New Age Politics : Appropriation of Symbols


Since the 9th February event in JNU, the campus and the streets of the capital city witnessed restless activism, despair and hope. Possibly it was fated for a catharsis under the open sky in JNU. That was 4th March’s electrifying spirit in JNU. The crescendo touched its peak with a 50 minutes captivating speech by the ‘just released’ on interim-bail,Kanhaiya Kumar, JNUSU President. Just like the ‘suicide note’ of Rohit Vemula, the raw-rustic political speech enthralled the open-air audience. Its live coverage by leading national electronic media whipped up the emotions of the cross-sections of the country and beyond. The massive gathering swayed to the sharp edged words of their newly-found hero. The Tri-Color fluttered over the intermittent slogans of Azaadi.
Now, in both ways one can appreciate this RETURN. We can take it as the return of the Left-democratic imageries in the popular national media space. The return of a dilapidating Left voice, with a bang, on all national networks. Just like the way honorable Judge of the Delhi High Court commented on the interim bail order- “…the infection of thoughts “ and all that entails.
On the other hand, there is no let-up by the flagellating religio-cultural nationalists. Their self-assurance was evident, as they call it the return of the prodigal. ‘ Have you ever seen a spontaneous gathering of largely left-minded campus, raising Laal Selam under the Tri Color? ‘. So here lies the success of the brigade,who wished to instill the pride of nationalism by ensuring the tri color atop a 207 feet high pole in every university campus. As if the vibrant symbol would automatically bring the students and youth back to the national mainstream. Possibly a more masculine and virile World War canon or a fighter plane could add values to the project such jingoistic nationalism. A homogenizing notion of nationalism is thus furthered with a construction of certain signs and symbols which are homologous. Rather, fossilizing such signs and symbols as something steady,stable and unchanging.
Quite interesting is the play of images in our social-cultural life. Through a random permutation and combination the symbolic world is constructed. Differential placement in the social structure allows a continuous encoding and decoding of meanings of such images. The same set of signs could be decoded with a different meaning, and a parallel reality could thus be constructed out of that changed significations.
The Tri Color can still flutter aloft, while the slogans of Azaadi can still rent the air of the campus and the marches in the streets of Delhi. The dissenting voice resourcing the repertoire of JNU-centric protests could carry the Blue flag of the Bahujan-Dalit society, along with the Red flag >of the Left, with the Tri Color overbearing them all. The same metaphor of nationalism could be appropriated and energized against a war mongering version of nationalism.
What constitutes a nation and what could be called a national community- these are matters of rigorous social science research. Indian Council Of Social Science Research would have shut down its venture if such research related issues could be settled once for all. In fact all over the modern period in social history, the finest research brains have been deliberating on the problematic of social formation and nation-building process. An easier, softer way out is to construct an Other/ or, an Enemy and create a ‘sangh’ of similitude as the crux of nationalism. Further, the design is to conflate this version of Nationalism with Patriotism.
Our social-cultural world is enmeshed in a web of signs. The play of mages, various acts of disseminations and mediations are nothing but a web of signs. An inescapable reality is that we live and experience this world more in mediated forms, in such acts of mediations. The plasticity of the signs allow us to slip from one image to another continuously. In the new age, the process of networking of images do not flow on an axial principle, so the de-centered images could easily be appropriated and energized with alternate meanings. So, the 1947-48 slogan of ‘ Eh Azaadi Jhuta Hain, Desh Ka Janta Bhukha Hain ‘ could take a huge leap and retain its dissent while waving the Tri Color aloft simultaneously. Patriotism and Azaadi are not mutually exclusive. In this way, the contemporary dissenting voice could reclaim the signs of Azaadi.
Modern day educational institutions are historically built to nourish the voices of dissent. The idea of modern universities is not to homogenize ideas, instead it is to trigger off new, fresh ideas and foster critical thinking. The clash of ideas begins here only. On one side we find those forces who prefer to freeze the signs and construct a-historical amalgamation of patriotism with nationalism. Whereas, the dissenting voices are engaged in retrieving the signs by energizing them with alternate meanings.
Freedom Is My Birthright- the slogan of azaadi first found its resonance in Lokamanya Tilak’s political vocabulary. The slogan has been retrieved in independent India in different contexts under different socio- political matrix of un-freedom. It is a metaphor of an aspiration for breaking the chains of whatsoever be the source of enslavement. It was immensely popularized by the feminist activist Kamla Bhasin,when she rhythmically coined “…Nari Ka Awaaz Azaadi “. If the same azaadi slogan reverberates through the JNU campus to the city streets,why does the State power become so hyperactive ?
Is it because the images of Kashmir valley routinized to the chants of azaadi loom large as a spectre before the nationalist discourse ? On a regular basis, time to time, the civic life of the valley comes to a standstill around the slogans of azaadi. Most often than not, the valley reverberates with the slogan of azaadi at the violations of the fundamental rights as provided by the Indian Constitution. In an uneven-developed multifaceted India, with each corner having a different history of social formation, the different contexts offer different backdrop for the same slogan.
The oppressed and humiliated dalit-bahujaan-minority community would seek azaadi from “manuvaad’, the struggling masses would seek azaadi from the loot of land, livelihood and natural resources, while the student-teachers-citizens would claim for azaadi against the loot of democratic spaces. With facts, data, derivatives and analyses modern learning process is entangled with the metaphors of social living. A thread-bare, critical assessment and research is a matter of contestation. It might be an impassionate or a dispassionate debate but, the debate continues on the varied questions of humanities- what is a nation, what constitutes nationalism, what exactly is the relation between nation and state ?To come out of the orthodoxy is to acknowledge the vibrancy of history, History as not fossilized , but continuously being created and re-created with the changing significations of the sign system. As the image-world changes, a new context appears which stimulates new thoughts, new faces as agents of history. For a land rich in oral history,rhetoric and oratorical skill serve as crucial political capital. Such a capital is energized when altogether unheard slogans rent the air. Breaking away from the regular chanting of left circles, we could see the enthusiastic rhymes like “ Hathi Ghora Paalki/ Jai Kanhaiya Laal Ki “. Along with “ Jai Bhim! We Want Justice”, the slogans of “Laaley Laal,Laal Selaam’ could mingle seamlessly.
Can it further a new alignment of social forces ? Can there be a new configuration of conflict groups pursuing a different arrangement of interest ? The existing asymmetrical power arrangement and the jingoistic thought designs are actually stimulating such a possibility. The possibility fuelled by the events in the University campuses.University.