The Modi led RSS BJP Central Govt., cornered and defensive over Rohith Vemula’s institutional murder and the exposure of its anti Dalit character, intervened in a routine event held in February at Jawahar Lal Nehru University (JNU) situated in Delhi to push its own agenda. It also got a golden opportunity to turn people’s attention from the devastating agrarian situation, continual price rise, joblessness and absent ache din. Pouncing on an event, a wave of jingoism, righteous chauvinism and aggressive fake nationalism has been let loose in the country, based on video doctoring and Goebellsian ranting. The issues just couldn’t have been better for the RSS; a mix of Kashmir and communist baiting to which they themselves added the necessary seasoning of Pakistan.
The Jawahar Lal Nehru University is a Central university known for a liberal culture of tolerance of different viewpoints. By providing for special provisions to accommodate students from backward districts of the country, it has built a reputation for a representative mixture of students. The University has been an eyesore for the RSS, which associates it with communist views and which has long voiced intentions of getting it closed down.
9th February 2016 in Background of Student Unrest
Democratic student organizations and activists of many varieties in institutions of higher learning especially in Delhi have been active in the recent past. They spoke up for the Ambedkar Periyar Circle in IIT Chennai, in support of the agitation of the students of FTII and were active in the Occupy UGC struggle against stopping of non NET UGC scholarships by the HRD Ministry of Smriti Irani. Students poured out in protest against the lynching of Aflaq in Dadri and have organized beef eating festivals in universities to challenge the artificial dogma of what is ‘Indian’. There is a ferment on in the realm of ideas and students are pushing interpretations of democracy to encompass all sections of people, students of various backgrounds are engaging with the policies of rulers in their totality, with issues of identity and breaking the moulds.
It is in this background that the recent events in JNU and the Central Govt.’s interference in it should be viewed. A group of students with revolutionary orientation who were earlier with the DSU (Democratic Students Union) applied to the University administration for permission to hold a poetry reading session on the occasion of the anniversary of the hanging of Afzal Guru. The topic- ‘India- without a Post Office’- was a sentence taken from a poem written in 1990 by a Kashmiri poet. The students also put up posters throughout JNU campus about the programme for which the authorities gave their assent. The occasion has been marked every year here by some programme by some student organization. The RSS filtered new Vice Chancellor and administration withdrew consent a day earlier prompted by the RSS backed ABVP unit in JNU which opposed the programme and whose member also holds the part of joint secretary of the Student Union.
In protest against the sudden and unprecedented cancellation, the organizers went ahead with a cultural event on the evening of 9th February at a dhaba at on the hostels, as these are places of informal discussions and resident students usually gather here after classes. The looming threat of ABVP disturbance as well as a collection of slogan shouting ABVP activists at the site of the programme, office bearers of JNUSU and leaders and activists of several student organizations on the campus also collected and joined the students participating in the programme, which included several of the Kashmiri students who study in JNU and some students from outside. Post the cultural event, a rally was taken out and the ABVP members too took out a slogan shouting parallel procession in their much smaller numbers but accompanied by the security guards of JNU. At a point the ABVP members attempted to obstruct the main rally leading to a short scuffle.
Within hours, on the 10th of February, a brief video was released by the channel India TV (of Rajat Sharma) and by Zee news purportedly showing the protesting students raising slogans of ‘Pakistan Zindabad’. The RSS and its various organizations let loose hell fire about ‘anti-nationals’ and saying JNU was their den; this rant was pioneered also by TV programme anchors driven by ‘nationalism’. An FIR was promptly filed by Delhi police probably dated 11th February on the basis of a video and the ‘several’ complaints on its basis including of BJP MP from East Delhi, Mahesh Giri but with no complaint from the police present at the scene of the programme. A case of ‘sedition’ was lodged under Sec.124A (Sedition), 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 34 (acts done by several persons with a common intent). The JNU administration suspended 8 students for one term pending enquiry but allowed them to stay in the hostels as ‘guest’; a three member enquiry team was announced including on faculty member who formed the campus unit of ‘Youth for Equality’ in the anti reservation agitation, another an ex-administrator who once suspended the entire SU and who overall did not inspire confidence in the students. This committee was promptly rejected by the Students Union. The Registrar of JNU handed over a list of 30 students to the police; in all this surfeit of lists it was understood that the FIR was against 19 named students. In an atmosphere of near hysteria by RSS parented organizations, on social media, by television channels, and which was stirred some empathy in the middle classes of Delhi, on the 12 of February, the VC through a letter allowed the police to enter the hostels and campus. Prior to the entry, the first since Emergency, the Deans of all the Schools inside the University held a meeting where, with the exception of one, the opinion firmly was that the University should deal with its own issues and police should not be allowed in. As the police moved to the hostels, JUNSU president Kanhaiya Kumar (AISF member) came forward and was arrested. A witch-hunt was launched for several other students not only in the campus but in the country, especially for Umar Khalid a student activists of the rebel DSU group and an outstanding student.
