Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Right-wing elements losing the plot

Pankaj Sharma

23 February 2016

Fallout from the recent JNU row has been an embarrassment to the Modi government.

The Modi brigade’s efforts to impose its saffron ideology in the past week have failed miserably.  The sharp reaction in India to events at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and the support it has received from varsities world over has turned the tables on the Modi government.

It is true that the freedom of expression does not give the likes of JNU Student’s Union president Kanhiaya the right to raise anti-national slogans. But in a democracy, a government in power has no business manufacturing false evidence to declare innocent students “anti-nationals”. Doctoring television footage to frame students under sedition charges is something that cannot be condoned.

For the past 21 months, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the political wing of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other sister organisations have worked overtime to polarise India society. The results of Delhi and Bihar Assembly elections were a strong rebuff to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Ashwamedh”. Suffice to say, the entire JNU episode has been a very tight slap on the face of the fanatic right wing.

Instead of reading the writing on the wall, such self-appointed “saviors” of nationalism are now scratching pillars by indulging in highly criminal activities against Congress party vice-president Rahul Gandhi. They are framing him in frivolous court cases and running a high voltage hate campaign. These elements are also involved in anti-national activities by defacing the statues of India’s national icon Jawaharlal Nehru.

What could be more dangerous and anti-national than the words uttered by a BJP MLA in Rajasthan? He wants Rahul Gandhi to be hanged and shot just because he took a principled stand in the JNU row. The Congress leader said that although the state has every right to punish the culprits, it has no right to frame sedition cases against innocents. I am not shocked at the lack of condemnation by the BJP against the BJP MLA’s comments, as it is in tune with the basic philosophy of the Sangh-gang. We never witnessed this sort of turpitude from any quarters against any BJP leader even during the days of the Babri Masjid demolition or the Gujarat riots. Both these episodes were openly initiated and supported by many right-wing stalwarts. But a deliberate attempt now is being made to create an unfortunate atmosphere where the great-grand son of Nehru, the grandson of Indira Gandhi and son of Rajiv Gandhi has to prove his nationalism before those who had never even condemned Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin.

And, what could be more dangerous and anti-national than asking four dozen odd Vice Chancellors to pass a resolution for hoisting the tricolor in university campuses? Do we need to pass a resolution to hoist our national flag on Indian soil? This act by an ethos-illiterate Union Minister in Modi cabinet is in itself such a cause for national shame that even the water of all seven seas cannot wash the stains of this sin. Those who understand the mania behind it can never dismiss this episode as hilarious or laughable. What certain court compounds are witnessing today cannot be ignored. Moreover, the blatant bias shown by certain TV anchors against JNU students should not be ignored.

There needs to be an in-depth debate on the question of sedition on the floor of the Parliament. How can such a colonial-era law be relevant to 21st century India? Most civilian governments in the world have either done away with their sedition laws or have suitably amended them.

There has been no prosecution for sedition in the United Kingdom since 1972. The common law offense of sedition in England and Wales was first recommended for abolishment in 1977 as the Law Commission thought that it was redundant. It was finally abolished in 2009. Scotland also got rid of its sedition law in 2010. New Zealand repealed its sedition law in 2007. Australia also abolished the sedition law in 2011. 

It is high time India took a serious relook at the sedition law. The political class in a democratic country must sincerely take some steps so that social activists like Arundhati Roy, Binayak Sen, Hardik Patel, or Kanhaiya Kumar and cartoonists like Aseem Trivedi do not unnecessarily face the threat of sedition.

The polarising dance performed by Modi’s worshippers has the potential of dividing society along different lines—into “Hindus” and “Sanghis”—if opinion makers could play their cards well. I am sensing a phenomenon for the first time that fence sitter “Hindus” is strongly resisting the tag of “Sanghis” on the issue of nationalism. They are stressing on the difference between the nationalism a common Hindu practices and the high decibel noise made by “Sanghis”. I also firmly believe that majority of Hindus are non-Sanghis. Therefore, while millions of Hindus take great pride in their religion, they are wary when they are seen as RSS-men. For them, the liberal, inclusive and compassionate way of living is more meaningful than the regimentation oriented mindset of ultra-right forces.

Nobody has any doubts about the intentions of RSS and its associates. But the country had never seen the para-military style of functioning by a democratically elected government which is the (dis)order of the day. The BJP, as a political party, has also been behaving like a hunter-brigade after Narendra Modi took over as Prime Minister. There is a difference between private armies and political outfits. The BJP and its government’s recent behavior reaffirm our belief that they draw their inspiration directly from fascism and Nazism. In the larger interest of himself, Modi must realise that by falsely believing that he can resolve all the pertinent issues of the country with such brutal insensitivity, he is living in his own paradise. The reality is something else and it cannot be changed. So, it is better to change the eyes through which we witness reality.

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