Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Join hands to nip it in the bud

Pankaj Sharma

15 February 2016

The right to disagree and challenge the disorder of society does not give anybody right to anti-nationalism.

Recent events in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Press Club of India (PCI) should be tackled with an iron hand and the hypocrisy of different political ideologies must be set aside. The Bill for the establishment of JNU was placed in the Rajya Sabha on September 1, 1965 by the then Education Minister, M.C. Chagla. Suffice to say,  Chagla would have never envisaged that the university would become a den of anti-national slogans instead of a bastion for scientific socialism. Similarly, the founding members of Press Club, would have never thought that the walls of a club would be witness to anti-India expressions six decades later.

The JNU Bill was passed in Lok Sabha on 16th November 1966 and the JNU Act came into force on 22nd April, 1969. The varsity, which has been functioning since 1976, has a campus spread over nearly 1000 acres of land. The campus today houses around 7500 students who come from all parts of the country and abroad, and from all sections of society. There are over 500 faculty members in addition to administrative staff who, along with students, live on campus, and interact with each other irrespective of social or professional status. JNU has often boasted about the unique feature of its Students’ Union managing its affairs without any intervention by the authorities.

The ten Schools and four special Centres of the University produce high-quality research publications, books, working papers, and M.Phil and Ph.D theses. JNU alumni occupy important positions, in academia, government, private sector, and other walks of life. But the recent event has planted a serious question in the minds of all well-meaning people. How can an academically and socially vibrant space find itself enmeshed in so many unacceptable controversies? Can the right to have that space to express views lead to something like this?

The varsity has become an arena for both left and right-wing politics over the course of its existence. In the early nineties, a Pracharak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) began visiting JNU campus on a regular basis and started befriending students who were influenced by communist ideology. The dominance of communist ideology in JNU earned it the sobriquet—Kremlin on the bank of River Yamuna. The Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing affiliated to the BJP, now has strong roots in JNU. I recall the efforts of many RSS ideologues including Govindacharya in planting the seeds of ultra-right thoughts. Suffice to say, they did succeed in creating a distinct identity for themselves. I also remember how efforts were made in 1982 to stop Prime Minister Indira Gandhi from entering JNU and how

 slogans against Rajiv Gandhi were raised when he visited JNU as the Prime Minister. Left wing-supported students’ unions were in control those days. Some of those who vehemently opposed the entry of Indira and Rajiv in JNU later occupied key positions in the Congress party, but National Students’ Union of India (NSUI), the student wing of the Congress could never gain any recognisable ground in the campus.

It is good that debates are central to both JNU and PCI. They are welcome to learn more outside the classroom. It is also good that when schizophrenic media goes berserk against the reds-under-the-beds in the heart of the national capital or against saffron forces resolutely trying to re-write the basics of JNU, we chose to ignore it. Journalists must also get maximum freedom to argue their points. But, ignoring the recent slogans raised by whosoever on the campus of JNU and on the first-floor corridor of PCI is bound to invite, and rightly so, an intervention from the state quarters.

This is the time when rather than playing blame game all students’ organisations and journalists’ associations must come together and decisively fight these elements. All the left wingers are not naxals or pro-extremists. Equality, freedom of speech, and tolerance are not cuss words. All the right-wingers are also not fascists, lumpens, goons, and perverts. Selective amnesia cannot be an answer to current problems. All those who think that freedom of speech is under threat should understand that no one enjoys a monopoly over this freedom. The handful of students in JNU or journalists in PCI are not the representative faces of these institutions of great repute. To save them from the current slime-slinging and persecution is the responsibility of each one of us. Incubation of ideas, protection of free speech and dissent—the right to disagree with and challenge the disorder of society and the state is fine, but all this does not give anybody right to anti nationalism.

I personally claim no special insight into Satan’s methods, but I have at times been able to identify his influence and his actions in my life and in the lives of others. When you are on your mission, Satan seeks to divert you from your future path and to destroy your usefulness. Over the past few years, there has been a revival of student political mobilisation on campuses around the country. Serious questions on social change and nation building are raised among students in universities across the nation. 

At such time JNU-PCI type events have seriously jeopardised the chances of nationwide debates on basic issues. If we do not nip these diversionary tactics in the bud, the real concerns such as caste discrimination in institutions of higher learning will have no option but to take a back seat in the days to come. It would be dangerous. Therefore, everybody must understand that one cannot oppose one’s nation while opposing decisions and policies of one’s own government.

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