By Shishir Tripathi
There is a new slogan at the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus in New Delhi. It goes like this: “Jo Hitler ki chaal chalega, woh Hitler ki maut marega. (Who operates like Hitler, will die like Hitler.)”
It’s a heated campus but student union officials are trying to maintain a semblance of calm while urging everyone to speak up against the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar on sedition charges.
Doing this balancing act mainly is Shehla Rashid, the vice president of JNU’s student union.
“A person is innocent until proven guilty, not guilty until proven innocent,” said Rashid. “I am reminded of the quotation:
‘First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out/ Because I was not a Socialist./ Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out/ Because I was not a Trade Unionist./ Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out/ Because I was not a Jew./ Then they came for me/ and there was no one left to speak for me.’
Let this not happen here."
She also persuaded students not to strike back with violence. “The way they are treating us is to provoke violence so that they crush us. But we have to at no cost react,” she said.
She got the students to applaud thunderously when she said, “They said that if Kanhaiya did not raise the slogan, his culpability is that he did not stop it either. I ask Mr (Narendra) Modi did not organise Godhra riot but did not stop it either... does it make him guilty?”
Rashid is also one of the students who was invited but refused to be a part of the enquiry committee constituted by the vice chancellor, as a mark of protest against the fact that the step is being taken too late.
Sandeep Singh, former JNUSU president, said he was “embarrassed” that Kumar, the JNUSU president, “was left at the mercy of a mob to lynch him in front of police and judiciary”. “In this scenario we will reject all your narratives," he said.
According to Viswanathan, a student at the School of Social Sciences, the controversy has two aspects to it. “One is the overall strategic concern of the RSS of converting spaces of higher learning into places that provide legitimacy to the various components of its nefarious agenda to convert India into a fascist and intolerant Hindu rashtra,” he said.
“The second is the more immediate tactical concern of the RSS and BJP-led NDA at the Center to divert attention away from its abject failure on the fronts of economic growth, employment generation, and even national security exemplified by the glaring procedural lapses in dealing with the terrorist attack in Pathankot.”
Viswanathan also stated that the educational institution, its students and teachers are “pawns in a high stakes political game by the BJP”. “But as it happens in a game of chess, the pawns may be low in agency at the beginning of the battle, but they are the only pieces on the chessboard that can transform themselves into a queen depending on the circumstances. JNU has fought back tooth and nail against the repression unleashed by the Sangh and stands firmly united against the recent right wing onslaught on the campus.”
Viswanathan also pointed out that the politicians who are now reacting so strongly to a few slogans were the same ones who “remained deaf” when the students went on hunger strike five times just so that they can solve issues such as lack of adequate hostels and scholarship.
He said that the prevalent view in JNU is that the entire incident about raising pro-Afzal Guru slogans “is just an excuse to attack our democratic space and terrorise students here”. “If their nationalism has problems with people who think hanging Afzal Guru was a travesty of justice, I wonder where these feelings were when they shook hands with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Kashmir. PDP is a force which still holds Afzal was wrongly convicted and its chief thanked Pakistan and other secessionist forces for the peaceful conduct of elections in Kashmir.”
Rakesh Batabyal, faculty member at Centre for Media Studies, said the issue of sedition charges must be seen from the broader societal and historical perspective. “Knowledge brings responsibility but so does power. In this case if slogans were shouted it must be seen in the context of knowledge getting mixed with anger. It invites the attention of the scholarly committee to correct it.”
Batabyal, who is also the author of JNU: The Making of a University, continued, “On the other hand, when the State is expressing disproportionate anger it smacks of arrogance of power instead of responsibility of power. In this situation, the head of the state should take the responsibility, go to the teachers and request them to give the students proper perspective.”
As YS Alone, a professor and an alum of JNU puts it, “We don't support anti national activities but how do you define nationalism? For me, the person who defies all logic of hierarchy is a true nationalist.”