‘This is An Attack on India’s Secular, Democratic Constitution’
CPI(M) leader in Rajya Sabha Sitaram Yechury initiated the discussion on the situation arising in central institutions of higher education with specific reference to Jawaharlal Nehru University and University of Hyderabad. Below we publish the edited excerpts of his speech in the upper house of parliament on February 25.
I AM initiating this discussion with a deep sense of anguish, anger and anxiety of what is going to happen to our country. Because, I believe, what happened in Hyderabad Central University and what happened in JNU, these are not matters confined to only one or two educational institutions. You (the deputy chairman) have seen what happened in FTII, Pune. You have seen what has happened in IIT, Madras. You have seen what is happening in Jadavpur University, apart from Hyderabad and JNU. You have seen what is happening in Allahabad University. You have seen what is happening in Burdwan University. You have seen that these sorts of incidents are happening in various places. And I would like to submit here that it is not only in institutes of higher education and universities but also in institutions like ICHR, ICSSR and Nehru Memorial Museum, you see an interference of an order that is not sanctioned by law.
Every central university has been established by an Act of parliament. It runs on the basis of an Act of parliament. And if this Act of parliament is violated, it is our duty to intervene to ensure that such violations are put an end to. Therefore, at the outset, I am demanding that we should constitute a house committee to, actually, go into all these developments in Hyderabad University and in JNU.
You see an effort to replace Indian history, syncretic evolution of Indian history, what all of us are product of and what we have gained, with Hindu mythology. To replace history with mythology and to replace the rich Indian philosophy with Hindu theology -- this is the larger project at work and this project, actually, dovetails to the project which this government is patronising, the project of metamorphosing India's secular and democratic republic into what they call the Hindu Rashtra. This, therefore, is an assault on the constitution of India, as I conceive. And, unfortunately, this government is leading this insurrection against the Indian constitution, against the Republic of India.
All of us know what has happened in Hyderabad Central University in terms of how these dalit students had been treated. Whatever had happened in the past, there were a large number of dalit students who committed suicides in that university, but that doesn't absolve what has happened now with the tragic suicide of Rohith Vemula. These students were acted upon and socially ostracised. Their scholarships were stopped. And a dalit student, whose single mother brought up two of her sons in order to reach institutes of higher education through you know the kind of jobs that the dalits can do in our country. And, stopping their scholarships means virtually murdering them. You do that and then you create a situation where the student commits suicide! Yes, we were told that an honourable minister of this government wrote a letter about some clash between two student groups. The proctorial inquiry of the university took place. The matter was settled. After that, there was an intervention... You have five senior officers of the ministry intervening, telling the university to take action. That is a partisan intervention and that partisan intervention is not according to any Constitutional foundation or basis, and that is why we are saying that the government has exceeded the brief... The matter here is, through this intervention, a situation has been created that led to this tragic death.
We have been demanding legislative measures on dalits. Even the limited objective of reservations, how, due to the privatisation in the economic policies, the public sector is being curtailed and reservations in jobs that the public sector could pervade are shrinking by the day, need for considering reservations in the private sector. We said bring in this question of implementation of the SC/ST laws. Make it more punitive. But nothing of that was done. The point is, creating an egalitarian society where, as the Constitution promises, we give, "irrespective of caste, creed and sex", equality. That is the equality that we have given to ourselves in this constitution and that is being violated. This is a very serious matter that goes beyond some trouble in the university. This is a serious matter of what is the state's role in intervention and if the state promotes this role of intervention that is anti-dalit, that is something we in parliament will have to take note of.
Now, I come to JNU. We have been products of Jawaharlal Nehru University. Ministers in this cabinet have been products of Jawaharlal Nehru University... I met the home minister, along with our colleagues D Raja and K C Tyagi, and we told him that if there is anybody who has raised anything anti-national slogans, take action on the basis of credible evidence. He assured us that no innocent will be punished... Immediately comes a reference to a tweet by a noted terrorist -- Hafiz Saeed -- who was let loose by an earlier BJP government saying that he supported the students... He tweets on Hafiz Saeed and retracts! And, Delhi police puts out an alert saying that this is a false tweet account... By all means, let me assure this House -- we have done it on umpteen times -- any anti-national act or any act that encourages terrorism is something that should be dealt with and strictest action must be taken. But, in the name of that, penalising the university as a whole, I think, is most unfortunate... I can name the officers today in this government who are the products of JNU and heading various departments, cells, etc... There is no field where these students have not excelled. And, today, you castigate the entire university as being anti-national! You said that these students are the enemies of our country.
