My father was charged with sedition in 1942. He was a college student then. At the time, it was sedition against king and country – against the British Empire. While he was in jail, a missionary turned up and tried to tell him a Christian should not behave like this. My father did not listen. Then, a British officer came to say he was such a good student, he would be sent to Oxford if he mended his ways. My father refused.
He made sacrifices because he was inspired by Gandhi, Nehru and Bose. He had been moved to tears when he heard Netaji at a public meeting. He stood fast to his convictions in jail. He wore that as a badge of honour till the end of his days.
In those days, there were others who signed pleas for mercy. They had their priorities. It is a lot to ask anyone to put up with the horrors of Indian prisons. I have no grudge against them.
I do have a problem with some of their followers and successors, for they are dividing my country – and they are doing it at a time when India faces terrible challenges, internationally and at home. Many of them think the country’s main enemies are within, and these are all the Muslims, Christians and Communists of the country, all, by definition.
The RSS has held to this belief for decades as a matter of faith.
At this point, this belief is causing grave injury to my country. It is making many patriots feel insecure and unjustly treated. It is causing riots. Each riot divides and weakens the nation which my father and grandfather built through sacrifices under the foreign yoke.
Over the past week, our rulers have turned their ire on Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), the finest university in the land. An objectionable set of slogans, which were shouted there on 9 February, has been used to target the whole place, which has been built and nurtured with great dedication and rigour by generations of the country’s finest academics and students over the past half-century.
Some of those academics have rescued India’s history from the discourses of colonialists and neo-colonialists, with vigour and rigour. But those extraordinary academics, who have justly earned repute across the world, have been abused and reviled as 'anti-national.’ That word is now being used interchangeably with 'Leftist’ and 'pseudo-secular.’
The ideological mentors of the ruling party, and so most of the ruling party too, hate Communists. Over the years, they have gnashed their teeth with disgust against a wide variety of liberal, democratic, open-minded, intellectually curious minds – thinking of that whole spectrum as generally 'Leftist.’ That is a term of abuse to them. Generally, they spit it out with contempt.
So they used those objectionable slogans on 9 February to try and fix this broad-spectrum `Left.’ In the process, they hoped to get control over JNU, that hub of the liberalism and intellectual curiosity they find unsettling and irritating. That is why they have used those objectionable slogans to try and smear the University community in general. Over the past week, they have kept repeating the most objectionable of those slogans to shout down all opponents on television debates.
What they have achieved is to give life to the flagging Left parties. In the bargain, they have further divided my country, the country for which my father faced the sedition charge in 1942.
The Left and the Right and a range of political opinions between have a right to express themselves in this democracy. Not just a right, they must actively try and win over public support. But those who spit out terms like `Leftist’ and `pseudo-secularist’ do not want to concede that right.
They tend to have raging anger, and a deep sense of self-righteousness. This anger runs so deep that they feel pride at assaulting those whom they see as politically unacceptable.
They defend their anger as natural and righteous. For, they tend to view that wide spectrum of liberal and intellectually alive minds who do not agree with their Hindutva ideology as broadly anti-national. To them, the equation is quite simple. Their ideology is the only one that is truly nationalistic. Ergo, all other thinking is deviant and anti-national.
Their ideology is political, but their righteousness is quite close to religious zealotry.
It has been in full flow over the past week. They were less than one per cent of the throng at a campus public meeting on Saturday. But they kept up a raucous chant of slogans to try and shout down political and activist leaders. They then attacked a Congress leader, cutting his ear. Then, at New Delhi’s civil courts on Monday, they physically attacked students, activists and media women and men, bludgeoning some of these with kicks and blows.
My distress is not so much about their violence or double standards, for I understand that they feel self-righteous. I am upset that all this divides and weakens India.
In the heat of the political battle for the Bihar assembly elections last October, the BJP president had declared that fireworks would be burst by the country’s enemies beyond its borders if the BJP’s opponents won those elections. Those opponents did win. His prediction turned out to be wrong.
At this point, though, many of India’s enemies, within and beyond its borders, might be feeling pleased – not over electoral verdicts, but over the way India is being divided against itself by those who rule it. This is tragic. It is an insult to those who braved the charge of sedition to fight the British for our freedom.
Let us stop, now. Let us reach out to unite.