Mainstream, VOL LIV No 15 New Delhi April 2, 2016
Struggle at JNU Till Now and Prospects Ahead
Monday 4 April 2016
by Vikas Bajpai
When we at JNU embarked on our struggle against the slanderous and repressive onslaught that has been unleashed on the Jawaharlal Nehru University, we did so with our backs to the wall. Three weeks later we have managed to push back this campaign to finish off JNU, for what it stands, to an extent that now the polity, the media and the common people are divided into two clear folds—one, that buys into the Sangh Parivar’s version, and the other that opposes it. We need to acknowledge that this fight back would not have been possible without the support of the larger academia from within and outside India; the support of a section of the media who were compelled to question the evidence being rolled out; and the support of the progressive sections of the Indian society.
The JNUTA (JNU Teachers’ Association) alone has received hundreds of letters of support, of which only a few are individual letters, while the rest are from universities, large groups of scientists, scholars, writers and artists from India and across the world. Demonstrations and protests have taken place in support of JNU in a number of States. And the deluge goes on. Much information regarding this is available from the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/standwithjnu/.~
The crowning glory of this resistance was a massive rally in support of JNU that was held in Delhi on February 18. By various accounts ten to fifteen thousand people participated in the rally. Drawn from different walks of life, largely from within Delhi, but a good number of them from places and universities outside Delhi, they marched shouting slogans and singing songs in defence of the right to think, debate, dissent and agitate, and demanded an end to the fascist onslaught on higher education of which JNU is one of the foremost national symbols.
All of this notwithstanding, crossing half-way through and standing in the middle of the road is not quite the same as having crossed it. The more crucial part of the struggle still lies ahead. In order to successfully comprehend the future course, the developments till now need to be put in perspective.
Why This Tirade against JNU
The Sangh Parivar’s attack on JNU is not about ‘nationalism’ inasmuch as any conceptuali-sation of nationalism ought to be, as a necessary condition, built around the well-being of the people who constitute a nation. This is in direct contrast to geographical nationalism that the ruling classes propagate. Nor is their campaign based on facts, truth or logical reasoning; rather it defies every tenet of rational thinking.
This is an ideological assault by the Hindu Right to undermine leading centres of higher education in the country; render them conducive to the growth of a rabidly Right-wing intelligentsia and kill the ideas that pose a challenge to the rulers; that elaborate a vision of an alternative future before the people and therefore are potentially seditious. This attack did not begin from JNU, nor will it be restricted to JNU, but since, within the academia, JNU has always constituted the cutting edge of the resistance to the designs of the ruling classes, special attention has always been reserved for JNU by various governments ideologically wedded to the idea of neo-liberalism; albeit this attention has been packaged differently by different governments. Admittedly, the antagonisms have never been as sharp as they are with the present RSS-backed government in power.
The impetus to this ideological assault by the Sangh Parivar need also be seen in the context of the approaching Assembly elections to the States of Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The BJP-led government at the Centre is mired in failures on all fronts—sagging economy (the contentious GDP growth rate figures notwith-standing); further intensification of the agrarian crisis in the light of the drought in at least eleven States; raging food inflation; political losses in the States of Delhi and Bihar; student unrest beginning from the FTII, the withdrawal of UGC non-NET (national eligibility test) scholarship, the Hyderabad Central University and now JNU. Little wonder that the promise of ‘achche din’ (good days) has turned into the pursuit of a chimera.
This lays the ground for the BJP to seek to divert attention from the performance of the Union Government, inasmuch as it sullies the image of the party in the eyes of the electorate, to an issue much closer to their divisive political agenda. Hence, the ‘national’-‘anti-national’ cacophony suitably fits the bill.
This also explains as to why the RSS and its cohorts remain unfazed by the exposure of the many video clips, used by the pro-RSS television channels to establish JNU as a den of anti-national activities, to have been doctored. In fact the Human Resource Development Minister, Smriti Irani, dished out greater lies, with superb aplomb, right from the floor of Parliament (read the rebuttal of the charges made in her speech by the SC and ST faculty of the Hyderabad Central University, dated February 28, 2016, available at http://www.telegraphindia.com/1160228/jsp/frontpage/story_71798.jsp#.VtLlyUBOcrg); these are being circulated by the government to shore up their “nationalist” agenda.
Taking Stock of the Tirade
It is important here to take stock of all that has been produced in the public realm to malign JNU in order to clear the larger public perception on the facts of the case.
