April 07, 2016

India: Another campus in turmoil - Tunnel-vision nationalists risk a blowback in Kashmir (Editorial, The Tribune, 7 April 2016)

The Tribune, 7 April 2016


Another campus in turmoil
Tunnel-vision nationalists risk a blowback

There is turmoil in another centre of higher education. This time it is the National Institute of Technology (NIT), Srinagar. But the story at Srinagar is different from the tale at the FTII, HCU, IIT-Chennai and JNU. Hostellers studying at the NIT had objected to local students celebrating India’s loss in a T20 cricket match. In the other institutions across the country, students were resisting a suspected state-approved attempt to impose the Sangh’s ‘idea of India’. In all cases, vice-chancellors were either bypassed, or not tall enough to activate a consensus-achieving mechanism to restore a semblance of live-and-let-liveness. In NIT-Srinagar also the administration allowed a police posse to enter the campus and the inevitable happened. One group received a heavy-handed treatment.

But the NIT standoff is easily mixed with the larger J&K problem. If the Srinagar confrontation continues, NIT hostellers may have to endure a state of siege for the remainder of their courses. The backers of the NIT hostellers are making a grave mistake of not realising that a pattern has emerged, from Ghaziabad to Chittorgarh, of branding Kashmiri students as the ‘other’. Mobs have pursued them to police stations and local students have set upon them for the slightest of divergence from the Sangh Parivar’s toxic definition of nationalism. Unfortunately, Kashmir, once famed for its history of tolerance, is no longer inclined to give in to a dictated nationalism. The battlelines are already drawn too sharply and any excuse, including cricket matches, is good enough to raise temperatures.

The confrontation in Srinagar is the first test for the new coalition government. As the BJP’s tie-up with the PDP shows, the Centre is taking another shot at conciliatory politics. This realisation could also pay dividends in other situations of confrontation across the country. The purveyors of muscular nationalism must realise strident positions beget other costs. The only option is that both sides should back off, and dissenters need to be given adequate space everywhere, whether Kashmiris or Leftists.