Anti-national and sedition are dire words. These should not be thrown around casually. It’s not so much for the reason that the words are hurtful to the intended target, but more for the reason that they would lose gravitas from overuse or indiscreet use. Stretched beyond a point it might encourage a sub-culture of defiance and irreverence to the idea of the nation itself. The leaders of the current regime should be extremely careful with these words.
Are the students of Jawaharlal Nehru University who raised slogans in support of Afzal Guru, calling him a martyr and describing his hanging as a case of judicial killing, anti-nationals? Does the act of pasting posters inviting students to join a march against his hanging qualify as sedition? The reply depends a lot on the meaning you attach to these words at a personal level and to the extent you would allow others to challenge or violate it. It also depends on how you view the latter’s position and react to it.
Looking it from the perspective of organisations, the ABVP’s understanding of nationalism is too narrow, and that of some Left student bodies is too frivolous. One is too much into an elaborate system of symbolism and ritualism while the other takes the idea of the nation for granted so much that it believes rebelling against it continuously it is only normal. In this both share the traits of their ideological fountainheads which have failed to fit the essence of Indian nationalism into their respective worldview fully. In such a situation, a conflict of views is normal.
But the question here is how far would you take the conflict of views? The ABVP has got a foothold in a university known to be a bastion of the Left and would like to create more space for itself. Obviously, this has to come at the cost of the Left student unions. The fact that there’s a favourable government at the centre makes the ABVP bolder. The other unions also benefitted from similar patronage from friendly dispensations at the centre and in some states too.
That’s not a problem in itself; the problem is when someone as important as the country’s Home Minister Rajnath Singh wades into what essentially is a matter among students and hints that some are anti-nationals. Soon after he said he had instructed the police to take strict action on the anti-national elements on campus other ministers in the government have followed with similar reactions. When ministers start branding students anti-nationals it becomes a serious matter with grave implications.
Now, coming back to the earlier question, are these students anti-national and seditious? Not by a long stretch. They are young, impressionable, impulsive, ideologically-programmed thus unintelligent, and they love to be seen as rebels. They love the idea of freedom with no real understanding of what it means. They seriously believe their opinion changes the world. They are a harmless lot till they are sloganeering and carrying placards with nonsense written on them. Of course, we know the enthusiasm for ideology vanishes once real life kicks in. This applies to all members of student unions. Only a few establish themselves and shine in politics after campus life.
We should be treating them with some indulgence and affection. Young men after will be young men, a bit irresponsible. The best response would be to let students settle their own disagreements. It’s a university with a culture of debates and discussions. This should be allowed to be destroyed by low-level politics. The high profile political intervention threatens to do exactly that. National politics is too acrimonious already, the mutual bitterness at another level should not seep into campuses.
To close, these students maybe fools but anti-nationals they are not. Let’s not brand them so.