So many instances have come to light in the past few days to show how facts were distorted and evidence cooked up to build the situation towards a pre-meditated end. The police was present in plain clothes on the evening of February 9, 2016 when the purported anti-national programme was held at JNU. They did not find anything anti-national about the programme then; nothing happened during the whole day on February 10 either, until the BJP Member of Parliament from Delhi, Mahesh Giri, had an FIR filed with the police based on a complaint by the ABVP that anti-India slogans were raised at the programme.
There are two different versions of the happenings at the same programme in the two reports filed by the security officer of JNU apart from the doublespeak and lies spread by the JNU administration itself (http://www.ndtv.com/video/player/news/exposed-in-letter-jnu-vice-chancellor-s-doublespeak-on-police-action/403943). It was later conveyed by a Home Ministry official to The Hindu newspaper that, “There is some video footage available with the police, but the audio component is missing. It is not clear whether Kanhaiya actually shouted anti-national slogans. If there is no evidence, then the Delhi Police will have to drop the sedition charge when the charge-sheet is filed.”
Anyhow, all these facts, claims and assertions can be verified or rejected only if there is a thorough and impartial inquiry into the whole affair without any sort of intimidation, of which there are no signs as yet. What has, however, constituted the mainstay of the assault on JNU are the videos that were circulated widely on the social media and by some channels, most notorious among them being the Zee TV, News X, Aaj Tak and Times Now.
Interestingly a journalist—Vishwadeepak, working as news producer with the Zee television network—tendered his resignation from the channel as he could no longer cope with the moral dilemma that he was confronted with given the biased reporting against JNU and on other occasions that he had been forced to do. His entire resignation letter was made public by him by pasting it (available from https://www.facebook.com/vishwa.deepak.587/posts/1049717571737332?fref=nf&pnref=story in Hindi and http://scroll.in/article/803852/two-charts-that-make-you-wonder-why-hyper-nationalists-arent-signing-up-for-the-armed-forces in English) on his facebook page and is a must read piece to gauge the perversity of the motivated campaign that was launched against JNU by a section of the media.
The Video Evidence
There are three incriminating videos in all. The first video, that was relayed by Zee TV channel, showed JNU students shouting ‘Pakistan Zindabad’. It was to be established later that those shown raising slogans were actually ABVP members themselves (the video proving this is available on https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Xs1sCRVxoHY). The faces of the students in the video were clearly visible; even their names are known, and indeed if they were shouting ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ then why did the police not arrest them? But the channels, which tirelessly propagated that JNU was a den of anti-national elements, never cared to show the video exposing their chicanery, for obvious reasons. Neither were the students shown in this video the target of police action, again for obvious reasons.
No sooner was this video debunked, the ABVP released another video on February 15 (available on http://www.abplive.in/videos/abvp-releases-new-video-of-students-shouting-anti-india-slogans-290775) to claim that anti-India slogans were shouted by the activists of the AISA, AISF, SFI and DSU in the programme held on February 9. Remarkably, in this video, that is of extremely poor quality, not a single face except one can be made out, let alone the faces of the people who were allegedly shouting slogans or the identity of the organisations they belonged to. The person whose face can be seen is also not shouting slogans. In fact the author has doubts on whether this video is of JNU at all.
The spokespersons of the imputed student organisations, on their part, denied these slogans were shouted by any of their activists. Since this video did not seem to have been unequivocal enough to have the desired impact, the new trick that was adopted was to use its audio and plaster it over another video in which the JNUSU President, Kanhaiya Kumar, was shouting slogans of azadi (freedom) albeit ‘azadi’ from poverty, from feudalism, from capitalism, from communalism, from rioters and a host of other ills.
The fake video went viral on the social media and did deliver the intended damage. However, the exposure of the truth behind this was not long in coming. The ABP news (available from http://www.abplive.in/videos/abvp-releases-new-video-of-students-shouting-anti-india-slogans-290775) and the India Today (http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/panelists-debate-whether-kanhaiya-sedition-video-doctored-or-not/1/599933.html) channels conclusively showed how the video had been doctored. The same was also confirmed later by forensic experts (http://indiatoday.intoday.in/video/forensic-experts-back-india-todays-expose-on-kanhaiyas-doctored-video/1/600881.html).
With the exception of the video of the last exposure, the earlier exposure of fake videos was however not relayed by the television channels in a manner as to embellish the nefarious designs of the Sangh Parivar in public perception. Nevertheless, this sequence of events along with the nefarious but failed attempt to link the students of JNU with Hafiz Saeed do establish the malafide intentions of the Sangh Parivar in orchestrating the present attack on JNU. But the Sanghi zealots are made of a different material; the spokespersons of the BJP, RSS and ABVP not only claimed these doctored video clips to be the clinching proof of the anti-national character of the JNU students, but shamelessly remained unfazed in insisting upon the same despite these videos being proved to be doctored. Shamelessness, it seems, is one characteristic that is never to be found in short supply with their credo.
