Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh was once a powerful student leader of Gorakhpur University in the seventies. Though this eastern district of Uttar Pradesh was the hotbed of mafias and criminals whose overweening influence on student politics in the campus was vice-like, Singh stood out as an iconic figure for challenging the stranglehold.
This political background of the Home Minister bears significance in the context of his unqualified fulmination against students of the JNU who facilitated the India-bashing event in the prestigious institute. Short of declaring a war on such student leaders who organised the event, Singh made it clear that he would see to it that those involved in anti-national activities were brought to book. Singh virtually goaded Police Commissioner BS Bassi to initiate action against student union leaders who participated or endorsed the glorification of Afzal Guru, a convict of the Parliament attack hanged by the UPA regime.
Rajnath Singh had earlier led the BJP’s youth wing known as Bhartiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) and promoted student leadership within the Sangh Parivar’s fold across the country. Though his area influence was particularly confined to eastern UP that housed one of the most prestigious Banaras Hindu University (BHU), Singh was quite cognisant of sinister facets of underground influence on student politics.
In the eighties and nineties, a dreaded warlord of Bhabua-Rohtas districts of Bihar Mohan Bind used to get safe sanctuary in BHU. In Gorakhpur, gangs owing allegiance to warlords like Harishankar Tiwari and Birendra Sahi ran students unions. So vitiated was the academic atmosphere in Uttar Pradesh that students resorted to mass-scale copying in examinations of high school and intermediate to succeed.
In 1991, when the BJP came to power in UP with Kalyan Singh as the chief minister, Singh became education minister. The first thing on his agenda was to issue an ordinance that made copying in examination as non-bailable offence. Despite much hue and cry by leaders from the Congress, socialist and Marxist stream which described the ordinance as draconian and anti-democratic, Singh stuck to his gun. The result was obvious. The success rate of students who took the exam in 1992 dropped significantly. Thousands of students, including girls, were booked on criminal charges for cheating in the examinations.
Those who think Rajnath Singh overreacted to a minor student affair in JNU are certainly oblivious to the fact that Singh is one of the rarest leaders of the BJP who has profound understanding of the Sangh Parivar’s ideological moorings. Therein lies the difference between him and a newcomer like union HRD minister Smriti Irani.
For instance in Rohith Vemula’s suiucide, Irani’s utterances were frowned upon and regarded as immature expressions not aligned to the Sangh’s ideological line. On the other hand, Singh’s unambiguous warning to the anti-national in JNU and the police action was appreciated in the entire Sangh Parivar.
There is little doubt that if one goes by the precedents, the police action in the JNU campus would prima-facie appear to be a case of overreaction. The JNU has the history of hosting events and thoughts which fall under the category of sedition. For instance, the celebration of death of CRPF personnel in Dantewada or glorification of Afzal Guru could not be described as an academic contestation of ideas. In the past, such events were ignored with the belief that they are mere aberration of a group of attention-seeking students. Given the fact that there exist several secessionist, seditious streams not only in Jammu and Kashmir or North East but also in the mainland of the country in the form of Naxalism, an event of an insignificant scale was regarded as worth of the state’s attention.
Herein a section of the JNU leadership owing allegiance to the left and radical left calculated horribly wrong. They ignored the fact that the present leadership of BJP is largely drawn from the student movement. Modi, though not a product from campus politics, was closely associated with students during the JP movement. Simiarly, M Venkaiah Naidu, Arun Jaitley and Ananth Kumar owed their political grounding to students’ movement. Most of these leaders still maintain their symbiotic relationship with campus politics. Like Rajnath Singh, they not only carry their conviction on sleeves but also nurse a “pathological aversion” to the Left and ultra-left stream which has been consistently challenging the Sangh Parivar’s ideological position in many campuses. Now, the chickens have come home to roost. For once, it would be naïve to regard Rajnath Singh's warning of “sternest action” against JNU students’ union as rhetoric.