By Shishir Tripathi
As the storm at the Jawaharlal Nehru University intensified overnight with protesters locking horns with the government over the arrest of students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar on sedition charges, some voices have called for an end to the subversive politics of “fringe elements” while cautioning that ‘ending of politics in campuses’ is not practicable or even a desirable solution.
“Fringe elements and denigrated free-floaters are the real trouble makers. The aim should be to target and weed them out, not clamping down on campus politics”, a JNU student told Firstpost.
On Friday night thousands of JNU students participated in a march led by ABVP to laud the arrest of Kumar, demanding the arrest of other ‘anti-national’ students.
The march clearly spoke of simmering disconcert among students with the activities of a particular group which is perceived as “anti-national”.
Shashank, a senior research scholar at department of International Relations, said: “Most students who raised slogans in favour of Afzal Guru belonged to the Democratic Student Union (DSU) which has no support base. They have not won a single election ever.
“And most of those who created the problem were expelled from their party in the past. They are anti-nationals but not at all a benchmark for judging JNU or the leftist politics here. They are the fringe elements,” said Shashank.
Anti-national stance has always been part of JNU’s political rhetoric. What happened on February 9 was that for the first time, the so-called ‘anti-national acts’ were put in public domain.
“There is nothing new in this. In 2010 when 76 CRPF jawans were killed during a Maoist attack in Dantewada there was a proper celebration at Narmada hostel with music and drinks. It has been part of JNU culture to criticise the state, be it on issues like Kashmir, Naxalism or Nagaland,” said another student.
“It’s fashionable to be anti-establishment here at JNU, it has an intellectual appeal”, says Sandeep, another student.
“However, I don’t think any one of them can go out and cause hurt or injury. I am 100 per cent sure that there can be no concrete manifestation of their anti-India stance. This is all very theoretical and ends with a good job opportunity and exit from the campus,” he added.
Spending some time at the Ganga Dhaba or any of the hostels on campus makes it evident that JNU being more than a political place has constituents that are extremely politically aware.
Left politics still holds its ground. The seductive charm of reformative politics — that challenges status quo and talks of equality — attracts a number of young students from places like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar which suffer from deep socio-cultural fissures.
Kumar, the student union leader who was arrested on Friday, is one among them.
His close friend said: “I know Kanhaiya for years. He belongs to a very humble family from Begusarai in Bihar. His father is a farmer. He was of course attracted to leftist ideology. You can understand coming from a backward region this place looks very glamorous with all sort of freedom and talks of equality”.
“The problem is that you can defend anything in the name of defending free speech.”
However, most students refused to accept that anti-national politics can be the framework to understand JNU politics.
Shashank said: “Against the commonly held perception, voting here is done entirely based on the issues. Kanhaiya had no cadre but was very convincing in his talks and speeches. Nobody expected him to win but he won because his ideas appealed to students. So if you think that anti-national politics can be a ladder to central panel you are wrong. You have to spend some years in JNU to understand the politics of the campus.
Some students feel it is nothing but turf war. The demographic profile of JNU is changing.
Till 2008 when the OBC reservation was implemented, JNU had a system where cities were categorised according to their development. Students from backward districts used to enjoy some leniency, making their number considerably large.
However, with the implementation of OBC quota, the earlier system was put to an end. This led to increasing number of students from urban centres like Delhi University getting entry.
These students had wider exposure and were usually uninterested in politics. They were not easily swayed and indoctrinated. And since then left parties have felt threatened.
And with the BJP coming to power at Centre and the ABVP asserting itself with more vigour and winning a seat in central panel (joint secretary of JNU is from ABVP) after the gap of some 14 years, left parties had more reasons to worry.
Some of the slogans raised at the march on Friday were : Jis jis ghar se afzal niklaga, us ghar main ghus ghus ke marenge ( We shall enter each home which breeds Afzal and kill them), Jitne Kasab laoge, utne Kasab hum katenge ( As many kasabs you bring will be butchered), Desh Ke gaddaro ko ek dhakka aur do (Push the traitors one again).
This was preceded by a solidarity march attended by large number of students and teachers condemning the arrest of Kumar who most of them thought were ‘unjustly targeted’.
Quoting an article from The Statesman published on June 6, 1974, Rakesh Batabyal in his book ‘JNU: The Making Of A University’ writes... “Political convictions and the spotlight that is constantly turned on the campus prompt many students and teachers see themselves as actors on the stage of history.
“They tend therefore to interpret events according to the role they have assumed for themselves. This may plunge campus into tension and violence”.
Batabyal further writes: “Theodore Adorno, who was himself an exile, tried to pinpoint the location of intellectual within a society and came to the conclusion that they reside in the twilight zone. The intellectual is both a member of the bourgeoisie and simultaneously trying to annihilate it. The possible intransigence of the intellectual consists in being the proverbial square peg, and one whose sole business to demythologise”.
He adds, “This has been key factor which propelled many to seek their real location, and significantly the left politics gave them a meaning well beyond mere political ideology. It gave them a vocation and a life world”.
But when this left ideology is confused with a misguided rebellion then a rupture happens that JNU is facing currently.