The JNU debate: BJP’s response is more arrogance than nationalism

Bihar had a maverick chief minister in Mahamaya Prasad Sinha. At the height of the student rowdiness in the state in the late 60s that graduated into a formidable movement against the Congress, particularly against the incumbent chief minister Kirshna Vallabh Sahay, Sinha, a die-hard Congress man, turned up at the vanguard of anti-Congressism. But that was hardly credit-worthy.

The JNU debate: BJP’s response is more arrogance than nationalism

Is the BJP handling the JNU issue correctly? Reuters

What was really remarkable during those times was his dramatics. During a series of student movements, he would ride on the roof of a bus, give an emotional speech and tear his kurta with an utterly emotive idiom (jumla) thrown at his audience “mere jigar ke tukdo (part of my heart)”, an obvious allusion to the restive students. His idiom worked. In 1967 when Bihar got its first non-Congress government, Sinha became the chief minister on the basis of his dramatics and emotions much against the wishes of Ram Manohar Lohia.

This brief political history bears significance in the context of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) over-reliance on emotive content rather than realpolitik in the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) episode. The party has found the entire development as a low-hanging fruit to establish its nationalist credentials and push rivals into the category of anti-national. At first glance, the debate appears to be as phoney as it can get.

For instance, JNU student union president Kanhaiya Kumar hardly comes across as a student leader who is hell-bent upon betraying his motherland to enemies. His speech punctuated with acerbic diatribe against the BJP and the RSS contained all elements of “undiluted nationalism” on which the Sangh Parivar claims monopoly. He belongs to a party (Communist Party of India) whose belief in Indian constitutionalism can hardly be questioned.

The fact that Kanhaiya Kumar is an elected representative of the student union in the JNU is an index of his popularity. He prima facie comes across as a seasoned leader well-versed with the dialectics of student politics. His mere presence at the spot where anti-India slogans were raised by a group of students could hardly be ground for booking him for sedition. And Kanhaiya’s incarceration on serious criminal charges appears motivated more by political reasons than legal requirement.

But why did the BJP government do it? Perhaps nobody can answer this question than one of the most brilliant proponents of Hindutva -- KN Govindacharya. “The problem with the BJP and the Sangh Parivar is that they find emotive issues more handy than tackling real and political issues,” he would say while explaining the reason for the tough stance of the government against hapless students of the university.

Apparently in Govindacharya’s view, the government’s actions seemed to have emanated more out of arrogance than nationalism in this case. Like him there are many in the Sangh Parivar who realise the explosive potential of mishandling a students’ issue. Given the government’s exponential failure in translating its promises to reality, its stand against the JNU students would appear as a cover up for its failure.

Perhaps the BJP leadership would do well to handle problems that have been plaguing the country. Despite its proclamation of unfettered masculinity, terrorism, particularly of cross-border variety, has hardly shown any sign of abatement. On the economy front, the situation is far less sanguine if not alarmist given the fact that the investment has not picked up. Job-creation across the country presents a dismal scenario.

There is little doubt that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s victory in 2014 marked a tectonic shift in India’s politics. This is the first time since independence that an ideological party opposed to the Congress won a clear mandate to run the country in its own way. Unlike Atal Bihari Vajpayee who was substantially influenced by Jawaharlal Nehru’s politics and followed conciliation more than confrontation, Modi belongs to a new genre leadership which is deeply immersed in the Sangh Parivar’s ideology and often chooses confrontation than conciliation as a favoured political tactics.

Those who expected that the BJP would deal with the JNU episode with kid-gloves tend to see Modi in the political prism of Vajpayee. Those fed on a high dose of Sangh Parivar’s variety of “nationalism and patriotism” now run the government. And those who held the function and allowed it to turn into a platform for free-wheeling seditious expressions by a handful in the JNU have easily walked into the Sangh Parivar’s trap.

But in a vast and diverse country like India, emotion is a double-edged sword. It would only require the genius of a Mahamaya Prasad Sinha to discover one more idiom (jumla) akin to “mere jigar ke tukdo” and turn the table against the BJP should this issue snowball into a full-blown crisis across the country.

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Updated Date: Feb 15, 2016 21:27:46 IST

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