By now, it’s as clear as day, that the Sangh and its associates want the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) to be shutdown or given a makeover that suits them.
Kanhaiya Kumar and the present turmoil is just an opportunity they have been waiting for. Being a melting pot of cultures, nativities, ideologies and socio-political thoughts, it won’t be difficult at all to find another hundred such situations to make the iconic institution a haven of “anti-nationals” and “naxals”.
Subramanian Swamy wants the JNU to be closed down for four months for “fumigating” the hostel of unwanted elements. “Those having proven record of being jihadis, Naxalites and LTTE terrorists must be expelled from the university," he reportedly said in a statement. Swamy’s dislike for JNU is not new and hence is not surprising. BJP MP and journalist Chandan Mitra also wants it to be shut down, but permanently, because it has no other value than perpetuating Left ideology. In a column in NDTV he didn’t mince words when he said how, by the original choice of curricula and faculty, it only patronised the Red.
Minister, Giriraj Kishore also wanted it to be shut down. A number of freelance commentators, including former Infosys HR honcho Mohandas Pai, a beneficiary of huge tax sops by successive governments, took another pervasive route to target the university by saying that his tax money was meant to subsidise studies and not student politics. Many toed his exclusivist line on social media and asked for accountability for their taxes. They don’t mind poor health, education and infrastructure, but are worried about a handful of students of JNU. The obvious reference is to the Left ideology.
As many prominent alumni and intellectuals noted, JNU is unique in India because it fosters a culture of scientific scrutiny and interrogation. It takes counter-intuitive and anti-establishment positions that could be interpreted whichever way one wants - they can be called anti-national, seditious and downright anarchic. Kashmir and Afzal Guru remembrance are not the only issues that they are confronting the nationality question with. In the early 1990s, students openly supported the causes of the Northeastern states, some of which were pressing for independence. In 1987, students also sided with the Tamil cause in Sri Lanka vis a vis the Indian army.
Whether domestic or international politics and geo-political strategies, they never toed a nationalistic line. That was the essence of meaningful dialectics. The national intelligence agencies always kept a watch, but the Congress and Congress-led governments exhibited no anathema and did not indulge in cheap talk such as tax-payer money subsidising the students. After all, people pay taxes for common public good.
However, the BJP, RSS and other Sangh organisations seemed to have been harbouring a pathological suspicion and patent intolerance towards the liberal and progressive environment of the JNU. Barely a year into the BJP government’s existence, the RSS called the institution home to a “huge anti-national block” that has an aim to disintegrate India. An article in its mouthpiece said: "JNU is one such institute where nationalism is considered an offence. Presenting Indian culture in a distorted way is common. The removal of Army from Kashmir is supported here. They advocate various other anti-national activities here.” This is exactly the line of argument that the RSS and BJP leaders are parroting now. It certainly sounds like an old plan and the latest episode provided the spark they have been waiting for.
Curious enough, the closest parallel to targeting the JNU and it liberal atmosphere of polemics, is the “book burning” campaign in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. The German Student Union burned thousands of books that were allegedly “un-German”. Anything that the Nazis found insecure about were burnt in university towns across the country, accompanied by nationalistic speeches. The ruse used was nationalism. Left literature and writing that espoused democracy were confined to flames among others. The idea was to kill not only dissent, but also any freedom of thought and pluralistic ideas.
While the European fascists were wary of the communists, the Communist despots too did the same in their efforts to purge dissent. Pol Pot, for instance, wiped out a whole part of Khmer language, along with a large number of people, because it was spoken by the “elites” and had words and phrases that he found inimical to his ideology. Fascism in any form, including that’s draped in red, is scared of free thought and “intellectualism” as propagandists such as Joseph Goebbells would refer to.
Equally important is the fear of authorities for student unrest. The 1968 unrest in Paris, although didn’t prevent President De Gaulle’s return to power, did lead to new bills that changed the university system and certain social aspects of life. In India, students were the target of Indira Gandhi’s repressive regime before and during the emergency also later during many Congress-led governments.
It’s not purely coincidental that three national campuses came under enormous stress after the BJP government came to power - Pondicherry, Hyderabad and now JNU. Unprecedented hooliganism, in the face of allegations of plagiarism by the VC, disrupted student life in Pondicherry, while any form of protest in Hyderabad was deemed anti-national and communal. The intolerance that spread in Hyderabad even claimed the life of an aspiring Dalit science scholar. JNU is the current target. These are the situations when one should really ponder over why education was included in the concurrent list. Other than central control, there seems to be no purpose.