Guest Post by New Socialist Initiative (NSI)
There is poison in the air. Loud abuses of ‘deshdrohi’, ‘gaddar’, ‘maaro maaro’ are rending the air. Angry men shouting these words have beaten up teachers and students of one of the best known universities in the country in the Patiala House Court of Delhi, barely three kilometers away from the seat of the national government. An elected MLA of the ruling party was part of the team of attackers. Women teachers of the university have publicly said that they were physically harassed by the mob, while the police looked the other way. This happened on 15th February. We can turn a day back.
The Home Minister of the country announced to the world that a protest by a handful of students at the Jawaharlal Nehru University was the handiwork of India’s ‘enemy number one’, Hafez Saeed of Lashkar-E-Taiba. The basis of his claim proved to be a fake tweet within hours. Three days before that, the elected president of JNU students union Mr Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested by Delhi police on charges of sedition, under the same clause of IPC which was used by the colonial rulers against Indian freedom fighters.
Kanhaiya Kumar, belonging to a poor family from interiors of Bihar, is the first one from his family to attain university education. There is no evidence to date that he was part of the group that raised anti-India slogans on 12th February in his university. There are Supreme Court decisions which state that charges of sedition can only be levelled if someone is actively involved in enticing violence against the country, raising slogans is not seditious. Yet the police in Delhi did not hesitate in occupying the campus of eight thousand students, interrogating, harassing and threatening them, and arresting their elected union president on trumped up charges. Before that it was reported that a group of people, may be five, may be ten, raised anti-India slogans during a meeting held to oppose the way Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri convicted by Indian courts of involvement in the attack on Indian parliament, was hanged. Students of JNU organise and participate in scores of meetings every month. Their ripples are rarely felt outside their campus. But the meeting on Afzal Guru has generated unprecedented turmoil. This is not by accident, but by deliberate design.
Actually, the people of India have to take a call. What disturbs their sense of being Indian more? A few minutes of anti-India slogans by an unknown group of people, in one corner of the city of Delhi, or the occupation by police of a sprawling university campus housing thousands of students and teachers, arrest of a bright young man from a poor family on trumped up charges of sedition, false claims by the home minister of the country to spread fear among people over terrorist activity, and a very public physical attack on teachers, students and journalists in a court of law by members of the ruling party. The first action by unknown people perhaps offends their sentiment of being Indian, the latter set of actions by the Government of India, police and the members of the ruling party, have physically hurt a number of citizens of India, are going to devastate future of many bright young men and women of the country, and have embarrassed the country with its home minister found making false public claims. Perhaps many Indians will feel that their sense of being Indian is hurt by both these sets of actions. But one set of action is almost ephemeral. TV channels looking for cheap sensationalism have played the same video clip again and again of some people shouting anti-India slogans. There are many such clips floating in the social media, some allegedly showing the members of the ABVP, the student wing attached to the ruling party, shouting anti-India slogans. Which is real, and which is someone’s conspiracy, is not immediately known. The other set of actions leave little doubt about their intentions and effects. People have been really beaten up, arrested and terrorised. Which set of actions should draw immediate attention of Indians, and if they find themselves sufficiently outraged, their condemnation?
Since ‘anti-National’, ‘deshdrohi’ and ‘traitor to the nation’ have become common abuses used by members of the ruling party, it is necessary to distinguish their idea of nation which fuels their agression and violence, from the other idea of Indian nation which underlies its constitution. Free India had a very violent birth. Hundreds of thousands of Indians were killed by Muslim communalists in the areas which became Pakistan, and by Hindu and Sikh communalists in areas which became India. Gandhi, the unquestioned leader of India’s freedom movement himself was killed by a Hindu fanatic. However, framers of Indian constitution led by Dr B. R. Ambedkar decided that they will not be led by communal passions engulfing the country at that time. They framed a constitution which guarantees equality and a set of fundamental rights to every Indian, irrespective of her/his caste, religion, ethnicity, or language. The Indian nation inhering in its constitution is concerned with the welfare of all. It attempts to provide a secure life, free from oppression, tyranny and arbitrary use of state power to all Indians. This Indian nation is concerned with the real problems of Indians, like hardships they face due to poverty and social oppression. This India is self confident and assured. It is not rattled by the presence of those who do not agree with its basic assumptions. It advocates dialogue in case of differences, and asks for state action only if violence is used. In contrast to the nation envisioned in Indian constitution, the nation of Hindu Rashtra imagined by the RSS ideologues, whom the current government follows, is driven by hatred against minorities. It feeds upon the fears and insecurities of Hindus, and amplifies them through rumours, like country’s home minister discovering Hafez Saeed’s plan behind a student meeting in JNU. It creates mythical demons from history, to exploit people’s sentiments for its violent politics.
