to the constitution introduced safeguards that have made it nearly impossible for any government to impose the emergency the way it was done in 1975. But, the situation is becoming more and more emergency-like by the day and I can see the fissures reappearing in society.

If you compare Indira Gandhi’s government with the present government, both are equally authoritarian. But this time it is not just the personal liberty at stake. Everything that you say today about liberty – be it freedom of speech or free press – is being interpreted from the religious angle and converged into an issue of ‘us versus them’. Slowly, the 20 crore Muslims are again becoming irrelevant. Whether we like it or not, a soft version of Hindutva is taking over the country.

A few students made some speeches and raised slogans at JNU that are argued to be anti-national. If what has been reported is true, they cannot be accepted. However, the accusations are yet to be proved, and on the contrary the video that was the basis for the arrest of the student leader is reported to have been doctored. A case of sedition has been filed on the basis of such unverified evidence. Also, everybody is now a judge on their own terms.

Irresponsible statements by those in the government have become the order of the day. People’s minds are being poisoned. This is very unfortunate and gets translated in terms of action and similar statements by those believing in that ideology. The majority government has just ceased to consider the minority as part of the nation.

And what has been the impact? I recently met the JNU vice chancellor and he told me that a few students have brought disrepute to the institution. Are the student leaders the only ones to be blamed for this? It was an incident, an aberration that could have been better handled through the administrative route of the university. The damage would have been limited. But the media, especially the electronic media, went amuck and flared it up.

Sadly, in the race to win the TRP game, media houses are not paying enough attention to content and becoming part of the rumour-mongering mechanism. The ABVP, the students’ wing of the ruling party, on the other hand saw an opportunity. What could be worse than the situation that the university set up to encourage free thinking, ideas and the pluralist ideology the writers of the constitution believed in has now been branded as a centre of anti-nationals?

The government could have intervened and behaved more responsibly and the matter could have been resolved within the campus itself. But it chose to look the other way even as one of its members and supporters of the ruling party decided to retaliate violently because it suited them. We suddenly see emergence of new interpretations of ‘nationalist’, ‘anti-national’, ‘patriot’, ‘pro-India’, and ‘anti-India’.

These definitions suit their agenda of us-versus-them and so today sedition has become a matter of interpretation of the ruling party, to the extent that even what I am saying may be construed as anti-national. Is it not important to be an Indian first? Or is it more important to toe the line of those who had sought division of this nation on religious lines? If we lose the essence and spirit of being an Indian, the term ‘equal rights’ in the constitution will soon end up being just 11 letters.

This kind of “modification” of India will have dangerous ramifications for the nation that we are. It is very anti-constitutional as well. The polarisation that has already started on the basis of religion will get translated to polarisation on regional basis, and then on the basis of language. This could lead to the beginning of an endless game that will kill the idea and the spirit of a pluralist India, the nation that we chose to become.

[Nayar, veteran journalist and human rights activist, spoke to Upma Dagga Parth.]

This article appears in the March 1-15 edition of Governance Now.

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