Mainstream, VOL LIV No 11 New Delhi March 5, 2016
Bogey of Sedition and Curbing Secular Forces
Wednesday 9 March 2016
by Arun Srivastava
Nationalism has been the most misused manoeuvre by the ruling establishment in India to bully the political opponents and throttle the peoples’ protest and saner voice. We have seen how this was misused in the past by the Congress. Anyone protesting the machinations of the ruling clique would be dubbed anti-national. But what makes the present machination of the RSS and BJP in the case of JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar different is that the saffron brigade is preparing a deadly cocktail by blending nationalism with sedition.
True to the style of functioning of the Sangh Parivar this is a manifestation of ultra-nationalism. They are aware that if they have to continue to rule India, then they ought to denigrate the democratic and secular forces. The recent incident of implicating Kanhaiya in the sedition case is a part of this mechanism. In the wake of the returning award movement by the scholars, academics and intellectuals, it has become explicit for the RSS that they cannot aspire to continue in power for a long period in a hostile atmosphere.
One ought to not look at the Kanhaiya episode and what happened inside the Patiala House Courts through the narrow prism of nationalism. A section of the academics and intellectuals have burst out in anger and have rightly accused the Modi Government of arbitrarily using Section 124-A of the IPC, pertaining to sedition, that negates the right to dissent, that is opposed to the idea of a legitimate, liberal democratic state, to gag the voice of protest.
Nevertheless, the incident needs to be viewed in a broader perspective. The Delhi Police arrested Kumar at the behest of the Home Ministry and Human Resource Development Ministry, on complaints of sedition, made by members of the Right-wing students’ body, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), under Section 124-A of the IPC. This section is itself ‘anti-India’, that is opposed to the idea of a legitimate, liberal democratic state. According to the ABVP, Kumar was present at a meeting inside the JNU campus organised to protest against the hanging of the 2001 Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru, in which several “anti-national” statements were supposedly made. However the evidence presented fails to point to Kumar having actually uttered anything remotely bordering on the controversial. Irrespective of the fact whether he questioned the integrity of the Indian state or not, his arrest ought to be viewed as a serious affront to liberal democratic values.
Some recent incidents, like the suicide of the Hyderabad research scholar, has turned the BJP squirmy. They are scared that with the secular elements becoming the vanguard, the Leftist students might create problems for them. Their targeting Kanhaiya is a part of this design. In West Bengal too Leftist students and youth coming out on the streets in recent months against Mamata’s misrule has denied the space to the BJP. The BJP think-tank was quite optimistic of grabbing the opportunity and space from the Left. Incidentally, a fresh incident had taken place in West Bengal’s prestigious Jadavpur University. Here slogans in favour of Afzal Guru were allegedly raised by some people taking part in a rally to protest the recent arrest of JNU Students’ Union President Kanhaiya Kumar. While the BJP and its students’ front, the ABVP, demanded immediate arrest of those who had raised these slogans, the JU Students’ Union (JUSU) maintained it was the work of “fringe elements”.
It is pertinent to mention that the Kanhaiya issue surfaced just in the midst of Headley’s deposition on 26/11 wherein he alleged that Ishrat Jahan, who was killed in an alleged fake encounter in Gujarat in 2004, was a Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operative. This made the task easier for the BJP to launch a massive onslaught on the secular forces.
LET us ponder over the lecture delivered by Kanhaiya at the February 9 meeting of the JNUSU which incidentally is being used as the primary evidence against him. While addressing students Kanhaiya said: “They (Sangh) are the ones who burnt the Tricolour. They are followers of Savarkar who apologised to the British. They are the ones who, in Haryana, have changed the name of one airport. There was one airport named after Bhagat Singh. The Khattar Government has now named it after one Sanghi (a person associated with the RSS). What I mean to say is that we don’t need the certificate of patriotism from the RSS. We don’t need a nationalist certificate from the RSS. We belong to this country. We love this country. We fight for the 80 per cent of the poor population of this country. For us, this is nation-worship. One last question before I end my speech. Who is Kasab? Who is Afzal Guru? Who are these people, who are in a state to wrap bombs around their body and kill? If these questions are not raised in universities, the existence of universities becomes pointless.