With the arrest of the JUNSU President, the JNU Teacher Association came forward. In a milieu where RSS and its apologists were frantically baying for closing down JNU, the JNUTA gloriously led the students in an evening March to reclaim the campus. On the 13th February, a massive meeting within JNU was held addressed by parliamentary political leaders including Rahul Gandhi, Sitaram Yechury, D Raja, etc. The next day a human chain was formed within the campus by the teachers and students, while at Jantar Mantar over 400 people participated in a ‘People in support of JNU students’ protest. The gathering was addressed by student leaders and leaders of CPI (ML) New Democracy and of Liberation. 40 international universities including Harvard, Yale and Cambridge, many students and faculty of India’s universities and the FEDCUTA extended support to the students. In this situation, evidence came to light that the initial video was doctored and the ABVP activists had themselves raised the pro Pak slogans.
A parallel set of events was the holding of the meeting on Afzal Guru on 10 Feb at the Press club by the committee for Release of Political prisoners. Based on a complaint by Press Club, the chief organizers SAR Geelani has been arrested for sedition for raising slogans which he has explicably stated few outsiders had raised and gone away. This arrest was not before Delhi Univ. Prof Ali Javed (who is close to CPI and who had booked the Hall in his own name for the organizers as he was a member of the Press Club), retired Profs. Vijay Singh and Nirmalangshu, whose positions are well known and who had spoken at the meeting, had been harassed and questioned for doing so and also been pressurized to turn approvers for the police.
RSS Goondaism against students, Journalists, Lawyers, Teachers.
With the producing of JNUSU President Kanhaiya at the District Court in Patiala House, a third front opened up with a group of lawyers from RSS led by a BJP MLA of Delhi attacking students and teachers of JNU who had come for the hearing, physically assaulting Kanhaiya himself, beating up his lawyers and also some journalists, while the police simply looked on. BJP member Kiran Bedi, formerly an IPS officers called this the ‘prudence’ of the Delhi Police. 800 journalists held a protest march from the Women’s Press Club till the Supreme Court, in protest. However, the same handful of lawyers, surrounded by many lawyer spectators, repeated the same scene two days later, again beating up Kanhaiya while he was in police custody and also beating up a journalist of First Post. Again the police were spectators though the same morning they had been directed by the Supreme Court to protect the student leader. The Supreme Court expressed much sound and fury, but did not even summon the Police Commissioner let alone pass any stricture for dereliction of duty. Within 24 hours it changed its own mind about hearing the bail petition itself in the ‘extraordinary circumstances’, directing the High Court to hear the same expeditiously. However the JNUSU President was sent to jail. A bailable offence has been lodged by the police against the three lawyer members of BJP who have been photographed beating up everyone and who have acknowledged their role in a sting operation where they have threatened to use petrol bombs against the student. On the case of sedition filed on the basis of a doctored video, the Police Commissioner has turned the principle of criminal law on its head and said the accused will have to prove they are innocent. So there is police raj under Hindutva rule.
In the atmosphere of witch hunting, minority targeting, the hysteria about ‘Nationalism’, five other students against whom enquiry has been announced and against whom police issued lock out notices, came out in the student general body and clarified that they had been afraid of being lynched. Students of JNU are generally demanding that sedition charges be lifted against all the students, the enquiry committee be reconstituted to be a representative one and the University defend all its students and police be taken out of the campus. Of them Umar Khalid, a student, has borne the brunt of the bayers for the blood of ‘terrorists’ for being one of the organizers of a programme which supported the right of self determination of the people of J & K, and criticized the hanging of Afzal Guru.
No account of the incidents is complete without recounting a march on 18th February of over 7000 people of Delhi in support of JNU, questioning the RSS’s versions of ‘nationalism’ decrying the charges of sedition and calling for defense of universities and of Higher Education. All students’ organizations, excluding ABVP and including NSUI, participated as did teachers, civil rights activists, cultural activists and trade union leaders. PDSU, IFTU and CPI(ML)New Democracy took part. On 23rd Feb. over 2000 people marched against the institutional murder of Rohith Vemula, for a Rohith Act and against the Modi Govt.-RSS attack on institutions of learning. Also memorable is the initiative of the faculty of JNU to hold open classes every evening by different Professors on the interpreting of ‘Nationalism’.
All over India, students and youth organizations have demonstrated in support of JNU, importantly in Jadavpur University in Kolkata and in Kashmir University in Srinagar. On the 27th of Feb. a bandh has been announced in Kashmir Valley in support of the JUN students.
