During the campaign phase of the 2014 Lok Sabha Polls, which resulted in a historic mandate to Narendra Modi, many of his critics worried that, as Prime Minister, he would irrevocably polarize the country, on the same lines as he did in Gujarat. Two years hence, their predictions have come true, albeit partially. While the relations between Hindus and Muslims remain as sensitive as ever–they haven’t worsened as the critics predicted–, it is the distance between the Nationalist Right and the Intellectual Left which has constantly widened ever since he was elected to office. Nowhere has this been more exposed than in the events of the preceding week on the campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.
A few days back, a group of student activists organised an event to protest against the “judicial hanging” of Afzhal Guru, who was convicted and later hanged by the Supreme Court over his role in the attacks on the Indian Parliament which took place in 2001. After the event, videos emerged which showed some protesters calling out for India’s destruction during the rally. One might think this was just a benign attempt by an over-excited 20 year old to provoke university officials, but, over the last three days, the JNU Campus has turned into nothing short of a Stalingrad between the right-wing BJP government at the center and everybody in the opposition, alongside the Left leaning intellectuals in the university as well as in the media.
ABVP, the student wing of the BJP, termed the protesters as ‘anti-national’ for celebrating a convicted terrorist, while the protesters claim that the event was just another manifestation of the ‘anti-establishment’ culture, quite mainstream on the JNU campus.
The conflict really intensified when the JNU Students Union President, Kanhaiya Kumar, who organised the protest was arrested and charged with sedition by the Delhi Police. The scuffle at the Patiala House Court, where the accused JNUSU President was to be produced, led to an all-out fight between the Left-Wing and the Right-Wing fractions of our political system. The Left asserts that the Modi government is trying to micro-manage the central universities by stifling dissent, while the Right claims that those raising ‘seditious’ slogans in the name of dissent would not be spared. It is hard not to draw parallels between JNU and the case of Rohith Vemula, a Dalit scholar at the University of Hyderabad who committed suicide after the University suspended him, allegedly due to the pressure of the Union governement, for condemning the execution of Yakub Memon, another convicted terrorist, or with that of FTII Pune, where the Union Government is accused of appointing a director with, shall we say, questionable credentials.
While the center had to lose face in the case of Rohith or FTII but the JNU row has managed to polarize the country like never before. Now, we have one side avowedly supporting Modi and all his policies, but at the same time, we have the other side who are ready to cross any possible line to defame his government. It is clear that, as we progress forward, one would most likely be forced to pick a side. It is up to every individual to decide which side he/she wants to defend.
As far as I am concerned, I find myself leaning to the right.To be clear, I am no bigoted patriot and an extremely strong proponent of unrestricted freedom of speech, but, if reports are to be trusted, even I find it hard to defend the provocations by some of students present at the JNU event. What happened at the Patiala House Court was appalling, without a doubt, but playing the ‘victim card’ after provoking the state to take action has been a marked characteristic of the Left Circuit in India. The truth remains that the reason university conflicts dominate the news is because the opposition does not miss to seize any opportunity to divert attention from the policies undertaken by the Modi government. What they really should be worried about, is the drop in agricultural productivity after two consecutive bad monsoons or the eminent banking crisis in the Public Sector Banks or the decline in exports after the fall in oil prices. But that seems to be the least of their concerns. All they are trying to do is find an excuse to further stall the parliament in the next session. Although I am no psephologist, but one can easily conclude that the 2019 Elections are not going to be won on an ‘Anti-BJP’ campaign or a ‘Free Speech’ campaign and definitely not on an ‘Anti-National’campaign. This would prove to be grave miscalculation on the part of Rahul Gandhi or Sitaram Yechury.
I know that as soon as one reads the above paragraph, I would be dismissed as a ‘bhakt’ or a ‘sanghi’. And there lies the problem with India. Anyone criticizing Modi is deemed ‘anti-India’ by the right and anyone supporting Modi is deemed ‘pro-RSS’ by the left.
It is clear that the age of discussion is over and the age of confrontation has begun. My advice? Well, sit back and enjoy.