The Importance of Being Makarand Paranjape: Anirban Bhattacharya

Guest Post by ANIRBAN BHATTACHARYA

A few days back, drawing from Oscar Wilde’s classic, Makarand Paranjape wrote a piece titled The importance of being Narendra Modi. He urged his readers to ensure a second term for Modi saying “If Narendra Modi gets a second term, he will certainly change India in a lasting and significant way.” That he is going to change India, and is doing so already is not that far from truth, but the question is which way is this change taking us. Given the track record of Modi Ji(o) so far, the change is surely going to be for the worse. But this piece is not on Modi Ji(o). This one is on the Makarand Paranjapes of the world. Yes, they are not one. They are in fact a particular breed not new in history, and they have a particular role. Specifically, we would evaluate this role of theirs in the light of a recent piece of his on the gherao of the JNU VC.

Some would say that the piece was on the issue of Najeeb. But no, it wasn’t. Najeeb, a new student pursuing M.Sc in Bio-Tech living in Mahi-Mandavi hostel was publicly assaulted by identified ABVP goons in front of students as well as wardens on the night of 14th October. He was showered with dire consequences of which too there are multiple witnesses including again the hostel wardens. A vicious communal slur-campaign was set in motion by the sanghis writing “Muslims are terrorists” within the hostel premises. Amidst all of this and in the given context Najeeb “disappeared” on 15th October from his hostel. He had called his mother last, who, as it appears, had reached Anand Vihar and was on her way to meet her son in distress. But, by the time she was here, Najeeb went “missing” mysteriously and is yet to be found. After five days of entreating an unresponsive university administration to be proactive in creating conditions for Najee’s safe return, JNU students undertook an all night vigil on the 19th of October.

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Prof. Makarand Paranjape Addressing JNU Students Earlier in the Year (After 9th February, 2016) : Image, Courtesy Samim Asgor Ali

On the 20th of October Prof. Paranjape wrote a piece in First Post suggesting that the students protesting against Najeeb Ahmed’s disappearance were wasting their time. Mr. Paranjape did not feel disturbed enough on 15th morning, or on 16th morning or the mornings thereafter while the students along with Najeeb’s family swayed between hope and despair. As his opening lines suggest, he felt agitated enough only on the morning of 20th October moved as he was by the “harrowing night” that his quarter-master (read VC) had to spend surrounded by aggrieved students.

He paints a picture of a bunch of  unruly protesting students voicing a set of most unreasonable demands with the sole intention of unnecessarily raking up an issue that best lies buried.

He alleges that while all that needed to be done, and probably more, was done by this most humane and sincere administration, the students however had blockaded the administration just for the heck of it. In the face of this most ardent defence of the administration, let us just put the facts as they stand into perspective.

On the evening of the blockade, those of us standing outside saw the administrative building’s lights being switched off for fifteen minutes and then being brought back. The story relayed to the media being that the staff are forced to stay “without electricity and water”! Soon after an ambulance is brought in under full media-glare with lights and camera and made to stand at a corner the whole night unused. The perception being built is that they are fatally kept hostage despite having accepted all our demands. Interestingly, till the media arrived, the VC never thought it necessary to come and speak to the students. All that he did till then was to shoot one Tweat after the other. And then suddenly in front of the cameras we finally saw this dramatic persona in the form of our Vice Chancellor. With folded hands we saw him playing the role of being the “victim” meticulously, in the pretence of talking to students.

Till now no mention was ever made by the VC of the instance of assault on Najeeb by the ABVP goons and the dire threats he received before “disappearing”. Much rather, it is Najeeb who is being referred as the “accused” in the official narrative. There is till now a complete refusal on the part of the administration to even acknowledge that Najeeb was assaulted by a group of ABVP hooligans, let alone take any action on them. While the family members, in a state of despair and trauma, are being asked to identify bodies by the police, the administration remains absolutely arrogant working under the express diktats of the RSS. There has been clear profiling of Najeeb and in turn other Muslim students on communal lines in the aftermath of the violence. The warden’s committee meeting held the very next day in its minutes clearly mention the acts of physical violence inflicted on Najeeb and abuses showered at him saying there were multiple witnesses of the same. But despite the above facts, the Vice Chancellor has still not found it relevant to mention the same to the police as the circumstances that created the context of a student’s “disappearance”. What does he intend to hide? Is it very difficult to fathom as to whom he intends to shield and his stakes therein?