Even if there were no videos to prove or disprove things either ways, common sense dictates that slogans like ‘Pakistan Zindabad’, ‘Bharat tere tukde honge’ or ‘Inshah Allah’ are not the slogans that the Left of any kind in the country subscribes to. However, there still remains one point of contention—the support for Afzal Guru which the Sangh Parivar spokespersons are harping upon to establish that JNU is a bastion of anti-nationals. Their point is simply based on the premise that he was a terrorist who was convicted by the highest court of the country in the Parliament attack case and hence any support for such a terrorist is anti-national and seditious. We need to look at this more closely.
The Case of Afzal Guru
Afzal Guru had been a medical student at the SKIMS (Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences) who got attracted to a call given by the JKLF in 1989 for armed struggle for the liberation of Kashmir and joined the same at the age of twenty years. However, he soon got disillusioned and surrendered to the BSF (Border Security Force) in 1993. This detail is important for the reason that the life of a surrendered militant is almost entirely controlled by the security forces with there being little possibility of dodging their oversight. Since his surrender, Afzal had been under the watch of the STF (Special Task Force) and in fact his involvement with the chain of events leading to the Parliament attack case was brought to bear upon by the STF. For better knowledge of the details and the intricacies of Afzal Guru’s case the readers may refer to the Mainstream article — ‘In Defence of Afzal Guru’ available at http://www.mainstreamweekly.net/article3994.html.\ (Hazara, N., 2013)1
Suffice it here to state that Afzal Guru was convicted based on circumstantial evidence at best and despite a number of manipulations in evidence done by the police. The Supreme Court observed: “The conviction under section 3(2) of POTA is set aside. The conviction under section 3(5) of POTA is also set aside because there is no evidence that he is a member of a terrorist organisation, once the confessional statement is excluded. Incidentally, we may mention that even going by the confessional statement, it is doubtful whether the membership of a terrorist gang or organisation is established.” (Puniyani, Ram, 2013)2
Despite this the Court, however, goes on to state: “Afzal, who is a surrendered militant and who was bent upon repeating the acts of treason against the nation, is a menace to the society and his life should become extinct.” (Centre on Death Penalty, Undated) Further, the judgment recorded: “The incident which resulted in heavy casualties, had shaken the entire nation and the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender.” (Ibid.)3
The author does not wish here to call upon the readers to revise their opinions on Afzal Guru or indeed on the movement in Kashmir on the basis of these facts, but to consider this much—should a person be punished for a crime that s/he is alleged to have committed even in the absence of a conclusive proof, especially when the punishment to be handed down is as severe as death? If the answer to this is ‘NO’, then do the facts stated above lend themselves to an interpretation that a great injustice was done to Afzal Guru by convicting him for a crime in which his complicity could not be conclusively proved?
By its own admission, the Court’s premise that ‘he was bent upon repeating acts of treason’ was based on the fact of his being a ‘surrendered militant’ rather than fresh evidence of any terrorist activity. Does this not facilitate an understanding that Afzal Guru cannot be branded as a terrorist in view of the Court’s own observations?
Last but not the least, whose collective national conscience was satisfied by Afzal’s hanging? That of the unelected Supreme Court Justices, who do not even consider themselves answerable to the elected representatives of the people (in Parliament), let alone the Indian people being able to seek answers from them? Or is this ‘national conscience’ a mere euphemism for the opinions of the Hindu Right on issues that constitute ‘national conscience’, which is nothing but a reflection of the interests of the upper-caste, upper-class Hindus?
These are contentious issues, to say the least, that lend themselves to varied interpretations and opinions. Just because an opinion does not match the prevalent attitude of the rulers, does it become anti-national? Just because the students at JNU refused to accept Afzal Guru’s depiction as a terrorist, do they become anti-national seditionists? A number of jurists, journalists, commentators, writers and political activists condemned the judgment of convicting Afzal. They were never branded anti-national.
