What happened in JNU a little over a week back, is unprecedented.
In independent India, for decades institutions like the JNU have fostered a culture that promoted free thinking and speech, anti-establishment voices, protests and so on. The thought process largely was, that in a true democracy, the voice of dissent must be not only allowed, but encouraged. There are numerous instances in World history, where such strong voices forced the establish to change not only National policy but even political changes at National level. The movement against the US involvement in the Vietnam war, for instance, began among peace activists and leftist intellectuals on college campuses. Later this movement gained national prominence in 1965, after the United States began bombing North Vietnam in earnest.
Closer - at home, the Anti-Hindi agitation of 1965 in Tamil Nadu, where the Congress led Government tried to enforce Hindi as a language in Tamil Nadu, ultimately resulted in significant political changes in the State.The DMK won the 1967 elections, and the Congress was never able to recapture power in the State ever since. Amongst the many peaceful protests that Mahatma Gandhi led, as part of the freedom struggle, the 'Salt March' is a relevant example.
What began in JNU that afternoon, was a peaceful gathering until there were reports of anti India slogans being chanted amongst the protesters. What followed was immediate police intervention - nay - a crackdown, arrests and detentions, of which many people who were not even related to the gatherings or protests, were made victims.
As news spread all over the Country, the Nation seems somewhat divided in opinion on the merit of a police crackdown in an educational institution. Also the fundamental issue of whether chanting slogans which may be construed as ani-India, in itself amounts to sedition, is debatable.
The ruling Government, the BJP and its allied wings - the ABVP et all, have been busy defending not only the crackdown, and also linking the violence inflicted upon the media outside the Patiala House Courts, as if to say, because anti_India slogans were shouted the other day, this violence, and beating up of innocent journalists is justified. Many spokesmen of the ruling Government, and the BJP have made statements amounting to this justification, in the last few days.
Many questions arise. Who decides what is anti National. What acts of omission or commission amount to being anit-National. What is the interpretation of the law relating to sedition in the current context? Does nationalism equal to 'jingoism' that way we have seen? Are people who are taking the law into their hands and victimising the protesters for chanting anti-India slogans and assaulting even reporters who are covering news - are they Nationalists?
Mere symbolism and optics is NOT nationalism. Waving the tricolour, thrashing innocent people even those that had nothing to do with the protest gathering in JNU, does not amount to Nationalism.
According to me here's what truly amounts to being anti-National in the Indian context.
- A Government failing to uphold the Constitution of India in course of its governance, willingly or otherwise – is anti-National.
- The Police allowing an innocent man (until proven guilty), placed under their protective custody, to be thrashed up by rogues disguised as lawyers (on whom is placed the responsibility of protecting and upholding the Constitution of India) – is anti-National.
- Denying an Indian the freedom of expression -his fundamental right – is anti-National.
- Suffocating free thought, and conflicting opinion and the right to protest peacefully is anti-National.
- Arresting with an ulterior motive, any Indian, placing him in custody, getting remand extended, and yet not being able to charge him with a crime or a violation of the Indian Penal Code – is anti-National.
- Policemen either acting as a catalyst to accelerate violence and a deteriorating law and order situation, or looking the other way – by choice, or on orders – is anti-National.
- Irresponsible baseless statements from senior Ministers of the cabinet (placed in a position of huge responsibility) linking students to heinous crimes and terrorism, thus misleading citizens, – is anti-National.
- Thrusting upon Indians - one religion, and marginalising those in minority who practise other faiths – is anti-National.
- Vigilante groups – self-proclaimed guardians of religion and Indian culture, storming into premises, thrashing up innocent young people without provocation and yet not being booked under the provisions of the law– is anti-National.
- Rape – and violence against women – is anti-National.
- Corruption – practised by anyone – whether the Government, politicians or a common man - is anti-National.
- Failing in one’s civic duty and responsibility as a citizen of India – spreading dirt, polluting, violating the laws of the land or even traffic rules is anti – National
- Evading taxes – anti-National.
- Farmers committing suicides – and the Government not bothering – is anti-National.
The question is how many of the self proclaimed 'Nationalist' we have seen on TV screens, making jingoistic statements openly threatening members of the media, not in the least the students who were detained or are in custody, fit into the above definitions of being anti-National? The other question is how many of these types of anti-National activity listed above, has the Government paid attention to, to implement a change?
The larger issue is of the role of the Government. Instead of letting the University administration handle the matter and institute disciplinary proceedings if the situation demanded, the Government went out of the way to instruct the police to éffect' a crackdown, arrests etc. The Government then turned a blind eye to the blatant instances of local goons, disguised as lawyers, take the law into their hands, and indulge in violence. All allies - senior members of the majority political party the student wing etc. cried foul and recommended drastic punitive measures. One senior member recommended 'sanitising' JNU, as if the students, faculty and administration were insects and termites.
Is this what is priority for the Government? What about running the economy, driving growth through robust policy changes, improvement in law and order, dealing with violence against women, addressing the situation relating to the pathetic state of the Indian farmer (even farmers in an otherwise prosperous state like Punjab, are committing suicides), and last but not the least, the Indian soldier. These issues, and the numerous other ánti-National' activities that are eating into the fabric of India, is what the Government needs to focus on.
The Government of the day needs to be cautioned. They came into power not because they were the first preference of the citizens of this Country, but more because citizens were sick and tired of state of affairs the previous Government had created. But the mandate can change and change quickly. Anti incumbency votes that led to the fall of the UPA-II, can also topple the NDA. Only the reasons could be different.
So unless there is immediate course correction, this unrest that began with the JNU incident, could spread across the Country, and ultimately result in the undoing of the NDA.