I’m Joint Sec, JNUSU, And This Is What’s At The Heart Of The JNU Unrest

Saurabh Kumar Sharma

Aug 08, 2016, 07:07 PM | Updated 07:07 PM IST

Image Credit: CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP/Getty Images
Image Credit: CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP/Getty Images
  • At the heart of the JNU unrest is the underlying battle between the Communists, who are fighting hard to retain their leftist stronghold on campus, and nationalists, who are fighting for democracy and nationalism, propelled by their love for India.
  • This has unsettled the old guard, which increasingly resorts to hooliganism and anarchism to disrupt the normal environment of the university.
  • My university has been in the news for the past couple of months for all the wrong reasons. As anti-India slogans were raised at the campus, mainly calling for the destruction of India (Bharat tere tukde honge) and bemoaning that the Supreme Court judges who upheld the death sentence for Afzal Guru are still alive (Afzal hum sharminda hai, tere kaatil zinda hai), people across the country were dismayed at the degeneration of our prestigious educational institutions. The perception of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) that was built up during this time was of a university mired in chaos and anarchy, where students indulged in that same rhetoric which has dramatically flopped in every part of the world. But this begs the question, what lies at the heart of the unrest?

    Since its commencement, JNU has been under the stifling grip of the intellectual and political hegemony of the Communists. For much of the early years, there was no space for dissent unless it was just another shade of the red. In some cases, dissenters rose, but they were just a few individuals who could never mount an organised challenge to the status quo. Even though efforts were made to challenge the Left hegemony under the banner of free thinkers, they failed to create a sustainable opposition in the campus. What is democracy but a façade without an opposition?

    It was only in the 1990s, with the rise of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), that a real opposition to the prevailing leftist ideology came into existence. In a campus dominated by Stalinist and Maoist parties, it was an uphill struggle to create a democratic space where freedom of expression was ensured to all and not just to a few. It was we, the ABVP, who challenged this new priesthood of the “true ideology” propagated from the pulpit of the classrooms.

    Regardless of success, this democratic space did not come without a cost. In the early days, it was not possible to even put up posters or pamphlets which disagreed with the dominant hegemonic discourse. Anyone found putting up such posters was beaten up by the fascists today hiding behind the fig leaf of ‘constitutional patriotism’.

    Students were also routinely targeted by overzealous professors. Those who wanted to pursue a career in academics suffered under an intolerant witch-hunt reminiscent of the medieval era. Everyone knew that by joining the nationalist camp, they were letting go of the certainty of a lucrative career in academia. Besides, there would be no opportunity in the high-flying, five-star activism of the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) either.

    But year after year, students came together to challenge the status quo, driven by the high ideals of democracy, nationalism and the love for their motherland, India.

    Nationalist students continue to grow in strength even today, ultimately eroding the monolithic character of the student union and injecting some much-needed dosage of pluralism and diversity in public discourse. This has unsettled the old guard, which increasingly resorts to hooliganism and anarchism to disrupt the normal environment of the university.

    In addition, the Left has suffered a continuous decline in appeal of its discredited ideology, and now resorts to inflaming caste rivalry, like in the case of the University of Hyderabad, and aligning with Islamist-jihadi forces to remain relevant.

    The event held on 9 February 2016 was a continuation of a long series of such events being held at the campus, from celebrating the massacre of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) jawans by the Naxals to trampling the Indian flag under their boots to defending destructive forces like al-Qaeda and, now, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Such sinister acts were challenged regularly by the students of JNU, but the university administration either turned a blind eye to these people and events, or let them go after handing them a meagre penalty. In case of trouble, they could always count on their professors to bail them out.

    Anti-India slogans are, therefore, nothing new in this campus, as it may already be evident by now, but this time the difference was that their activities came under the democratic scrutiny of the people of India who were incensed at slogans about breaking India to pieces.

    As the law of the land took its course, these elements started playing victims and professing innocence. They also tried to hide behind the legitimacy of student politics, when, in fact, the only issue they ever bothered about was ‘Kashmir ki azadi’ (freedom for Kashmir) and ‘Kerala mange azadi’ (Kerala demands freedom).

    The same people who want Dalits and Adivasis to be up in arms to fight the Indian State themselves ran to the courts of that State. The same people who don’t believe in the concept of ‘nation’ started calling themselves “real nationalists.” The same people who denounce the ‘bourgeois’ constitution day in, day out are now constitutional patriots. But hypocrisy knows no bounds for this mediocre bunch of hooligans and anarchists, from whom one can’t expect even a little bit of the maturity that was displayed by the old Left.

    The students who protested the raising of anti-India slogans are now being threatened and targeted by both the Left cadre and professors. Instances such as food being hurled at girl students at the mess, students’ belongings being thrown out of the dormitory, abusive threats being put up on the doors of students and professors asking those who stood up to the anarchists, “Will Modi remain in power forever?”

    This, my friends, is real fascism, the one which will find no media coverage or screaming headlines. To be in JNU and shout slogans against the Bharatiya Janata Party or the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is no exhibition of Freedom of Speech; the true test of it is to be able to challenge the prevailing left hegemony on campus.

    This is the time to realise that these elements don’t believe in the unity and integrity of India. They cite the constitutional right to Freedom of Speech but conveniently forget the restrictions placed on it in the same constitution. After all, even Ambedkar remarked that these people want fundamental rights to be absolute so that if they fail to come into power, they would have unfettered freedom not only to criticise the State but also to overthrow it. It’s time to call their bluff.

    Also Read:
    -The Secret History Of JNU
    -India’s Last Left Citadel

    Saurabh Kumar Sharma is Joint Secretary, JNU Students Union, 2015-16

    Saurabh Kumar Sharma is the Joint Secretary of the JNU,Students Union.

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