Mental block in North Block

If students shout alleged anti-India slogans, it is the job of the political leadership to reason with them. Instead, the reaction came from police

pankaj-srivastava

Pankaj Srivastava | February 26, 2016


#Sedition   #Jawaharlal Nehru University   #Kanhaiya Kumar   #Jnu row   #Trial of an idea  

2014 – ghar wapsi; 2015 – cow slaughtering; 2016 – anti-nationalism. This has been the year-wise growth in India under the slogan of ‘achche din’. With the trampling of spring, the capital witnessed lawyers and legislators abusing and beating ‘traitor’ Kanhaiya Kumar (president, Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union), his supporters and several journalists at the premises of the Patiala House court in presence of Delhi police. Attackers were carrying the national flag in their hands and chanting ‘Bharat mata ki jai’. Kanhaiya was arrested on charge of sedition for allegedly shouting anti-India slogans during an event on February 9 at the JNU campus, in support of parliament attack convict Afzal Guru. The ‘proof’ against Kanhaiya was a video clip (allegedly doctored) aired by some firebrand channels, all day long.

The JNU row has got attention from all over the world. Around 500 eminent professors from prestigious universities, including Noam Chomsky of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk of Turkey, issued a statement, condemning the arrest of Kanhaiya and expressing solidarity with students and faculty who were protesting against the government’s action. The statement said, “We the undersigned, take a stand of heartfelt solidarity with the students and faculty of Jawaharlal Nehru University in their efforts to resist these developments on its campus and, in the name of the liberties that India and Indian universities until recently could take for granted, we not only condemn the culture of authoritarian menace that the present government in India has generated, but urge all those genuinely concerned about the future of India and Indian universities to protest in wide mobilisation against it.”

In the 69th year of this democracy and in these ‘Make in India’ days, one of the most admired universities is facing a serious attack. Due to some highly questionable reporting by a section of (mainly electronic) media, JNU has been branded anti-national and in result ‘patriots’ have been shouting slogans to shut down JNU. Home minister Rajnath Singh even alleged that “the incident at JNU has received support from Hafiz Saeed. This is a truth that the nation needs to understand”. That ‘truth’, however, was based on a tweet by a fake account in the name of the Pakistab-based JuD chief.

It is a matter of serious concern that in the eyes of the government JNU has become a threat for the state. This conclusion is nothing but an example of ignorance and lack of understanding about institutions like JNU where dialogue and debate are the main tools to awaken critical wisdom among students. Youths from all over the country and from different backgrounds study in JNU, but the media has painted its image of only extreme leftism, even when the impact of every ideology remains very much visible in the campus. There are left organisations here which believe in parliamentary democracy, and not of an armed revolution. There are Gandhians, socialists and ‘free-thinkers’. Even students who believe in the ideology of RSS have a significant presence. ABVP leaders have got elected several times in the students’ union; in 2000, ABVP bagged the presidential post. All of them openly discuss their demands which may come across as objectionable to others. But, then, that is the spirit of JNU.

Kanhaiya is a member of AISF, the student wing of CPI, which believes that Kashmir is an integral part of India and is non-negotiable. The content of the reported anti-India slogan is neither the political stance of CPI nor is it probable for the left activist to shout slogans which contain anti-India and pro-Pakistan message. It remains a mystery who shouted those slogans, JNU students or some outsiders.

It would be no surprise if Kashmir and the hanging of Afzal Guru are discussed with contrasting views here. There might be a group of students who believe that freedom is the only solution for Kashmir, but it is the challenge for their political opponents to prove them wrong, not for the police. Using the charge of sedition for sloganeering is ridiculous in a democracy. In 1967, when the US was busy in war with Vietnam, American students were out on streets, shouting slogans. One of them was dedicated to Vietnam’s leader Ho Chi Minh – “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh – We shall fight, we shall win.” America was wise enough to tackle the situation and no one ever thought of charging students for sedition.

The law of sedition was included in the Indian penal code by the British government way back in 1870, exclusively to censure dissenting voices from Indian media, intellectuals, and freedom fighters. “Absence of affection” towards the government was sedition, according to this law. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi and several others had been victims of this draconian law. Jawaharlal Nehru had publicly voiced his dislike of section 124A, saying, “…that particular section is highly objectionable and obnoxious and it should have no place both for practical and historical reasons.” One of the most important judgments in this regard is Balwant Singh vs State Of Punjab. Despite slogans like “Khalistan Zindabad” clearly undermining India’s government and sovereignty, the supreme court acquitted the accused because the slogans did not imminently incite violence. The court said, “The casual raising of the slogans once or twice by two individuals alone cannot be said to be aimed at exciting or attempt to excite hatred or disaffection towards the government as established by law in India, Section 124A IPC…” Thus, even advocating secession from the country or violent overthrow of the government does not attract sedition unless there is imminent incitement to violence.

Then what is the point of making sloganeering in JNU a big issue? Is there any political motive? There are allegations that targeting JNU is part of a larger design. In November 2015, Panchjanya, the official publication of the RSS, published an article describing students of JNU as a “huge anti-national block which has the aim of disintegrating India”.

No doubt, the idea of India is under serious attack. The Modi government has failed to deliver on its promises on the economic front. In such a situation, nationalism becomes a tool to divert people’s attention. Organisations related to the ruling BJP are already doing their job, but the country may have to bear the consequences of this strategy. Some faculty members of IIT Bombay rightly condemned the “overreach” by the government in various educational institutions. “The state cannot dictate on the many meanings of what it is to be ‘Indian’ or mandate the meaning of ‘nationalism’,” says a statement signed by 42 faculty members.

Patriotism practised by the right wing would be decisive as it has an aim to divide the country. India cannot forget its Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore who had made a clear announcement: “Patriotism cannot be our final spiritual shelter; my refuge is humanity. I will not buy glass for the price of diamonds, and I will never allow patriotism to triumph over humanity as long as I live.” Was Tagore also an anti-national?

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(The article appears in the March 1-15, 2016 issue)

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