The nation envisaged in the constitution requires an aware and enlightened citizenry. It provides a framework of fundamental rights to free speech, to form associations, to express dissent and protest. Without all these rights an aware citizenry is impossible. However, constitutional rights have little meaning if citizens are not allowed to exercise these rights. Through its politics of hatred, threats and violence, Hindutva makes it difficult for citizens to enjoy precisely these rights. It has always been targeting minorities. Now, through the politics of ‘deshdroh’ and ‘gaddaar’ it is targeting anyone who questions its politics. It has arrogated to itself the right to define who is a nationalist, and who is an anti-national. Now that it is able to gather mobs to attack citizens even in courts of law, it is essential to realise that it degrades the rights of its own followers too. Instead of citizens capable of independent political judgment, it makes them slaves of their own hatred driven passions.
It should be clear that the targetting of students and teachers of JNU is not due to any real threat to the nation. Anyone with common sense knows that even if some people did raise anti-India slogans in a student meeting, that would not have compromised India’s national security wee bit. The real aim of the politics of ‘desh-droh’ and ‘gaddar’ is somewhere else. Ever since the Modi government came to power in 2014, the BJP, its allied organisations and the state machinery under it have been attacking one group of people after another. Minorities have been attacked through politics of communal polarisation, ‘ghar vapsi’, beef ban, and arrests of youth under charges of terrorism. Radical dalit groups like the Ambdekar Periyar Study Circle in IIT Madras, and Ambedkar Students’ Association in Hyderabad Central University, which question the Brahminical caste sytem and its continuing hegemony in independent India, have been declared anti-national and targeted through adminsitrative means. The target of politics of ‘desh-droh’ and ‘gaddar’ are vocal and articulate sections of the society who do not agree with the fundamentals of Hindutva politics. The return of government awards by many noted writers and artists after murders of Dr. Dabholkar, Com. Govind Panasare, and Prof. Kalburgi for their rationalist positions, and the killing of Mr Mohammad Akhalaq by a mob in Dadri, had put Modi government at backfoot. It lost Bihar elections badly. The persecution and subsequent suicide of Rohith Vemula laid bare the anti-Dalit core of Hindutva politics, and ignited widespread revulsion against it among oppressed castes. Under the garb of threat to the nation, and attacks on ‘desh-drohis’ and ‘gaddars’, the Modi government is aiming to kill two birds with one stone. First, it wants to terrorise a very vocal group of students, teachers and intellectuals, who have been raising their voice, and organising protests against its policies. Second, it wants to gain back the political ground it had lost to its opponents in the recent past. The politics of ‘desh-droh’ and ‘gaddari’ is a battle of hegemony. At stake is the very nation of India. Which nation would Indians uphold? A democratic nation whose framework is given to them in the constitution, or a violent, and hatred driven nation which first creates, and then thrives upon their fears and insecurities!
Modi government has proved itself to be too clever for its own good. It thought that by targeting a group of students as ‘desh-drohis’ and ‘traitors’ it will be able to whip up a nationalist fervour, and garner the support of Indians. However, the principled and determined resistance put up by students, youth and enlightened sections of Indians all over the country is already unravelling its nefarious designs. Their struggle in the defence of democracy is the symbol of Indian democracy. This India, a democratic, secular and tolerant India will defeat Modi government’s vile plans.