Historians will one day note that the crackdown on JNU students strengthened the very idea the Indian state wants to suppress: That of Afzal Guru.
It is a big mistake.
If the use of force, guns and bombs could have killed an idea, Islamic terror would have been long dead now, bombed into the stone age by those fighting against it.
Yet, the scourge of Islamic terror not just survives, but it also thrives, rampaging across borders, finding new recruits, adherents, flag-wavers and jihadists. Every death inspires a few more--either out of retribution or because of indoctrination; every strike on a terror camp strengthens the resolve of those left behind.
It has been almost 15 years since the West began its war on Islamic terror, yet there is no end in sight. Instead, some like the Russian prime minister now fear that it may spiral out of control and lead to a world war.
Force, the history of Islamic terror teaches us, is an impotent weapon in the battle of ideas. It can never destroy what it aims to demolish, but instead runs the risk of escalating the war to a level where it becomes mutually destructive.
This is precisely why the Indian government has made a huge mistake by using force against "anti-India" protests on the JNU campus. By retaliating with arrests, police action and sedition charges to an idea that should have been countered through the bigger and better idea of India, it has unleashed a bigger monster.
The idea of Afzal Guru
Afzal Guru is a hero to many Kashmiris, an inspiration for its youth. When the UPA government hanged him on the eve of the 2014 Lok Sabha election, hoping that it will be seen as a beacon of patriotism by hanging him in a hurry, it turned him into a martyr in the eyes of separatists.
Keeping Guru alive, just like the killers of Beant Singh and Rajiv Gandhi, may have perhaps allowed him to live long enough to fade away into irrelevance or deprive him of the martyr's aura. But, like Maqbool Bhat, who was executed and buried in the Tihar jail in 1984, he has now become a symbol of freedom struggle and Indian oppression for Kashmiris.
"The Indian Supreme Court hanged Afzal Guru to satisfy the collective conscience of the nation. Even his family particularly the wife and son were not allowed to meet him. His hanging is an unforgettable tragedy of human history. Though he was hanged without being provided justice, his demise gave rise to thousands of Maqbools and Afzals in Kashmir,” separatist leader Shabbir Ahmad Shah said on the third anniversary of Guru's hanging.
Unfortunately for India, his words echo the thoughts of many Kashmiris. And a convicted terrorist whose case went right up to the SC has become larger in death than he was in his life.
Every month, dozens of protests against the Indian state are held in the Valley; thousands of mourners participate in funeral processions of militants killed by security forces; IS flags and anti-India slogans surface every alternate day in different corners of the Valley and people support azadi from India at every available forum.
Just a few days ago, the Valley was shut down on the third death anniversary of Afzal Guru, who was hanged for his role in the attack on Indian Parliament. Hundreds of youth, and separatist leaders enforced the bandh in Kashmir and Srinagar, demanding justice for Afzal Guru and mortal remains of JKLF founder Maqbool Bhat. Nobody outside the state noticed or worried too much about it.
What the separatists failed to do with their frequent strikes and protests in Kashmir, the Indian state has achieved with its use of force in JNU: It has brought the idea of Afzal Guru to the national mainstream, allowed it to dominate the country's discourse. It is a tactical triumph Guru's supporters could have only prayed for.
Using a cannon to kill an ant
At the root of the JNU problem is campus politics. Students influenced by the Left's ideology are entrenched deep into the campus. They are mentored, protected and indoctrinated by a faculty dominated by those brought up on similar ideas and politics.
Pitted against them are the right-wingers, represented by the ABVP, the students' wing of the saffron parivar. The battle between the two competing ideas has become intense after Narendra Modi's advent on the national scene. Emboldened by his victory, the saffron parivar sees the JNU as the final frontier for its catch-them-young politics.
In this war of ideas on the campus, both sides cross their tipping points. If the ABVP raises the rhetoric on nationalism, Hindutva--putting the nation above individual--the other side counters its propaganda by putting the rights of an individual over the nation by talking about equality, liberty and freedom.
In 2010, some of them distributed sweets and took out celebrity processions when 75 CRPF personnel were killed by Naxalites in Dantewada. Though it triggered the mandatory war of words between spokespersons of political parties, the brouhaha died down because the ABVP and the NSUI, in a rare show of bon homie, countered it with a protest against the protest.
This time too, the state should have left the two warring ideologies to take on each other. A few students talking about Afzal Guru and shouting anti-India slogans in some corner of a university would have posed no threat to the integrity and security of the country. At best, it was the JNU vice-chancellor's headache, not of the country's home minister.
The idea of India, the rationale of Kashmir as an integral part of India is much bigger than the petty political agendas of a university. Perhaps a passionate speaker armed with facts, rationale and logic could have single-handedly countered the idea of Afzal Guru in the university than the might of the state.