Criticizing Afzal Guru’s Hanging
Many issues have been thrown up by the ongoing events which must be made subject of open discussion and assertion. The first is the issue of Afzal Guru’s conviction and hanging, which has been quite clear for the past three years until now, when the RSS has made it an issue of ‘Nationalism’ and ‘anti-India’.
Afzal Guru was a surrendered militant. Of his role in the Parliament Attack, the Supreme Court itself had commented that there was insufficient evidence against him, but the ‘collective conscience of the nation’ was being addressed by sentencing him to death. This verdict was widely criticized legally as the Supreme Court is to lay down the law and not decide what it chooses to hear as the ‘nations’ conscience. The circumstances in which death penalty can be awarded have been clearly laid down by the Supreme Court itself in earlier cases and do not include this criterion and were to be in the rarest of the rare cases where the evidence was not in doubt. Many sections questioned the veracity of the facts of the Parliament attack itself. Only Hindutva forces, including soft Hindutva forces, received this sentence with satisfaction, and unfortunately they do have a large middle class base.
Supreme Court verdicts have been often critically examined women’s organizations in the 1980 fought against the Mathura Custodial Rape. Verdict and forced changes in the law itself. The Supreme Court’s verdict on FDI in Telecom (where it saved the Govt.’s pro-imperialist policy from people’s movements), on Bhopal Gas Tragedy (a nearly two years jail to some Indian managers) and on abetting the Central Govt. in allowing Anderson to escape from India, on Enron’s Agreement with Indian Govt., and even on death sentence to Yakub Memon have been widely criticized. Finally, is the Supreme Court synonymous with India?
The related issue is the precipitous hanging of Afzal Guru by the Congress led UPA-II Govt. to beat back criticism of Hindutva forces and establishes its ‘Hindu’ credentials which both misrepresented as ‘national’ credentials. Even the routine procedure prescribed by India’s laws for disposal of all appeals, information to family etc were not followed by the hasty UPA Home Minister Shinde and his Govt. Kashmir Valley burst out in protests and held him a ‘martyr’ to the cause of Kashmir. There was widespread condemnation and protests by democratic organizations throughout India. In Delhi, activists of CPI (ML) New Democracy along with several democratic bodies held a protest at Jantar Mantar the same morning, as did Kashmiri students whom the police allowed ABVP activists to attack and who were defended by democratic individuals and our Party activists by forming a human chain around them. Protests against Afazal’s hanging are held annually; the PDP, with whom BJP was in Govt. in Jammu & Kashmir and with whom it still aspires to form Govt. there, holds Afzal’s hanging as wrong.
The Issue of J&K
The December 2015 issue of New Democracy dealt this issue in detail. While student organizations of parliamentary left support restoration of democratic rights in Kashmir, revolutionary student organizations also support the democratic right to self determination of the people of J&K. This is enshrined to an extent in the Security Council Resolution of 1947 signed by Govts. of India and Pakistan – to an extent, because it does not recognize their right to exist independent of both.
Nationalism- Real or Fake
In the RSS discourse on ‘Nationalism’ the entire issue of imperialism is totally absent and that is very important for it. An organization which has no linkage with the anti colonial struggle of the Indian people; rather which deliberately chose to stay away from it, an organization whose Govt. rode to power on the promise of allowing imperialists unbridled right to increase loot of India’s natural resources, her workforce, to take over her land, must hard sell such an interpretation to the people. The common people, struggling under increasing economic burdens, agrarian crisis and resulting pauperization and misery, attacks on Education, on Labour Laws, rising unemployment need to be diverted from identifying the real enemies of the Indian people. They need to be diverted from patriotic struggle against imperialism which is one of the basic contradictions of Indian society today.
Thus RSS is desperate to sell to the people of India an interpretation of ‘nationalism’ that has nothing to do with the democratic aspirations of the people of this country but is essentially an is an upper caste, Hindu, patriarchal, anti Muslim interpretation that carefully shields imperialism and its compradors. That is why ABVP wants a tank ensconced in JNU to make the students ‘nationalist’. Countries have emerged from shifting boundaries drawn and redrawn over centuries of empires and kingdoms. Scotland can hold a referendum on whether it will remain under the British Parliament or not-hotly contested but held. In 1947 the people of Jamnagar could decide that they want to merge with India. But the ruling classes are so touchy over J and K, Nags and Mezzos as though geographical borders are sacrosanct.