Carefully dovetailing the above deliberate omissions on the part of the administration, the police too so far has not even questioned/summoned/interrogated those identified history sheeters who were responsible for beating Najeeb the night before. And to the contrary, it is bent upon building a narrative around his apparent “mental instability”. Neither have they made a thorough search within the campus premises and the woods for Najeeb, nor have they followed the basic minimum of using sniffer dogs for trail the very next day, or even ever thereafter.

None of the above, of course, was described as disconcerting or “deplorable” by Makarand Paranjape. None of these seemed to have shocked him, or disturbed him till the “harrowing night” that the VC supposedly endured despite his innocence and goodwill. The soul-wrenching wails of Najeeb’s mother, the questions hurled by her, the genuine anger and agitation by the students – nothing ever prompted Paranjape to take to his pen and paper. But his master’s supposed pathos and pains in captivity did. Following much of Modi’s footsteps, Paranjape also takes to a mild paternal chiding of the ABVP goons asking them to “rein in its cadres”. It reminds us of Modi’s remarks for the gau-rakshaks after the lynching of the Dalits in Una. We know the worth (read worthlessness) of such fake words of caution when it comes to the storm-troopers of fascism – the Banjragis, the ABVPs or the cow vigilantes. After all, it is them whom these bigots rely on for putting into practise their venomous thoughts.

In this piece, he also accuses us of conspiring in a way so as to unite the Dalits and Muslims against the Modi regime by dubbing it as anti-Dalit and anti-minority. Amongst all the things that you credit or dis-credit us for, this is one point for which you ought not to give us any credit really. Because from Rohith to Una, from Muzaffarnagat to Dadri, from Gujarat to Kandhamal – it is the actions and inactions of the RSS/BJP that solely deserves the credit for making this unity possibile between the oppressed. Not just the Dalits and Muslims – but also amongst the adivasis, women, LGBTIQ, workers, peasants, and oppressed nationalities. And this is made possible by the same vulgar-nationalist Hindutva credo that Mr. Paranjape eulogizes Modi for. Behind the façade of the jugglery and play of words that he deploys in his formulation of “many Modis” and “many Indias”, he worships Modi for following what he calls the “dharmic nationalism”. Of course, what is meant is the Hindu dharma – the dharma as propounded by Manu. To the detriment of the women, the Dalits, the Muslims, what he propounds and takes pride in is what he perceives as a macho-Hindutva pride embodied in the 56 inch chest of Modi whom he praises for his “Robust economic growth and a more muscular foreign policy”. He adds, “A charge may be levelled that the whole thrust of this national upswing is Hindu. This must be acknowledged; it is Hindus at large, who are fired by the zeal to unite and reassert themselves in the world.” So much for “many Indias” and “many Modis”! After all that, kindly don’t give us the credit for uniting the Dalits and the Muslims.

As far as discrediting us is concerned, kudos to your vicious efforts, but guess you could do better. At the end of his article, he alludes that it is quite possible that it is us – the progressive democratic, left-Ambedkarite sections, that can harm Najeeb for “political gains”. Hydra-headed as you are, you already have supplanted a range of conspiracies to blame those of us clamouring for Najeeb as the ones responsible for “hiding” him to reap benefits! You and your likes in the ABVP, or the Vivek Agnihotris and the Dainik Jagrans are trying really hard to give it some twist or the other. First you folks said it is the JNUSU that is hiding Najeeb, then you said it is the JNUTA and to top it all Jagran had a dedicated story pointing at Umar and my hand behind his disappearance! To prop it up ABVP has been quoted in Jagran saying we surely could be behind this as we seem to be “experienced” in hiding! Goebblesian lies has always come to the service of fascism time and again in history, and so has the likes of Paranjape.

Yes, Paranjape, you are not really special. There has always been the likes of you. Even in the haydays of Nazism in Germany it would be historically incorrect to say that his authoritarian regime didn’t have popular or intellectual support. The likes of you played a crucial role in supplying the latter. There were plenty amongst the university fraternity and amongst the intelligentsia, even heavy weights or lightweights like yourself, who gave their moral patronage to their Fuhrer’s ghastly acts and justified much of his monstrosity in the name of “German glory”, “Aryan pride” and its “glorious past” that they saw being redeemed in the hands of Hitler. It is in his hands, and his unabashed race-pride that they saw the deliverance, the restoration of “lost aura” and the accomplishment of their “natural destiny”, their supposed “civilizational mission”. It is in this light that we read the following lines of Paranjape as he hails his Fuhrer. Speaking of the resurgence of a particular nationalist feeling under Modi he writes:

“Its central theme, tone, and tenor is the expectation that India can be great again. More than anyone else, it is Modi that has made Indians feel this way; he has restored the confidence of an entire civilization in its sense of manifest destiny. He has made India and Indians proud once more… A renewed belief in India has also resulted in the reinvigoration of India’s civilizational mission, which lay dormant, if not moribund, since independence… for long, this sense of India’s special calling lay trampled and obscured.” Till of course Modi happened. Which he says is not a man, but a phenomenon.

We can very well see what you are doing here Mr. Paranjape. We know exactly where this is heading. These lines that read like an extract from an RSS mouthpiece is geared to one end – a particularly dystopic end where there will be more Rohiths, more Najeebs and more Madkam Hidmes. And hence our determination, our pledge, our conviction to contend your idea of India with that of our’s. An idea of India that we draw from Ambedkar, from Bhagat Singh.

Just a few more words at the end. In the flight of his passion, he also ended up questioning the very motive of the agitating minds in JNU. He frowns at a conspiracy by students in JNU who just “conjure up” issues only to defame his Masterji(o) and to no other good. He tries to hint towards the futility of our demands which he considers to be just noise. And noise of course ought to be silenced, isn’t it? He says that only a handful of universities anywhere in the world promise hostel accommodation along with admission. He says in Delhi University, Jamia Millia or Ambedkar University, for example, a vast number of the students, both undergraduate and graduate, must make their own arrangements. He does not feel it to be a big deal if the word “residential” is removed silently from the university prospectus. He winds up lamenting that in JNU, however, “hostel accommodation is demanded as a right”. Oh, what a crime! What horror! What audacity! The grinding auspices of the neo-liberal façade of growth endorsed with all his might by Modi has meant that out of the total workforce of around 475 million, around 400 million workers, today are employed in the informal sector. They have no job security, no formal entitlements to call upon the protection of the fast eroding labour laws, no pension scheme, no formal contract agreement, nothing. What if one were to ask that amidst this abysmal state of affairs, why should the likes of Paranjape be the receivers of decent residential housing, HRA, pension scheme, Dearness Allowance, fixed monthly income, and so on? Why should anyone clamour if these securities are snatched away? (And mind it, they are already under attack.) We don’t know about you Mr. Paranjape, but we will be in the streets making noise even then just as we did with DUTA a few months back and just with the same passion and vigour as we do against the erosion of the rights of the students and workers. Because, to your displeasure and that of your masters, we still believe that yes, affordable education is a right and not a service we ought to buy. Because, unlike you, we believe that these along with many of our and your own rights have been hard-earned through struggles of the yesteryears, many a time through bloodshed. And they all began with some audacious demands to start with. In case you happen to read this piece, I am sure you would have a smirk in your face reading this part hissing in your mind – “these idealist rascals!” But just a gentle reminder Mr. Paranjape – history has always moved forward because there were always some to make that audacious demand against the likes of you, the conformists.

Anirban Bhattacharya is an activist with the Bhagat Singh Ambedkar Students Organization [BASO]

6 thoughts on “The Importance of Being Makarand Paranjape: Anirban Bhattacharya

  1. What a riposte to Prof. Paranjape, dear Anirban!
    Prof. Paranjape is a wonderful scholar and a great human being. His criticism of Sheldon Pollock and his project is reasonable and all well-argued. His criticism of the left and the lefties in the JNU is also worth paying attention to.
    But his support for Modi?
    It shows him in poor light.
    He must talk to the new EC member from Bareilly and he will understand what it does to help and support Modi and his policies.
    Once the RSS has complete take-over of JNU and other elite insitutions, quasi-liberals like Prof. Paranajape will be kicked out.
    Modi and his men want to and will create a Hindoo taliban in India.

    1. sashi

      As a former student, I have to disagree on the scholar part. A man who spends most of his time plagiarizing from students is not a scholar – he’s a thief.

      1. bhuvi

        that is a serious allegation. and he wont be the first ‘scholar’ to do so. the answer i think is more, and not less students’ rights. every instance of a predatory supervisor must come to light and be fought tooth and nail.

  2. Varun

    Is there anything like positiveness left or you and your group have only to show negative aspect of everything

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