By Soumya Sundar Chowdhury
Modi Government, the so-called fascist regime headed by a Hindu Nationalist as defined by our liberals, is back on the headlines in the international media. This time it is for arresting an innocent student, who actively participated in an event at the Jawharlal Nehru University in the Indian capital, New Delhi, which vowed to destroy India. I get it: patriotism is after all the last refuge of scoundrels. The 21st century progressive world wants a borderless society. After all, nature did not create boundaries. The unfortunate reality, though, is that Pakistan, the country whose supremacy was desired in that youthful sloganeering, would not allow these wannabe globetrotting shenanigans at their shore without an Indian Passport with a valid Pakistani visa affixed to it.
The Nationalist versus Anti-national Debate
So, Indians have finally started debating the concept of nation itself. Halfway around the world, sitting in my drawing room I’m dueling with the notion of patriotism, though according to the NDTV foreign policy expert, Mr. Ajay Shukla, I should not, as I gel with locals pretty well. Much like every other person, I had my share of grievances in my motherland, India. Growing up in a middle-class Bengali family in Kolkata and spending most my childhood in a residential school, I never had a taste of the social evils of class, caste or religious differences. Yet when the engineering entrance tests results came out, I saw my high school classmate with a similar financial background got a chance to study in a better college in a prized department with a much lower rank than mine. That is the day I realized, I belonged to an upper-caste family, hence unwanted by a social system, which is hell-bent on proving its affirmative action credentials. I could not brandish a gun and start up an agitation movement like Hardik Patel in Gujarat, nor was I smart enough to arrange a fake lower-caste certificate like Mr. Rohith Vemula.
Over the years though, I came to terms with the social, political, and economic reality of the quota system in India, and understood the need for this kind of affirmative action, but as an 18-year-old, I did feel my own country failed me.
The story repeated again 4 years later, but thankfully this time around I had the escape route to study in a foreign university, aided with financial assistance, which I grabbed with both hands.
For a lot of Indians, I don’t have a right to talk about patriotism or nationalism, and probably they are right, but after a lot of brainstorming I finally started to grapple with the idea of nationhood.
A substantial percentage of disgruntled lovers, if they had their way, would have killed their ex-partners. The so-called sensible people around them wouldn’t intervene or prohibit them from doing something so disproportional. When this social wisdom started functioning around a set of ideas, it gave birth to a nation. So challenging the existence of a nation is not merely challenging its border; rather it is about challenging its people and its collective wisdom.
Now the second debatable issue is ‘who decides’? Since the existence of nationhood is very much real, and each nation has its own political dispensation, according to their political reality, the decision-making power is provided to people running the government, who came though either popular support or natural selection. That’s why each country is unique in its own way, so are their political establishments. Since there is no absolute definition of good or bad for any human society, decision is taken by the political dispensation of that time, according to their wisdom and whims. So raising this question of ‘who decides’ is nothing but farcical and mindless posturing. Existing political dispensation reserves the right to decide on differentiating between nationalistic and anti-national activities, much like they reserve the right to term something else legal or illegal. People have the right to disagree with it, but at the end of the day, they have to come to terms with it, much like an 18-year-old me did without waging a war against my own country and society.
Mr. Yogendra Yadav was arguing that the idea of India is in the preamble of the Indian constitution, drafted by our founding fathers. Mr. Ashwini Kumar of Congress argued that the constitution is the idea of India, and the Modi government is subverting it. Indira Gandhi tampered with the preamble of the constitution in 1977, and the whole constitution is amended 100 times till today. This basically means that like the idea of India, the constitution is also an evolving thing. So the question of destroying it is nothing but a hollow rhetoric. The reality is that the left-liberals section of Indian society is uncomfortable to see their monopoly go on deciding the idea of India. Rabindranath Tagore once famously said that the notion of humanity must trump the idea of nationalism. The reality is that the very definition of humanity is a variable concept across societies around the world; every one of us draws their own line.
The Left Liberal Conundrum
In last few years, social sciences and humanities departments of top universities in democracies like India, US, UK, Canada, Australia, and countries belonging European Union, have been infested by a breed called, the left-liberal. Their idea of political correctness and notion of affirmative action are imposed through the education system and social engineering. They have literally monopolized the space in such a way that new thinking and new ideas have stopped emerging out of these Universities.
