Stoking ideological wars on college campuses
Encouraging violence to deal with “anti-nationals” Is Unacceptable.
The Narendra Modi government appears to have succeeded in persuading the ghar wapsi and love jihad brigades to pipe down for the time being. Modi even personally ticked off the gau-rakshaks or cow vigilantes after they were videotaped lynching a group of Dalit youths for skinning a cow, their traditional occupation.
The caste of the victims evidently played a role in Modi's assertion that the professed love for the cow displayed by a majority of gau-rakshaks was "fake". Apparently, the Prime Minister did not want to antagonise the Dalits just a few months after the suicide of the Dalit scholar, Rohith Vemula at Hyderabad Central University in the aftermath of his confrontation with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the Sangh Parivar's student wing.
But the Parivar is a hydra-headed entity, each tentacle equally venomous. So, even as the attempts by the Hindutva lobby to enable the "bhule bhatke" (misled) Muslims, in RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat's words, to return to their original "home" of Hinduism have been put on hold, and gau-rakshaks have temporarily withdrawn into the background, the ABVP has reasserted itself after a period of quiescence following the tragedy in Hyderabad.
The outfit, which wears patriotism on its sleeves, has taken up the cudgels to target anti-nationals yet again after its brush with them in Hyderabad and Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). The organisation has been engaged in the task of serving the nation both in Hyderabad and after several JNU students raised provocative slogans about Azadi (freedom). The police charged them under the colonial-era sedition law. Among the "culprits" was a student leader, Umar Khalid.
The case against him is still pending, but he remains an anti-national in the eyes of the ABVP. It protested, therefore, against the invitation sent to him for attending a seminar in Delhi's Ramjas College, leading to clashes between the saffron group and Leftist students.
This is not the only incident where the ABVP took upon itself to decide who can be allowed to speak. Some time back, the Jainarayan Vyas University in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, cancelled an invitation to a JNU professor, Nivedita Menon, known for her controversial views on Kashmir, after protests by the ABVP. Not only that, the university has suspended the faculty member who had invited Menon. Shortly after the Ramjas college episode, another Delhi college put off a street theatre festival following protests by the ABVP over the supposedly anti-national content of some of the plays.
Meanwhile, speaking in London, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who began his political career in the ABVP, added fuel to the fire by talking about an "alliance of subversion" in the campuses. He did not produce a shred of evidence to substantiate his charge although subversion is a serious offence. But his objective was probably something else – to give the government's critics a bad name in the hope of widening the BJP's base of support.
His diatribe appears to have inspired a junior colleague, Minister of State for Home, Kiren Rijiju, to ask the Lady Shri Ram College student, Gurmehar Kaur, a critic of the ABVP, "who's polluting this young girl's mind" after she received threats of being raped. Another BJP stalwart, an MP, has compared Kaur, whose father was killed in the Kargil war, with Dawood Ibrahim.
Given this tarring of the ABVP's opponents with a black brush, it would seem that the BJP has decided to vigorously play the nationalism card to reassure the party's core constituency of communal-minded Hindus that Modi's sabka saath, sabka vikas slogan of development for all does not mean that it has deviated from the basic Hindutva ideology of cultural nationalism with its emphasis on the motto: one nation, one people, one culture.
This game plan apparently induces the different Parivar outfits to play the same role at different times. Only a short while ago, much was made of the slogan, Bharat Mata ki Jai, with leaders like Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis asking people refusing to chant it to leave the country, and the saffron sadhu, Baba Ramdev, regretting that the law did not allow him to behead the dissenters. Now, the ABVP has taken up the task of waving the saffron flag while the ghar wapsi storm-troopers and the gau-rakshaks take a breather.
It will not be out of place to emphasise the potential for violence of any campaign to whip up nationalist fervour to target a particular group – Jews in Nazi Germany, Muslims and non-white immigrants in America and Europe today. The patriotic zeal may not only be about waving the tricolour and compelling doubters to endorse the official line on Kashmir but also about upholding Hindu beliefs such as reverence for the cow, which has led to attacks on cattle traders and even the killing of a householder suspected of eating beef.
(The writer is a political analyst. Views expressed are strictly personal.)