February 15, 2016

JNU: RSS’ new laboratory? (S Nihal Singh

Deccan Chronicle - Feb 15, 2016

JNU: RSS’ new laboratory?

by S Nihal Singh

JNU stands for everything that is the antithesis of Sangh Parivar’s beliefs.

Students affiliated to the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) protest outside the office of the vice chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi. (Photo: PTI)

Beyond the drama of the arrest of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) Students’ Union president, Kanhaiya Kumar, by Delhi’s police force lies a set of circumstances that were godsend to the Bharatiya Janata Party government determined to make an example of the JNU. For long the ideologues of the BJP have had JNU in their sights and the fact that the government could act as it did by wrapping itself in colours of the Tricolour, disregarding the vice-chancellor’s prerogative by arresting a student leader, apart from conducting raids, was a denouement dearly wished.

Some BJP leaders are more frank than others in denigrating JNU, but it is no secret that this hallowed institution stands for everything that is the antithesis of the set of beliefs the broader Sangh Parivar espouses. It has been, above all, a secular institution wedded to upholding academic standards and, like all student hubs, tilts to the Left.

On the other hand, the Parivar ideology, presided over by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, is single dimensional. In its vocabulary, there is only one truth — that preached by it. And JNU, therefore, is the mote in its eye. And here was a great opportunity provided by some persons raising alleged anti-national slogans in protest against the hanging of the convicted Afzal Guru to take aim at the institution.

Public reaction thus far is what one would expect. Home minister Rajnath Singh acted as the stern headmaster in declaring that anti-national activity would not be tolerated and would be severely dealt with. As if acting on cue, minister for human resources development, Smriti Irani, chimed in that any insult to Mother India would not be tolerated. The Left, of course, was vehement in its condemnation while the Congress vice-president, Rahul Gandhi, demonstrated his sympathy for the students’ cause after his practice run at Hyderabad University.

The larger purpose of the BJP-led government is clear, earlier underlined by the entire debate on intolerance. A university is traditionally the home of radical and outlandish ideas and, in the BJP and Parivar idiom, it has to be moulded into its idea of India of exaggerated nationalism, and belief in the country’s essential Hindu ethos. Not only is the Nehruvian idea of India suspect, but the nation’s ancient miracles, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi subscribes to — such as planes flying, and plastic surgery and transposing heads performed routinely — must be recognised as immutable truth.

The ideological guardians of the BJP government realise that it is a long battle they are engaged in because, for more than half a century, Independent India has lived on a set of beliefs that encompassed an enquiring mind and many paths to truth along with national cohesion. Hence, the effort of BJP ideologues to concentrate on the young by immersing them in Parivar truths and appointing a minister of culture without a nodding acquaintance with what true culture stands for.

Indeed, many of the country’s intellectuals opposing the new trends do not fully realise that how determined the BJP ideologues are in converting people to their cause. For them it is a high-stakes game. Bred in the RSS laboratory, they are determined and persevering even as people schooled in more civilised ways of debate often seem to be at a loss on how to meet the new challenge.

What is required is a long-term counter strategy. Returning honours and awards is one form of token protest and a recognised method of expressing opposition. A strategy must consist of a well-thought-out programme that warns people of the nature of the new threats to freedom of thinking the government poses. In narrowing their vision of India and the world, those exposed to the Parivar ideology must first recognise the myths that are being fed as facts and history. Second, it is an old trick the world over to promote intolerant beliefs in the garb of nationalism. Third, there must be widespread promotion of the essence of what the Parivar is preaching, a Hindu rashtra that outclasses all other beliefs.

Indeed, in view of the determination shown by the Parivar, the counter-offensive must be matched by rationalists and true nationalists organising an endeavour on a national scale. The irony is that, thanks to Mr Modi’s penchant for marrying technology to promote myths, instruments of social media such as Facebook and Twitter are being used to mount a buzz of subversive ideas that mock reason. The combine led by the Janata Dal (United) in the last Assembly elections in Bihar demonstrated that two can play the game by getting the better of Mr Modi with his own medicine.

However, opponents of Mr Modi must not restrict new technology to election time. They must realise that they are fighting a larger battle and must marshal their forces for the bigger cause of freedom of ideas. This battle must be fought through new technology according to a plan even as the government seeks to stymie free debate.

If the police action at JNU serves as a warning to the liberal intelligentsia of the danger it is in, it would have served a useful purpose. Let it not be said that liberals were guilty of sleep walking to their doom. The appointment of non-entities to the ministries of human resources development and culture was warning enough. What has happened in these ministries is an open book, with the BJP ideologues wielding the stick.

Perhaps the “argumentative Indian” will save the day. The RSS laboratory has succeeded in training their followers in the well-honed myths of ancient India and the world of miracles it represents.

But if it is the nature of the Indian to be argumentative, as Amartya Sen suggests, he or she cannot be satiated by the monochromic world and India’s place in it the Parivar propagates.

On the other hand, the indoctrination of the young can play an outsized role in influencing a new generation. Partly, it will depend upon the longevity of the Modi government, partly on liberals’ resoluteness.