A Different Spring in JNU

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Abhijit Kundu a former student leader in JNU looks at what is happening in JNU today.


 “ If your brand of nationalism teaches you to beat up innocent people in a 'democratic' space called court room, I am against this nationalism. Call me anti-nationalist….”,- the loss of innocence, as this is the impromptu response of my student pursuing her final year of Post-Grad studies. Just a few months back, she was not too eager to join the Occupy UGC movement. Like any other student refraining from donning political colors in the university campus, but taken in by the collective effervescence this time around. 

The turn of fate of JNU Febreuary’2016  follows a series of events since the Feb 9th evening. 15 of Feb ( Monday ) saw the Delhi Patiala court premises completely taken over by black robed strongmen ( advocates ? ) brutalizing faculty, students and all…who appear to be JNUite ! AISF National General Secretary Vishwajeet Kumar has been heinously assaulted in the process. And, so the impromptu reaction, I quoted to begin with. 

On the 9 of Feb a radical section of the leftist students secured the university permission for a cultural evening, which turned out to be an event ‘celebrating the martyrdom of Afjal Guru’, backed with a documentary screening on the same theme. Minutes before the programme, the permission was taken back on the basis of ABVP’s objection. That served as the flash point for slogan and counter sloganeering. More and more students joined in to combat the menace of ABVP against a motley crowd of the organizers. JNUSU had to intervene to mitigate the heated up site of inflammatory slogans from both the sides. A procession followed after that led by JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar. On a limited scale the mayhem could be contained. 

Mob frenzy is best fuelled by rumours, frenzied sense of nationalism is the best recourse of a right winger. Sedition charges were slapped the very next day and JNUSU President was arrested forthwith. Some more names of participating students were floated and subsequently debarred by the University from academic activities. Indiscriminate combing was resorted to in the campus hostels. The campus has been trampled upon and tensed up for the last few days. Massive rallies and solidarity action the campus has seen over the last three days. Another Solidarity rally is organized by JNUSU on the 18 Feb to march the city heartland, from Mandi House to Jantar Mantar.

 In between these rallies and resistance actions, how do we rescue JNU from being fantasized and stereotyped as the hub of anti-national activities ? Shall we fall back upon Mahatma Gandhi to quote- “… sedition was the highest moral duty of a citizen…” contesting the colonial power and its law he said, “...affection cannot be manufactured or regulated by law…”. Of course, transposing two different contexts does no justice to our understanding. Can we then take refuge in Jawahar Lal Nehru, when he commented in 1951, “…“Take again Section 124-A ( act of sedition ) of the Indian Penal Code. Now so far as I am concerned, that particular Section is highly objectionable and obnoxious and it should have no place both for practical and historical reasons, if you like, in any body of laws that we might pass. The sooner we get rid of it the better…” ! 

Else, can we engage ourselves in a judicial contest mood to refer to Supreme Court judgments, which made a distinction between ‘advocacy’ and ‘incitement’. In a number of cases it pronounced that allegedly seditious speech and expression may be punished only if the speech is an ‘incitement’ to ‘violence’, or ‘public disorder’. Simple advocacy does not lead to conviction. Words and phrases do not automatically qualifies as seditious till they meet the condition of actually inciting violence/disorder. Now such deliberations are possible when the public sphere is ready for contestation and exchange of rational words. 

Still, did Kanhaiya Kumar really use such phrases of “ Bharat ki Baarbaadi taak…etc “ ? India may be imagined differently by different sections of the People. One may seek a ‘Baarbaadi’ of another’s imagination. But, what is Kanhaiya’s imagination of India ? Now, the video clip of his speech prior to his arrest has gone viral. We know his India as One united for the rights of all underprivileged sections of society. Kanhaiya’s speech actually has been subverting a particular discourse of nationalism, and quite unequivocally claiming that, given his struggling rural background, he doesn’t wish for the scheme of Mother India which does not include his sister or his mother ! Here actually lies the most seditious utterance- the questioning of a project of a new ‘constitution’. If that upstages the cultural project of the right wingers , the persistent JNU students’ collective action on all onslaughts on public funded education could definitely be the constant irritation of the present power dispensation. Be it the issue of FTII, be it against the UGC scholarship cut, or WTO- JNU has been the thorn in the eyes of a crack right wing agenda. And, that Rohit Vemula, Kanhaiya Kumar, anti-national JNU- all are symbolically calibrated and constructed - to depict the evils of a subsidized education system? Check the patriotic fervors ranting the streets and corners of the capital city. ‘ See who the tax-payers' money is being spent on - ungrateful anti-nationals. Shut down such universities…’ After all the project is to build a discourse of justification couched on a psyche of jingoism. 

Supplementary to the grand project is to shore up the position of its pet organization ABVP in a university campus by direct State intervention. The net result is that, by default, the crisis has given all democratic, liberal and left forces to close up their ranks. I cannot remember when was the last time that a motivated, strong and dense JNU collective rendering a rapt attention to a dais addressed by National leaders of diverse ideologies. Sitaram Yechury, D. Raja, Rahul Gandhi and Anand Sharma could share the same platform in JNU - that’s what the BJP has achieved in a very short time. Definitely it has brought JNU back to popular imagination of resistance to exclusionary practices.