I personally would tend to think that after his surrender, Afzal was an ordinary Kashmiri who wanted to live a peaceful life with his family as any other ordinary person would. He certainly was no visionary or a great leader of the Kashmiri people, but he was wrongly convicted and the manner of his hanging stood in denial of his basic human rights—something that deserves strongest condemnation. Another person may, however, consider him to be a martyr for a cause; and a third may even like to consider him to be a great leader of the Kashmiri movement. They may coin their slogans likewise—some justifiable, some of exaggerated, but does this qualify to call these differing shades of opinion anti-national? Not so in my opinion, especially as those accusing the JNU students of raising slogans in support of a terrorist themselves went ahead to form a coalition government in Kashmir with the PDP (People’s Democratic Party) whose stated position is that Afzal Guru is a martyr to the Kashmiri cause and we can all see how desperate the BJP is to form the government with the PDP once again, only if Mehbooba Mufti would relent.
On this the RSS ideologue, Rakesh Sinha, has been arguing in television talk shows that the BJP is seeking to co-opt the PDP into the national polity in order to integrate Kashmir with India closely. If so, then they are trying to co-opt the already co-opted, while refusing to talk to those who need to be co-opted. This stance is laughable and certainly is an argument of convenience to shroud their lust for power.
The Prospects for the Coming Days
We need to acknowledge here that the upsurge of support for JNU among the academia and other intellectuals notwithstanding, a great damage has been done to JNU’s perception among the laity. There is a need to see that no stone is left unturned to change this perception.
Due to the expose of the videos presented as evidence and the violence unleashed by the ‘nationalist’ goonda hordes of the Sangh Parivar in the court, the government has had to suffer a considerable loss of face. The need of the hour is to go on the offensive along the lines discussed above and put the government on the mat.
This, however, is not going to be easy. The police still appears open to making further arrests in the case, albeit its earlier aggressiveness seems to have waned. The atmosphere of apprehension still prevails on the campus. In fact the JNU students have had to face hostility from the local community in areas like Munirka where many students live on rent and even from the auto-rickshaw drivers. A professor of Sociology from the Centre for Studies in Social Systems (CSSS) was attacked in Gwalior where he had gone to deliver a lecture. Likewise there are reports of attack on another professor. Reversing this is going to take quite an effort that may be strenuous but a possible and winnable prospect nonetheless.
There is a need for the JNUTA and JNUSU (students’ union) to keep up practical agitational measures that can be sustained over a long period of time while constructively ensuring the participation of teachers and students. The foremost objective of the agitation would obviously be to accomplish some of the immediate demands such as withdrawal of the false cases of sedition slapped on the students; an end to the witch-hunting of the students; and a free and fair internal inquiry to expose the conspirators within JNU and appropriate action against them as per the university statue.
However, doing just this much may not constitute sufficient condition to put adequate political pressure on the government. There is a need to directly attack the draconian colonial-era law of ‘sedition’ and ‘national chauvinism’ that is propagated in the name of ‘nationalism’ by the Indian ruling classes. Indeed there is no place whatsoever for the ‘sedition’ law in a democratic polity and society. As for nationalism, there is a need to push for a nationalism based on the unity of hearts and minds of the Indian people living in different parts of the country as opposed to a coercive unity enforced under the jackboots.
The JNU teachers and students are suitably placed and perfectly capable of leading such a campaign. There is a need to rope in other political and human rights organisations in this campaign such that it can be taken to the people at large rather than remaining confined within the four walls of JNU. If this could be done, it would indeed be a original contribution that JNU can make to further the cause of the toiling masses of India whose struggles are increasingly being targeted in the name of national interest or nationalism.
So long as the JNU community remains firm in its stand, a sizable section of the society shall be willing to align with them in this struggle, especially as the government’s designs become increasingly exposed.
In having to take the present struggle forward JNU has been conferred with a historic responsibility to fight this struggle not for itself alone but probably for a number of universities in this country that may not find themselves equal to the task of confronting the onslaught of the present government to saffronise higher education; to commercialise it in order to make it an exclusive preserve of the rich; and last but not the least, to regimentalise it in order to purge the right to debate and dissent from our universities such that they are rendered safe for the rulers of the day.
Nevertheless, JNU continues to believe, ever more strongly, that a ‘challenge’ is also an ‘opportunity’ and that ‘we shall overcome’ the present fascist attack on JNU.
1. Hazara, N. (2013): ‘In Defence of Afzal’, Mainstream, Weekly, Vol. 51 (9), February 16.
2. Puniyani, Ram (2013): ‘Hanging Of Conscience: Case of Afzal Guru’, Countercurrents.org, February 26.
3. Centre on Death Penalty (Undated): ‘Afzal Guru’, National Law University, Delhi. Available from http://www.deathpenaltyindia.com/executedprisoners/afzal-guru/ on February 21, 2016.
Dr Vikas Bajpai is an Assistant Professor, Centre for Social Medicine and Community Health, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He can be contacted at e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org