Nathuram Godse, the murderer of Mahatma Gandhi, will be national hero and Sitaram Yechury and the deputy chairman will be anti-national! Is this the nationalism we have to see? The government is saying to instill nationalism in students, there will be a huge national flag in every central university... But remember, the Tricolour in our hearts, the National Flag in our hearts, is much larger than all the National Flags that they can put together and you don't have to teach us desh bhakti. We don't want certificates of patriotism by these sorts of double standards that they practice... Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak were jailed under this Sedition act. At the time of Independence, we were assured that this sedition act will be removed from our statute but it has not been removed. Bhagat Singh too faced the gallows under this sedition act. Today, you use this sedition act against our students...What’s happening in this country...
Our prime minster has made several foreign trips... Read out the New York Times editorial. It says, ''India is in the thrones of a violent clash. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and its political allies on the Hindu right determined to silence dissent. Lawyers and BJP supporters chanting ‘glory to Mother India’ and ‘traitors leave India’ assaulted journalists and students. The police refused to intervene."
What is happening is whoever raise slogan against the government, you brand them as “anti-national”. There have been reports of slogans on freedom. We will also raise slogans of freedom. Arrest us. We will raise slogans freedom, freedom from hunger, freedom from unemployment, freedom from Manuvaad and we will also want freedom from Sanghvaad...The constitution gives us that right… What is India? We are the crucible, this is the land of the crucible of civilisational advance of the humanity…Are we realising today the potential of what India can be? Instead of that, you are confining it into a “narrow domestic walls” as said by Rabindranath Tagore… It is being said that Leftists are like witches. But remember, this is the 400th year of the birth of a genius…William Shakespeare… Remember his play Macbeth, where there is a song of the witches… What does the song say? "Double, double toil and trouble/Fire burn and cauldron bubble… For a charm of powerful trouble/Like a hell-broth boil and bubble". This is the song of the witches and this is what is happening for a charm of powerful trouble… Yes, we are witches; we forewarn what is going to happen. Like in Macbeth, the witches forewarn, Macbeth can be the king, but the lion of kings will come from Banquo. You may be the king today; the lion of kings in India will come from another Banquo, not from you… And being forewarned is being forearmed. That is why we are saying this. We are calling upon the people to be forearmed against this attack that is happening in the name of nationalism, that is basically a certain brand of religiosity.
We have grown up in this country, where there are Islamic influences and Christian influences… If you want to debate and argue, come, debate and argue, and that is how our philosophy grew, through debate and argument, and that is exactly what they want to suppress today. I say, do not suppress. Remember, our prime minister went to a convocation recently, at Banaras Hindu University. Similarly, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru went to a convocation of the Allahabad University. In that convocation, what did Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru say about the universities? I quote: "A university stands for humanism, for tolerance, for reason, for the adventure of ideas and for the search of truth. It stands for the onward march of the human race towards even higher objectives. If the universities discharge their duties adequately, then all is well with the people and the nation."
So, it is an adventure of ideas, of tolerance, of humanism. And, you castigate that entire university! You say that it is anti-national and it needs to be closed down! Forty years ago, that used to be in the editorials in the Organizer, which said it is a den of anti-national activity; it must be closed down. Today, the leaders of the ruling party say that it must be closed down. Now, they are thinking of taking a tank there. Not only a flag, but now they want to take tanks there!
Whether it is the BJP or the Congress Party… Yes, during Emergency, we did not allow the university court meeting inside the university. Indira Gandhi was our chancellor. We said “we are protesting against Emergency. We will not allow that meeting to be held here.” It was taken to Vigyan Bhavan. We have fought assaults on democracy. Likewise, today, with renewed vigour, people are fighting assaults on our secular order. They are fighting assaults on our secular order and, therefore, suppressing dissent is not what the Indian constitution or the Indian democracy is about. Therefore, let us decide today, after this debate, to have a house committee to go into what is happening in all the central universities and institutions that we have established through an Act of parliament… We are responsible, finally, to the country if something goes wrong there. Bring it to us. And don't say we all write letters. We all do write letters; I am not ashamed of saying that. But our letters do not get the attention that your colleague minister who gets it. Five officers go on reminding the university to take action against him. Rohith Vemula's death is a result of that. That is why, to a dalit, the slogan of 'azadi against manuvaad' will remain. If you wish to arrest me for that, arrest me. I will give that slogan. I will give the slogan of 'azadi against hunger'. I am ashamed of my country when of the five children that die every day in the world due to hunger three come from India. That is why I am saying please don’t castigate these students or the university. Please, stop this tirade against them in order to advance your brand of nationalism, in order to advance and transform the secular, democratic, Republic of India into a version of a theocratic, fascistic Hindu Rashtra. That is my sincere appeal.