“Friends, the situation is very serious. Under no circumstances does the JNUSU (the JNU Students’ Union) support any violence, any terrorist, any terror incident and any anti-India activity. I want to reiterate that the JNUSU strongly condemns slogans of ‘Pakistan zindabad’ raised by some unidentified people… Listen carefully to the slogans being raised by the ABVP now. They are calling us ‘communist dogs’. They are calling us ‘Afzal Guru’s dogs’. They are calling us ‘children of jihadis’. If the Constitution gives us the right to be citizens, then is it not an attack on our constitutional right when they call our parents dogs? We want to ask this question to the ABVP and the JNU administration.We want to ask the JNU administration for whom, with whom and on what basis it works. It is now clear that the JNU administration first gives permission and then withdraws it on receiving a call from Nagpur. This thing of first giving permission and then withdrawing it has intensified. First, they will announce fellowship and then tell that it has been withdrawn. This is the RSS and ABVP pattern with which they want to run this country.”
The lawyer members of the BJP and even some senior saffron leaders have been trying to interpret the meaning of sedition in their own way. They are reluctant to accept that it was a vindictive step of the ruling BJP. In this background it is pertinent to refer to the observation of the eminent constitutional jurist and senior advocate to the Supreme Court, Fali S. Nariman: “To be anti-Indian is not a criminal offence, and it is definitely not sedition.” Sedition in India is not unconstitutional, it remains an offence only if the words, spoken or written, are accompanied by disorder and violence and/or incitement to disorder and violence. Mere hooliganism, disorder and other forms of violence, though punishable under other provisions of the Penal Code and under other laws, are not punishable under Section 124A of the Penal Code. Likewise, mere expressions of hate, and even contempt for one’s government, are not sedition. When a person is dubbed “anti-Indian”, it is distasteful to India’s citizenry, but then to be “anti-Indian” is not a criminal offence, and it is definitely not “sedition”.
Just after the incident the Delhi Police Commissioner, B.S Bassi, was quick to claim: “We have adequate evidence against Kanhaiya on the basis of which he has been arrested.” “We have adequate evidence against him (Kumar). I won’t be telling you about the process of investigation and what all we have found out so far,” Bassi told reporters. He dismissed reports citing inputs from security agencies that Kumar may not have raised anti-national slogans or made an inflammatory speech at the JNU event. “What we have found out is that people from outside besides those from JNU participated in the demonstration. Now what was the motive behind this is something we will look into. We are investigating all aspects in detail.” As if this was not enough, he directed the Delhi Police’s anti-terror unit to track the students who were suspected to be hiding inside the JNU campus. This is the worst form of sycophancy.
Nevertheless, just after a week of Kumar’s arrest, the Delhi Police said they “do not have evidence to back their claim that the JNU student leader was shouting anti-national slogans”. Even a senior Home Ministry official indicated that the Delhi Police may have to drop the sedition charge against Kumar because they did not have evidence to back their claim that he was shouting anti-national slogans. Obviously one would like to know from Bassi what happened to his clinching evidence? The evidence presented fails to point to Kumar having actually uttered anything remotely bordering on the controversial.
Ever since the Modi took over charge the RSS has been busy implementing its “saffron agenda”. Ghar wapasi, crusade against beef eating, and all other Hindutva action programmes were launched with the specific idea of spreading its network and indoctrinate the gullible Hindus. But unfortu-nately for the RSS, its actions met with protest from the secular forces. Modi, though amenable to the saffron mission, found it tough to go the whole hog. He had to act with restraint. The most shattering has been the Bihar Assembly election results. It dashed the hopes of the saffron brigade and particularly of the RSS.
It is worth recalling that after the Lok Sabha 2014 elections the number of the RSS shakhas has multiplied many times. The number of volunteers has substantially increased. On the governance level too the RSS experimented with many ideas. In Rajasthan it changed the Industrial Disputes Law and snatched away the basic rights of the labourers.
TRUE enough, the only incident that completely unnerved and shook the trust level of the RSS and the Modi Government was the return of the awards by the writers and intellectuals. It exposed the moral hypocrisy of the RSS and the Modi Government. The secular forces gained an upper hand after a long time. The saffron forces were finding it tough to shield themselves and protect their image.
The only course left open for the RSS and the Modi Government was to viciously attack these forces and smear their faces. The JNUSU meeting provided them with the opportunity they were waiting for impatiently. The RSS is master of spreading falsehood. They have expertise and mechanism. The manner in which the students, journalists and professors were attacked in the Patiala House Courts is testimony to it. The saffron brigade had planned it beforehand. Else there was no reason for the Delhi BJP MLA to be present there and lead the marauders. Their desperation and audacity could be gauged from his assertion: “I would have shot him if I had gun.” Strange enough, Bassi, the blue-eyed boy of Modi, did not find it offensive to proceed against him!!
