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BJP is Waging a War over Our Universities in India

By Mosarrap H. Khan

BJP’s war over our universities in India continues. In the case of Rohith Vemula, BJP government resorted to a covert war alongside the University of Hyderabad administration. In the latest JNU fiasco, BJP has overtly bared its fangs to take on another university.

The meddling of political parties in student politics is nothing new. The student outfits on our college and university campuses very often act like extension centres of national or state-level political parties. However, by slapping a sedition charge on JNU Student Union President, Kanhaiya Kumar, the BJP has taken matters to a ridiculous direction.

In both Rohith and Kanhaiya’s cases, the ‘baby BJP’ (aka ABVP, as Tunku Varadarajan put it recently) has acted as a cry baby, desperately appealing to their central bosses to take action against supposedly errant students, who the ABVP terms as ‘anti-national’.

Is the BJP’s war on universities in India new? No. Consider what they did in 1998, when they came to power for the first time at the centre.

UNESCO World Conference on Higher Education, 1998

An example of how the BJP has been waging its war on the university in India can be seen on the cover of the Country Paper titled, “Higher Education in India: Vision and Action.” The paper was prepared by the then Indian Minister for Human Resource Development and Science & Technology, Dr Murali Manohar Joshi. It was meant to be presented at the UNESCO World Conference on Higher Education in the Twenty-First Century held in Paris, 5-9 October 1998.

I quote the words written on the cover page (unfortunately, I don’t have the accompanying graphic):

Juxtaposing the ancient and modern, past and the present, the cover conveys the appreciation that India’s ancient civilization had for education at its highest level.

The visual at the top left corner represents our discovery of the “Shunya” — the zero. The lotus at the bottom right corner stands for knowledge and wisdom. The visual at the top right corner is of Nalanda University, a renowned institution of learning, visited by the famous Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang. The Banaras Hindu University, shown in the bottom left, is a premier educational institution today.

The graphic in the centre, represents the endeavours of modern India to embrace modern knowledge so that India can contribute to synthesis of science and spirituality which is bound to be the theme of the coming days.

What do the words on the cover page convey? 

Without leaving anything to the imagination, the cover page propagates the BJP’s idea of Indian culture, which is a Hindu spiritual and cultural identity for every Indian irrespective of his/her ethnic, religious and linguistic identity. The emphasis on an exclusive Hindu past is the result of the sense of dislocation that the university system in India has experienced because of British colonialism.

The cover page visual of Nalanda University, founded in modern Bihar in India in fourth century AD, signals to the world that the university system as such is not an alien idea to India. Rather, India is the progenitor of one of the oldest universities in the world. In this context, it is interesting to remember that the oldest university in the Indian sub-continent was set up, in fact, in Takshashila in the sixth century BC. The antiquity of Takshashila is overlooked because of its location in modern Pakistan. For a resurgent Hindu government in India, the university system becomes a site to proclaim a distinct national cultural identity.

This proclamation is starker in the visual of the Banaras Hindu University which was founded at the height of the Indian Freedom Movement to impart a distinct Hindu education to Indians. The Human Resource Minister’s deliberate choice of the Hindu University on the cover page is an explicit statement of the future the Hindu nationalist government would like to bequeath to the nation. This revisionist perspective differs from that of the Congress party’s avowedly secular position, which embraces a pluralistic and vague cultural identity of India. This position again is mired in controversy as the Congress Party’s secular posturing has at its core an implicit Hindu notion of culture.

The final stanza on the cover page envisages a moral leadership for India which by virtue of its ability to synthesize science and spirituality will be able to arrest an impending crisis of civilization.

Thus, the Indian university is entrusted to preside over the ruin of the university system in the world, which is headed for apocalypse owing to over-techno-bureaucratization of Western civilization. The West is supposedly plagued with an over-determinedly individualistic and materialistic culture.

Anti-national or anti-Hindu?

The Country Paper prepared by the Hindu Right Govt. for the UNESCO Conference in 1998 foregrounds the critical role of university in India in inventing a national culture. The effort to create a monochromatic national culture continues unabated every time the BJP comes to power. In 1998, BJP had introduced courses in what it brazenly called ‘value education’. During the current tenure, the BJP has already been rebuffed by the JNU administration when it tried to introduce yoga and other ‘value education’ courses in the university.

Thus, when the BJP ministers – Rajnath Singh, Smriti Irani, Rijuji – term the act of JNU students ‘anti-national’, they are basically saying that the students are opposed to a particular notion of national culture that is based on upper caste Hindu values. Anti-India is nothing but another way of saying ‘anti-Hindu’.

In the garb of charging Kanhaiya Kumar with sedition and criminal conspiracy, the BJP is openly waging a war over our universities. A war, which had started in its first tenure in 1998. It’s BJP’s war to secure our universities as bastions of upper caste Hindu values. ‘Anti-national’ is merely a proxy term in this war.

Mosarrap H. Khan is a doctoral candidate in the Department of English, New York University. He is an editor of Café Dissensus.

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Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine on ‘Jewish-Muslim Relations in South Asia’, edited by Dr. Navras Jaat Aafreedi, Assistant Professor, Gautam Buddha University, Greater NOIDA, India.

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