They have literally choked anything that does not cater well to their agenda. Jawaharlal Nehru University and Jadavpur University are no different. Students are taught to become non-conformist to every other idea and conformist to only the left-liberal ideology. Modi-Trump-Putin-Netanyahu has been their sworn enemy. So it is not entirely surprising that an otherwise non-issue has drawn attention of people like Amartya Sen, Noam Chomsky, etc.
The Student versus the Government
My tryst with student politics in Jadavpur University taught me one thing: sending police to the University is always a bad idea. In that sense, Modi Government did commit an error in judgment, which has now united a host of other student groups in solidarity across India. As a student, the university has always been a safe haven for me, like for many others; a place, where you can be what you are and what you want to be. The police intervention encroach that personal space, turning even otherwise not so politically motivated students against the government. That’s why the student versus the government is always a bad idea.
As an active member of campus politics, I have seen how students are coerced to follow a certain path by their professors and fellow students. Contrary to popular belief, student politics in India is never about ‘free thinking’ and churning of ideas. During my days in Jadavpur, the successful semester boycotts by all students were achieved by threats and emotionally blackmailing the unwilling students. Students failing in courses joined the SFI (Student Federation of India – the student wing of the Communist Party of Indian Marxists) in the hope of passing the course without any further efforts. They did not return empty handed either. I saw a student leader get assaulted with knife, by a rival student leader in middle of a scuffle. I saw two of my brightest high school classmates struggling to pass the courses in 7-8 years, which was supposed to be finished in the stipulated 4 years. This was due to the influence of extreme political interest. I got involved in a brawl regularly with students of rival political organizations, from my own university as well as other colleges. As an involved member, I even indulged in a scuffle with the police. It was neither pretty, nor romantic.
On the eventful night of June 11, 2005, when the state government sent in police to stop an ongoing protest movement in the Jadavpur University, I saw a wave of protest drowned the government from all quarters. That is exactly why I expected the ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad) to do the dirty of job fighting the sloganeering group rather than the Modi government sending police to the campus. ABVP is a huge student organization, which has its presence in every single part of the country. Had they not involved government and sorted out the issue on-campus, Modi government would have averted at least two controversies around Rohith Vemula’s suicide in Hyderabad Central University and the ongoing JNU controversy. The university matters should have been handled by the university authorities, which it did by suspending Kanhaiya Kumar along with 8 others after the high level committee found out their rogue side. To be fair to the Modi Government, this did not happen in the last 7 years. Similar programs have been organized by a section of the JNU students for last 7 years, and the university authority simply remained tight-lipped. Add to that, an IB report actually mentioned that foreign spy agencies have penetrated Indian Universities to destabilize Indian society.
The problem with Indian Student Politics
Student Politics in India is not exactly a place for free-thinking ideas and dissents. Most student organizations are just an extension of mainstream political parties inside campuses, which is vastly different from its counterparts in the United States. Most student organizations are busy executing the agenda of their established political parent organizations rather than truly working for students. In last few years, student politics has only produced a handful of political leaders. Not a single scientist or industry leader has come out of campus politics. Casualties are pretty common. Not too long ago, a student affiliated to SFI died during a protest in Kolkata. In 1989, the Kashmiri terrorism and then subsequent Kashmiri Hindu exodus were triggered by a student planting bomb in Kashmir University. Jawaharlal Nehru University has its own history littered with incidents like beating up army officers on campus for protesting anti-India content in a program by two Pakistani poets and celebration after Dantewada massacres of CRPF Jawans by Maoist terrorists. Shankudev Panda, one of the student leaders of Bengal, has been regularly involved in arson, and violence, and recently pulled up by the investigative agencies on the charge of fraud in a cheat fund scam.
The romanticism around student politics in India is disappearing fast among masses, especially the people with a college education. The decline is sad. It is depriving students of learning valuable skills like open debating on several issues and leadership. Sadly, the so-called liberalism and non-conformist attitude of student politics in India is not producing liberal minds either. JNU accounts for 50% assault on women on campus cases in the Delhi Metropolitan Area. I think the naivety and sad state of Indian campus politics is captured in one poster from my alma mater Jadavpur University during the pro-Afzal protest.