Therefore, I want to beseech upon this government, saying look at the richness of our plural society, the richness of all of us who belong to different faiths, different castes, different languages and different cultures. We are all welded together in this great country called India.
I have my point of view, you will have your points of view, they will have their points of view, and only with a debate and discussion do we rise to higher levels. Do not destroy that potential of India. Therefore, my appeal to this august House, my appeal, through you, to the government and to all my colleagues, is, let us have a house committee to inquire into what is happening, what is anti-national; let us punish it with the greatest vigour and let us redeem our pledge to remove the sedition clause which can be misused as is being misused. Let us ensure that the job of the police is to maintain law and order, not to assist the disruption of law and order, and let us, for heaven's sake, be responsible to our constitution and to our people.
In the course of the discussion, Yechury’s name came up in several speeches. The chair gave him an opportunity to respond.
I do not want to be personal at all. If the (HRD) minister wants to be personal, it is her business; it is not mine. And I don't stoop to that level… Today, on Facebook, on Twitter, there are various accounts that could be there. In my name, there are six accounts on Facebook. Can I read them out and present them here without any authentication? Can I say that is the evidence?... You (deputy chairman) must give a ruling on this. This is important; otherwise such canards and such obscene level of arguments will remain. Second, the question is that what Rohith Vemula is supposed to have written to me on his Facebook post -- why I am saying is not personal -- is that from that post the minister has read out. There is a date where Rohith Vemula was part of a public meeting in the University of Hyderabad. That was a large public meeting where this issue was openly discussed, where the question of ‘Lal Salaam’ or ‘Jai Bhim’ was an issue that was discussed and where, I had said it is ‘Lal Salaam’, ‘Jai Bhim’ and ‘Inquilab Zindabad’. That is what we are working for. That argument was on with Rohith Vemula. I would have argued because my tradition is, ‘let a hundred flowers bloom, let a thousand thoughts contend’. My tradition is not creating circumstances that will leave that child to commit suicide. That is what you have done. You had pushed the child to commit suicide... It was virtually a murder. You had done that and you give this as the evidence… About Rohith, there are so many things here; there is a letter that is written one month before he committed suicide authenticated by the university where he says, ‘Give us some rope and give us poison so that we can commit suicide’... In this one month did anybody from the authorities talk to the dalit students, talk to Rohith Vemula? Is that how they are now justifying the administration?
With regard to JNU, they said that the security guards have given the evidence that the slogans were shouted. There was one security guard appointed by the university and that is taken as evidence. There is a committee that was formed, the proctorial committee by JNU that settled that issue. After that it was reopened again by the ministry. And, then, the rest of it follows, what we have all described yesterday. So, all is based on untruths. I am sorry to say. They are all based on untruths, department of manufactured things… As the dean of students’ welfare there, he gave his dissenting note and he quit that committee. Therefore, don’t hold the dalit teacher to be responsible for that action that is being recommended. These are all distortions of facts and I must beseech to you that without any of these facts being established, nothing should go on the record of this Parliament…
And, what about Mahishasura? You (deputy chairman) come from a state called Kerala. You observe a festival called ‘Onam’. Do you know what ‘Onam’ stands for? Malayalees think that ‘Onam’ is the day when Mahabali comes back to life, to spend one day with the Malayalees and all the Malayalees, out of sheer joy, celebrate ‘Onam’. And, who is Mahabali in the other tradition of the same Hinduism? He was the king of the Asuras, theRakshasas. In order to kill him, Vishnu comes in the Vamana Avatara and he says, ‘I want three feet of land.’ One Vishnu, in his full form, comes and occupies heaven; one occupies the earth. Then he says, ‘where do I put my third feet?’ And he puts his feet on Mahabali’s head and he pushes him to Patal Loka. ‘Onam’, the same day is being celebrated because Mahabali is being killed by Vishnu.
These traditions are there with us. That is Indian diversity. Now who is a good Hindu? Malayalees go to the Ayyappa Temple. Who is a good Hindu? Will they give certificates to tell who is a good Hindu? Why is all this being brought up here creating mayhem in the country? Why in this august House of Parliament, you bring in all these stories of Mahishasura, Durga, etc.?
Let me remind them (the treasury benches) that Atal Bihari Vajpayee, former prime minister, after the Bangladesh war, called Indira Gandhi ‘Maa Durga’ in this very house. However, Mrs Indira Gandhi declined to accept the title saying that there are many Bahujans, many dalits who worship Mahishasura, so I will not accept this title of ‘Maa Durga’… We have condemned all these anti-India acts… And I have also said I cannot accept a situation when Nathuram Godse will be a national hero.