The less talked about the ‘mother’ in India- including the women of Kashmir and Manipur raped under AFSPA by an Army which does what occupation forces do, the women of Manipur who stripped themselves naked to expose rapes by Army, the davit women and girls raped and molested with impunity by the agrarian powerful, the 14year old driven to suicide due to molestation by a DG Police of Haryana who was let off by the courts, the malnourished mothers, the women forced into prostitution- the better for those who enshrine feudal patriarchal culture as ‘national’. The ‘Bharat Mata’ depicted by Hindutva fulfils all patriarchal requirements in the depiction. They try to pretend that slogans of “Bharat Mata’ are the touchstone of nationalism whereas the slogan should be anti imperialist-‘Madre hind key chore per dais hay vain- ken as ad kea?’
The First War of Indian Independence in 1857 brought the people of India together in a patriotic war against the ‘fiancée’. This is not the ‘nationalism’ that the RSS extols. In a similar vein the ‘nationalism’ of the RSS finds expression in vitriolic against communists, more specifically the revolutionaries. When Minoan Singh’s UPA II Govt. sought to handover natural resources to MNCs, it identified the ultra left as the main enemies of this design to sell India. It is the revolutionary left which raises the patriotic slogan of India belonging to its people and not being a fiefdom of imperialism. Who then are those who love India and her people? Hindutva’s nationalism is an admixture of jingoism and chauvinism where veneration of the Govt. in power is a necessary qualification.
The last and major issue is the charge of ‘sedition’ against discoursing students of an University, whose only act was holding a programme on the issue of the right of self determination of the people of Kashmir. The surfeit of videos especially the doctored variety, the transposition of slogans, actually show the great deal of planning that has gone into creating this incident to somehow distract from the Rohith Vemula issue and the issue of discrimination against Dalits in institutions of higher learning and also to target communist thinking especially the revolutionary left. Regarding the issue of sedition, a colonial relic which no parliamentary party will actually remove from the lawbooks, the definition itself rules out the entire JNU episode from this category. It has been repeatedly specified by courts in India that sedition involves a call to some form of action, to instigation of it, not a slogan or a statement of position. The law on sedition was enacted by the British Empire after 1857, in the 1870 as a weapon against a subject people.
However, taking all issues from the attack on higher education by the RSS Modi Govt., to the attempts to corporatize it, to the subservience ensured to it by appointments of Vice Chancellors, to the casteist, communal world view of the govt. it is clear that what is on in JNU is part and parcel of the overall attack. The state is subservient to Hindutva and the organs of the state are highly communal. The Delhi police is being used as a tool openly, and courts including the Supreme Court are mouthing concern at ‘goondaism’ but doing nothing to uphold justice even though their orders have been flouted and goondaism has occurred within the courtroom.
Some positive examples of individuals have also emerged. First are three ABVP leaders of JNU who resigned from the organization against the Central Govt.’s role in Rohith Vemula’s suicide, against the assault on the JUNSU President in the District Court and the tirade against JNU. Second is a Judge of the Patiala Dist. Court who has given a written complaint of the incidents there on 15th and again on 17th Feb. to the Dist. Judge where he has substantiated that the attack was preplanned and one sided. Third is ZEE producer Vishwadeepak who had the courage to resign over the role played by his channel.
The entire JNU incident indicates, firstly, the ferment that is on in institutions of higher learning. Students are democratizing concepts. They also represent the ferment in the rural poor and agrarian communities of India, in whom a maximum of them have roots. In addition new tools of learning and interaction like internet are widening frontiers.
The incident also represents the attack of RSS and its Hindutva cohorts on institutions of higher learning. This is in two ways. One is the need to open this field for exploitation by corporate which is the chief intent of bringing it under GATS. This aspiration is common to all the parliamentary parties, was also attempted by the previous UPA Govt. led by Congress but the RSS has brought a new aggressiveness to the task consonant with its promises to imperialism. However, the second aspect is also important. The RSS has come to power for the first time and has its own agenda for saffronization which it is going all out to push. Since the Modi Govt. came to power, institutions of pure sciences are under attack. A takeover was attempted of the National Science Congress. RSS top brass is regularly visiting IITs and Science centres forcing the top administration to interact with them. It also has its Hindutva agenda of an openly upper caste Hindu, patriarchal state ensconcing feudal values and everyone else subservient citizens.
Thirdly, of course, the RSS Modi Govt. is out to serve the imperialist drive to intensify loot of the people and of India. For this all diversive, divisive issues are welcome to it to both distract attention and increase repression. While its other projects have opponents in many sections of parliamentary parties, in this its consistent opponent is the revolutionary left. Thus on target is communism, because it is the ideology confronting the Hindutva worldview and also the anti imperialist revolutionary communists can also be targeted.
Students in institutions of higher learning are on the move and are expanding the ‘acceptable’ boundaries of what is ‘democracy’ and of who are the ‘people’ of India. The potential for revolutionaries is vast.