Considering the Lenin regime Russia murdered millions of Russians, the Stalin regime murdered about 12 million Russians, and the Mao rule killed 70 million of its own citizens, Hitler regime’s murder of 3.2 million Jews somehow sounds an awfully better option. A thinking process that asks you to side with Hitler, because the other options are even worse, is nothing but worryingly sickening.
The Indian Media
The Indian media discourse, much like other democracies around the world, is extremely left-liberal, either by design or by the very idea of it. This is no secret. For the most part though, it has remained less biased partly due to following the basic journalistic values like keeping an arm’s distance from the politicians, and partly because of absence of glaring exposes by social media. In last few years, Indian media has slowly become part of the power corridors and have been sharing an unhealthy cozy relation with politicians and businessmen. Thanks to social media, ideological biases of Indian media persons are more visible than ever. The JNU incident literally blew the lid off the humming discomfort.
Just for reminder, during this hugely blown out-of-proportion controversies, 2 BJP leaders were shot dead in Bihar and a 22-year-old RSS activist college student was hacked to death in front of this own parents in Kerala, while the media has been busy conducting debates on political fascism in Patiala House Court by a group of lawyers with unidentified political leanings and JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar’s arrest on sedition charges. Most part of this very media, which is so vocal about police inaction on Patiala House Court hooliganism, was silent when 150,000 thousand strong mob burnt a police station in Malda, West Bengal. The worried faces in media on the death of free speech did not blink an eye when Kamlesh Tiwari was slapped with NSA charges (Equivalent to sedition). The angry cabal, which wanted to finish off Arnab Goswami for ignoring the issue of attack on certain journalists in Patiala House Court, walked to the Supreme Court for press freedom but never bothered to take up the issue of burning a journalist in Uttar Pradesh, or assault on Shirin Dalvi of an urdu daily or IBN Lokmat, which dared to publish few pictures of Prophet Muhammad. Few months ago when lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq created a furor in international media, the killing of Prashant Poojary in south India in the hands of a mob of cattle smugglers remained largely unreported. The family of Akhlaq received 4.5 million rupees as compensation along with 4 apartments in an upcoming locality, whereas Poojary’s old father has to re-open his dead son’s roadside florist business.
Indian media on its own wisdom and political correctness made the decision on reporting issues. This new kind of so-called affirmative action among the Indian media honchos created a sense of alienation and injustice among groups of people, leading to a social divide on ideological lines. The already existing religious gaps are widening. A certain section of society, which was earlier considered strong and secure has been made to feel insecure and alienated and, unfortunately, the media has been hand-in-glove with politicians directly or indirectly, which is now the real danger for Indian democracy.
Personally I don’t see a problem in having an ideology, and media people are no different, but the problem lies in public claims of neutrality, even when the leaning is particularly visible. It is simply ironic to see the people, who complain about the high-handedness of the government on dealing with dissenting voices, want to apply the same high-handed approach to people who are dissenting against their ideas.
The Patiala House Court Incident
Much like other disturbing ideas, the itch of illusion of being a rebel or the so-called revolutionary has finally caught up with people on the Right in India. The Patiala House Court incident by the lawyers has been utterly shameful, to say the least. I have serious doubts about the affiliation of the lawyers for creating this ruckus, considering the fact that the already cornered BJP government is far from being so politically immature. Considering that this is as just a small, disenchanted fringe group, we can only hope that this just an aberration in the long tradition of Indian democracy and pluralism. India will move on from this phase and come out stronger because, after all, the idea of India as a nation and its people are much larger and stronger than ideological divides and it’s no one’s monopoly.
The ‘who decides’ debate has passed its relevance a long time ago and bringing that back to public discourse is nothing but a sign of immaturity.
Soumya Sundar Chowdhury is a Civil Engineer by profession. He completed undergraduate degree in Construction Engineering at Jadavpur University and graduate studies at West Virginia University in Civil Engineering. An avid follower of Indian and world politics, his opinions are personal and mostly right-leaning. He tweets at: @sundarsoumya
Disclaimer: Cafe Dissensus believes in healthy debate instead of street hooliganism. This article is published with that spirit. The views expressed here are author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect the views of Café Dissensus Everyday.
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City, USA. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine on ‘Cosmopolitanism in a City: The Past and Present of Calicut’, edited by Archa NG, Research Scholar, JNU, New Delhi, India.