Reflections on India, JNU and Pakistan: Anjum Altaf

In a chilling analysis, ANJUM ALTAF sees a terrifying pattern unfold in India, one that Pakistanis are all too familiar with.

Below are excerpts, the entire article can be read at TheSouthAsianIdea Weblog.

Despite its very different political trajectory, India is repeating the patterns observed in Pakistan albeit with a considerable lag in time. We have already seen the injection of religion in politics and now, apropos of JNU, we are seeing manifestations of hyper-nationalism and the use of student proxies of political parties to crush dissent and intimidate opposing voices in universities and courts.

The interesting question for an outsider is why this is happening in India today. The answer points to another one of the contingent events of history. It seems that with the election of Narendra Modi a number of factors have come together in India – the rule of a party with a foundational commitment to a conservative ideology that it believes needs to be universally imposed, a visceral dislike for dissent that it deems anti-national, and the undiluted power to attempt to enforce its preferences. These elements might have existed individually or in pairs before but have never come together as they have now with the outright mandate obtained by the BJP in 2014 that relieves it of the need to placate coalition partners.

In Pakistan, the commitment to a conservative ideology was present almost from the outset, the crackdown on dissenting voices followed soon after, but it was only with Zia ul Haq that the there was a long enough period of unchallenged authority to push the ideological agenda to the maximum and change the contours of society for the generations that followed.

In this context watching and hearing what is happening in India today is like replaying an old Pakistani movie. Consider the Home Minister – stating “If anyone raises anti-India slogans, tries to raise questions on the country’s unity and integrity, they will not be spared,” attributing the incident to the Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD), and pressing for charges of sedition. Observe the violence in the premises of a court and the passive role of the police. Consider the sentiment of the MLA caught on video in an act of violence stating he would shoot protesters if he had a gun and articulating his understanding of patriotism: “As I was leaving the court I saw a man raising anti-India and pro-Pakistan slogans. I lost my cool, like any patriot, and asked him to shut up.” Add to that the government’s hastily passed mandate to hoist the national flag on a 207 feet mast in all central universities in order to better instill the spirit of nationalism in all who may pass thereunder. “Curiouser and curiouser” as Alice would have said….


Related to this incident, there is, of course, one obvious difference between India and Pakistan and that pertains to the size and scope of the resistance encountered by the state to the use of strong-arm tactics. Once again, this is a contingent outcome owing itself to the fact that an institution like JNU with its tradition of open discussion has survived through all these decades. Similar institutions in Pakistan had their freedoms curtailed and faculties emasculated much earlier leading to the critical loss of public space in which to challenge official dogma in relative safety. At this time it would be hard to imagine a sizable group of students in any public university in Pakistan sufficiently trained to interrogate the convictions and prejudices with which they entered the institution. That this was not always the case is exemplified by the role of students in ending the military rule of Ayub Khan in the 1960s.

This seems precisely the reason why JNU, the premier institution promoting an open investigation of history and politics in India, has been targeted. If the tide can be rolled back in JNU, India will be well on its way to catching up with Pakistan. One can deem it a tribute to JNU that three members of the student wing of the RSS at the university are reported to have resigned in protest against the response of the state. In support of the thesis advanced in this post they have expressed apprehension at the ‘Talibanization’ of India.

Read the rest of the article at TheSouthAsianIdea Weblog.

2 thoughts on “Reflections on India, JNU and Pakistan: Anjum Altaf”

  1. If the analysis is anything to go by and it seems quite applicaple in present circumstances, its deeply disturbing and dangerous.Where are we moving?The only hope is the diversity of this country which can not be bulldozed by one party.

  2. Though things are a bit disappointing at this moment, but to say that India will traverse Pakistan’s trajectory is an overreaction. This country is way too diverse to let that happen. The institutions aren’t undermined with alarming regularity. The institutions themselves have their way of imposing checks and balances. Many a times in the short history of India, there had been times such as these; but India did bounce back for better. If we could make a comeback after the emergency and post Babri Masjid riots (Gujarat rioting was localised in a very few places in Gujarat itself, let alone the country), this is nothing.

    What we are witnessing today, is a very healthy sign of dissent and counter-dissent (if there is a word like that). It will be naive to think that the vocabulary of both will be free of passion, rage, frustration and anger. That is utopian. At this moment, both the sides are vehemently making their points, in social media, electronic media, demonstrations etc. There is no violence here. Barring the ugly incident around the arrest (which, by now even the Govt. has realised its folly-but not willing to admit it) there is no violence. No one is committing murders here, no secret police. I think we’re being overly critical here. If anything, we are being more tolerant as a society, where in spite of our differences (evident by the sheer passions involved), state machineries are used sparsely.

    If you look back, incidents such as Ramabai Ambedkar Slum Firing, MarichJhapi firing, Bijon Setu killings are more of rarity these days.

    I hope Kafila publishes this.

We look forward to your comments. Comments are subject to moderation as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s