February 21, 2016

Jackboots on the Campus

THE RSS-BJP drive to bring universities and higher educational institutions under its political-ideological domination is in full swing. The latest attack on Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and its student community was almost predictable given the recent events in other educational institutions which come under the purview of the central government. The JNU has become a prime target as it stands for all that is antithetical to the RSS-Hindutva forces. The arrest of the JNU Students Union president, Kanhaiya Kumar, on charges of sedition seems to be an over the top reaction to a small group of students protesting on the anniversary of Afzal Guru’s execution. However, this was not bureaucratic overreaction but a deliberate political intervention by the BJP government. The RSS and its student wing, the ABVP, thought this was the best issue to corner the Left and democratic forces on the JNU campus. Portraying JNU as a den of “anti-national” forces has long been the motif of RSS-BJP propaganda. As in the case of the University of Hyderabad, where Rohith Vemula and four other dalit students were suspended at the behest of the ABVP and the intervention by a union minister, so also in JNU, it was the ABVP provocation which led to the union home minister, Rajnath Singh, directing the police to take stringent action against “anti-national” activities in JNU. The HRD minister declared that no insult to Mother India would be tolerated. The police arrested the union president on charges of sedition under the Indian Penal Code. The sedition clause is a draconian one which defines sedition as “brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law”. Not only the president but the general secretary of the union and other leaders of Left student organisations have been named in the FIR. The Supreme Court had clarified as early as in 1962 that the charge of sedition would apply only if it incited violence or public disorder. Yet this section of the Penal Code belonging to the colonial regime is widely misused to suppress protests and democratic movements. It is evident that the Modi government and the BJP are making the “anti-national” activities in JNU into a major offensive against the secular-democratic forces. The shocking incident of assault on teachers, students and journalists in the Patiala House Court premises, with the police mutely watching, is an indication of how the government wishes to treat the matter. The union home minister, Rajnath Singh, has slandered the students by stating that Hafiz Saeed has supported the JNU agitation by citing a fake twitter handle. It is well-known that the JNUSU had not organised the protest meeting. The union leaders and other Left student organisations intervened only to prevent a confrontation between the ABVP and the organisers of the event. The fact that the JNUSU president and other office-bearers were singled out for arrest, when they have nothing to do with the event where the so-called objectionable slogans were raised, shows the intent of the central government and the BJP to target the JNU as an institution and to punish the student community as a whole for their steadfast commitment to secular democratic values and opposition to the Hindutva forces. The JNU has always had a vibrant democratic atmosphere and this has nurtured the autonomy of the university. This was shattered by the police action on February 9. The newly appointed vice chancellor gave blanket permission for the police to operate on the campus. Further, the university has debarred eight students from academic activities pending the outcome of an enquiry ordered by the vice chancellor which is by itself an action taken under pressure of the government. The false case against Kanhaiya Kumar has to be withdrawn and the sedition cases against the students withdrawn. This is the demand of all democratic sections in the country. The Kanhaiya case has become a symbol of the struggle against the Hindutva onslaught. The students and the teachers of the university, with the exception of the ABVP and the RSS elements, have stood together unitedly to fight back this assault on JNU. They must be given full support and backing by all the democratic, secular and progressive forces in the country because this is a fight not just of JNU, it is a wider battle against the forces of a reactionary communal ideology and unreason. The battle to defend JNU is, thus, part of the much wider battle against Hindutva authoritarianism. (February 17, 2016)