It is strange that a party committed to nationalism and judiciary was found to be involved in insulting the highest judiciary of the country. Its workers and cadres rushed inside the Patiala House Court premises and assaulted the mediapersons, students, academics. What was most disgraceful was the forces of Bassi preferred to be passive spectators. The Supreme Court had already asked the Delhi Police to ensure the safety of the persons present in the court. But Bassi ignored the directive.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that Bassi implemented the Sangh’s action programme by not obeying the directives of the Supreme Court. Quite angry at the behaviour of some lawyers, the Supreme Court on February 24 made Delhi Police Commissioner B.S. Bassi “personally responsible” for the safety of the student leader who has been booked in a sedition case. The Bench of Justices J. Chelameswar and Abhay M. Sapre had to step in twice during the day to make sure “no harm is caused” to Kanhaiya, lawyers and journalists, and sought an explanation from the Delhi Police on reports that Kanhaiya was assaulted. Unfortunately even after this Kanhaiya was assaulted inside the court by goons.
Curiously, the Delhi Police had told the court that the students of JNU and journalists were beaten up by a group of men dressed as lawyers at the Patiala House Courts. Obviously the question arises: what action did the police take against those people? The Delhi Police even failed to protect the five-member lawyers’ team constituted by the Supreme Court when they went to the court to find out the facts. The team told the Apex Court that they too were abused and called “Pakistan ke dalle” (pimps of Pakistan), “beh……”, and flower pots, bottles and pebbles were thrown at them at the Patiala House Courts.
Little doubt that the plot hatched by the Sangh was explicit from the way Home Minister Rajnath Singh portrayed the incident. He had alleged that the event at the JNU had the support of Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Saeed, triggering a rebuttal that led to an attack on the CPM headquarters in the Capital. Referring to the February 9 event Rajnath had said: “LeT chief Hafiz Saeed has supported what happened in JNU. This reality should be understood by the nation. This is very unfortunate.” His claim was, however, not supported by the intelligence agencies. Even one of them denied that he had fed the Minister with this message. The Union Government’s response to the recent developments at Jawaharlal Nehru University betrays a disquieting intent to create an atmosphere of fear amongst its students and teachers.
Obviously it smacked of a deep design. Now the party intends to raise the JNU row “very aggressively” in Parliament as it believes that there is no reason for the party to be “defensive” about the development and there is support for its stand on the issue among the masses. In fact the ABVP, the Sangh’s student wing across campuses throughout India, has been given the responsibility of raising the slogan of anti-nationalism wherever democratic aspirations are expressed, or filing some complaint on an innocuous issue.
The Sangh has in fact turned its ABVP to act like the vanguard to counter the secular forces. Grants to the Panjab University were stopped and salaries not paid after the ABVP filed a complaint with the MHRD alleging irregularities in the hostel funds, despite the Vice-Chancellor having instituted an inquiry committee and submitted all records. In the University of Hyderabad it is well known that the MHRD pushed the VC to take action, not against the ABVP students who attacked the others, but against the Ambedkar Students’ Association. Elsewhere, the ABVP has filed police complaints on ‘hurting of religious sentiments’ when a hostel warden cautioned against the holding of a ‘havan’ inside a small hostel room, as a fire hazard (JNU); physically threatened the President of the Students’ Union, but her letters of complaint to the MHRD have been ignored (Allahabad University). The ABVP has also physically attacked organisers of the militantly Dalit ‘Beef Festivals’ in campuses in States where cow slaughter is not illegal. The ABVP is seeking government interference in university affairs on ideological grounds; this does not augur well for the future. RSS spokesperson Manmohan Vaidya had termed as “serious” what he claimed as students engaging in “anti-India activities” on the campuses and some teachers supporting them.
Significantly, as a part of this design the ABVP is trying to malign the image and brand of the Jawaharlal Nehru University as “anti-national”, as this institution is supposed to be the epitome of secular values and ethos. Meanwhile in a major rebuff to their design, at least three senior leaders and office-bearers of the ABVP in the university have resigned from the party in protest, citing “differences”.
The author is a senior journalist and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org