The BJP has made a foolish mistake by justifying its Delhi MLA’s attack on students and lawyers at the Patiala House Court on Monday, and sticking to its confrontational stand against the agitation. With inspired vigilantes such as OP Sharma on the streets and intolerant leaders in TV studios, the party is dragging itself into avoidable trouble by unnecessarily taking on the students.
What could have been ignored as a campus event has now snowballed into a national show of the BJP’s intolerance to dissent and skewed application of law against its adversaries. The Gandhi family has been gifted yet another opportunity to whitewash its emergency-era anti-student excesses and the UPA’s record of intolerance.
Instances of authorities unleashing power on agitating students are not new in India, or elsewhere in the world, because that seems to be the instinct for any government anywhere in the world. But, letting loose vigilantes with sworn allegiance to ultra-nationalism against people with a constitutional right to protest, and allowing the police not to act, hark back to bad times in history. Some may compare it with nationalist Black Shirts and Brown Shirts in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany respectively. Watching the Delhi Police, which mostly remained inactive against the BJP, attacking and seeking to side with the nationalist voices by suggesting presence of evidence, (laughably things like SFI literature), some may even draw a parallel with the Gestapos crushing German students in the early 1940s.
Student agitations have long been part of transformational movements and have also been resisted, by both political thugs and state authorities. Not that all student movements have been right or well-guided in terms of their ideology and purpose, but not allowing them to express themselves is a historical blunder, particularly in the age of 24/7 electronic and social media. At a certain stage, such movements breach the critical mass and tip the rivals out of the power equation or communications game. Some times, they naturally lose steam just as the way epidemics stabilise on their own after the initial ravages.
The BJP and its proxies are falling to their instinct of intolerance, as many others had done in the past; but what they fail to realise is that it’s very likely to backfire. Student agitations are mostly natural, idealistic expressions of outrage and not necessarily planned political movements; but they may grow big organically before either succeeding or dying down. And taking them on by force, because of suspicion and intolerance, is pure blunder because it’s swelling by the day.
Over the last few days, it has been debated threadbare if the JNU agitation warranted any police action at all. Had the government, the BJP and its students’ wing been tolerant and tempered in their nationalism, it would have ended up as yet another occasion of remembrance.
People have the right to remember, whether the state likes it or not. Memories are important, as Salman Rushdie wrote in his Joseph Anton, in standing up to ruthlessness. As regards Afzal Guru’s trial and execution, there has always been a different point of view and some do believe that he was wronged. More over, universities are a different universe.
Way back in 1970, psychologists Sudhir Kakkar and Kamala Chowdhary had argued that the “authority crisis” was rising in our society in regard to students. They said that the youth were impatient to end their dependancy and strive for autonomy. Remember, Kakkar and Chowdhary wrote this just before Indira Gandhi went berserk with her authoritarian and anti-democratic ways - students were among her worst victims. The BJP, although led by many people who endured the emergency excesses, is making the same mistake. The JNU students should have been simply watched over, at worst.
Indian history is replete with student agitations - both before and after independence. A large number of students and teachers were arrested by the British in Bengal in early 1900s for “revolutionary crimes”. In the 1950s, there were widespread student agitations across various cities, particularly in Lucknow and BHU. In Assam, they even led a successful agitation for political change. In 1990, it was the anti-Mandal agitation that cost VP Singh his promising career. The point is that students’ ferment is only natural and they need to be handled with enormous care because, as many researchers have pointed out, they are still in their adolescence and are going through a stressful transformational process in adulthood.
The most bizarre is the use of the word sedition. The BJP is using a term that the British used to round up students and teachers in the early 1900s.
Therefore, unleashing violence on them and planting moles and trouble-makers among them to create anti-national demons out of them is vicious. What the BJP MLA has done betrays the attitude of his party. It’s unlikely to work and will most probably invite trouble because young people across the country and their parents are watching.