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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 22 New Delhi May 21, 2016

Do Educational Institutions need Lectures on Patriotism?

Monday 23 May 2016


The issues related to our educational institutions’ patriotism started coming up to the fore with this government coming to power (May 2014). One after the other news of govern-ment intervention in different institutions, more so the nationally well-known ones, started disturbing us. There was the case of IIT-Madras where the Periyar Ambedkar Study Circle was banned. Then IIT-Bombay Director Prof Shevgaonkar resigned due to the high-handed attitude of the Ministry of HRD. Close to follow suit was Prof Anil Kakodkar who resigned from the chairmanship of the Board of Governors of IIT-Bombay again.

 The case of FTII-Pune dragged for a long time as students opposed the appointment of a RSS-BJP sympathiser, a B grade film-actor, Gajendra Chauhan. Students went for a long strike and after trying to make their point for eight long months, withdrew their strike as the recalcitrant government refused to heed to the demands of students. Many other incidents kept happening, including those of Allahabad University, Ferguson College in Pune among others. Two incidents which stood out and shook the student community were related to the Hyderabad Central University (HCU) and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). In both these cases the issue of nationalism, patriotism was thrown up by the Central Government, along with the ruling BJP and its associates in the RSS combine.

 In HCU, the local BJP MP, on insistence from the ABVP branch of the university, wrote to the HRD Minister that anti-national and casteist activities were going on and action should be taken against the students belonging to the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA). Incidentally the ASA had organised meetings which were opposed by ABVP as per their political agenda; so they were hostile to it. The incidents included the screening of the film Muzzafarnagar Baki hai, a film on the Muzzafarnagar violence in UP. Then there was the beef festival. On participation in the beef festival Vemula wrote on his face-book that he participated in the festival in solidarity with those who consume beef. Then there was a meeting to oppose the death penalty to Afzal Guru. The argument of the ASA was that the death penalty is inhuman and it is the opposite of what the norms of a civil society should be.

 Following this, the Vice Chancellor, under pressure from Ministry, expelled Vemula from the hostel and stopped his fellowship. This is what forced him to take his life. In the case of JNU, the issue of patriotism was brought up in a deliberate way. In a programme organised in JNU some masked students came in and shouted anti-India slogans. Kanhiaya Kumar and two other friends were not a part of this slogan-shouting gang. Incidentally, the slogan-shouters have not been apprehended and identified so far, for reasons best known to the authorities. On the contrary the authorities arrested Kanhaiya, Anirban and Umar on the charge of sedition. A doctored video was played repeatedly by some channels and it became clear that the arrested student leaders of JNU had nothing to do with anti-India sloganeering. Incidentally, the occasion was that of the anniversary of the execution of Afzal Guru. As far Afzal Guru is concerned, the less said the better! The BJP after hectic deliberations has tied up with the PDP in Kashmir and the PDP upholds Afzal Guru as a martyr and someone who did not get justice. So it becomes clear that the BJP is using the JNU problem to build up an emotive issue out of the whole thing.

 One knows that such slogans have been there in Kashmir, on similar lines talks of secession have been there in the North-Eastern States. The demand for secession from India was raised also raised C.N. Annadurai of the DMK, a prominent leader from Tamil Nadu, who had opposed the imposition of Hindi as a national language. In a nutshell there are different places in the world where parts of the nations have been demanding autonomy or separation. That has not been presented as an act of anti-nationalism. Many groups and political tendencies have criticised the ruling governments, but that is not what sedition is. This is a right inherent in a democratic society.

Even in India there have been various groups which from time to time have been demanding autonomy, secession etc. In countries there are diverse political tendencies and they do keep changing with time. It is a question of their dissatisfactions being met. Students-youth are groups where all types of ideas and ideologies are discussed. There has been a long tradition of anti-British nationalist struggle by student bodies like the All India Students Federation and the like. They were not lectured by the so-called nationalists to become patriotic. During the freedom movement the most patriotic role was played by the followers of Gandhi who were imbued by the example of the national movement.

 Even at that time the youth and students influenced by the communal ideology of Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha-RSS kept aloof from the patriotic act of participation in nation-building, the freedom struggle. One recalls that even the earlier Prime Minister of India, Atal Behari Vajpayee, was arrested in 1942 as he was an onlooker in the movement led by the students-youth inspired by Gandhi. Vajpayee in a letter to the authorities confessed that he had nothing to do with the national movement and he was released from prison in two days time. (http://www.frontline.in/static/html/fl1503/15031150.htm)

 Universities and other educational institutions are places where patriotism is in-built in our syllabus and pattern of society. One has never been thinking of such lecturing as is being indulged in by the RSS combine. The cases of JNU and HCU demonstrate that this patriotism is being manufactured as an emotive issue for dividing the society. This has been linked to the slogan of ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’. The way Bhagwat first called for the need to teach this slogan to the youth, and the way Asaduddin Owaisi responded to that shows that both these groups are interested in bringing up Bharat Mata ki Jai as a divisive issue, and the RSS-Bhagwat is having an aggressive stance on this subject. The position of the Constitution as seen in the Jehovah’s Witnesses case is that one should respect the national symbols but it is not mandatory to chant or shout any slogan as such.

 In that sense patriotism stands for following the laws in our Constitution and abiding by them. Criticism of the ruling government can’t be equated with anti-nationalism. So the present exercise in imposing slogans etc. has nothing to do with patriotism. It is being used as a political tool. We need to overcome the sectarian tendencies like those of Bhagwat, Devendra Fadanvis, Baba Ramdev who are trying to force such non-important issues on the society. Baba Ramdev’s statement is very frightening. There is a very apt phrase, “patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels”. I would like to modify that to: ‘in India patriotism is being made the refuge by pseudo-nationalists for their politicalgoals’.

 Our educational institutions must cultivate the culture of debate and dialogue even with dissenting voices; the need is to promote the deeper values of Indian nationalism and humanism.

The author, a retired Professor at the IIT-Bombay, is currently associated with the Centre for the Study of Secularism and Society, Mumbai.

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