JNU row: Little sophistication
It is understandable why the BJP has been unnerved by the ongoing student unrest rather than by the protests of the established parties. When the BJP won in 2014, it saw before it a virtually deserted political field since all its opponents stood discredited in the eyes of the people because of their sleaze and skullduggery. This illusion was dispelled by the BJP’s defeats in Delhi and Bihar. But the party apparently still regarded itself as Numero Uno till its illusionary views received yet another shock from an unexpected quarter – the “left-liberal” students.
If the BJP finds itself at a disadvantage with this group, it is not only because the party virtually equates the term, left-liberal, with the lack of patriotism, but also because the party is not very familiar with the uninhibited “anything goes” academic atmosphere of large universities.
Used to the restrictive environment of the RSS shakhas, where only one point of view prevails, the saffron crowd finds itself at a loss among young minds, some of whom believe in untrammelled freedom in the matter of expressing an opinion or choosing partners or eating their favourite items of food.
The fact that few among the BJP leaders have spent long years in scholastic studies is another factor which influences their response – bordering on outrage – to the concept of academic independence. As the nominations of the RSS apparatchik to various national institutions such as the Indian Council of Historical Research or the Film and Television Institute show, the BJP’s cupboard is rather bare where distinguished intellectuals are concerned.
It is this deficiency which explains the BJP’s lack of nuanced sophistication in dealing with a sensitive issue which encompasses the natural rebelliousness of the youth, their tendency to be guided more by the heart than the head and the insidious infiltration into their ranks by misguided as well as dubious elements with an axe to grind.
Only those who have been to respectable colleges and universities will be able to understand a volatile situation of this kind – as when Naxalites were present in considerable numbers among the St Stephen’s and Presidency College students – and try to make a saner view prevail.
Such an endeavour is beyond the BJP’s ability. All that it can think of is to fall back on the police – and the ruffians among its lawyers – to teach the recalcitrant students a lesson.
Arguably, the approaching elections have made it more mulish in its attitude, for it evidently wants to extract the most political mileage from the anti-national plank.
Since the party’s customary anti-Muslim line has to be advanced with caution, as can be seen from Union Minister RS Katheria’s claim that he did not name any community while advocating a “final battle”, the anti-national label provides the BJP with an excellent opportunity to pose as the saviour of the nation.
The only difficulty is that students are in the line of its fire. And not ordinary students, but bright ones like Kanhaiya Kumar in JNU and Rohith Vemula in the Hyderabad Central University. Besides, their brightness is reflected not only in the academic sphere but in their articulation as well.
While Rohith’s reference to the astronomer, Carl Sagan, in what can be called his last will and testament must have gone over the heads of most of his detractors in the saffron camp, Kanhaiya has emerged as a new star on the horizon, just as Arvind Kejriwal once had.
Compared to him, nearly all the present-day politicians on both sides of the divide appear jaded and untrustworthy. Hence, the Left’s eagerness to field him as a speaker in the forthcoming election rallies.
There is little doubt that he will make an impact – not so much for what he says (which is the stuff of routine politics) as for the earnestness with which he says it.
The worry for the BJP will be that there is no one on its side who can counter the mild-mannered JNU firebrand, for Modi has lost his mojo while the bulky Amit Shah appeals more to the believer than to the sceptic.
The concern in the Hindutva camp is evident from the posters that have appeared in Delhi, calling for the “elimination” of the JNU student union president – a wish that was first expressed by the BJP MLA, O.P. Sharma, while assaulting Kanhaiya Kumar outside the Patiala House Court when the legislator said that he would have shot the “desh drohi” if he had a gun with him.
How effective will the new secular star be in politics will be known in next year’s U.P. elections, where his Hindi heartland background will enable him to make his point with his customary fluency. But his backers among the politicians will make a mistake if they try to extract the most from his oratory. If he is used sparingly, he can be expected to have the maximum effect.
(The author is a senior political analyst. The views expressed are strictly personal.)