The Genie of Nationalism
If anyone thinks that Modi can be persuaded by public appeals, pluralist ideas and logical arguments, then, it seems, they will be sadly mistaken
Sanjay Kapoor Delhi
During the panel discussion organised at the release of former Finance/Home Minister P Chidambaram’s book, Standing Guard, Janata Dal (U) MP and former diplomat Pawan Verma reminded the author that he had been wrong in his assessment of how Prime Minister Narendra Modi would conduct himself in the face of a loss in the Bihar elections. Verma reminded Chidambaram that he had written in his column in a national daily that a defeat would make the PM more circumspect and less aggressive. The recent happenings in Delhi proved, said Verma, that Chidambaram had been wrong.
However, the fact is that both of them misjudged the PM. He is not a leader given to easy description; people like Chidambaram commit the folly of judging him by conventional yardsticks. Modi is like Muhammad Ali in the boxing ring who would use his famous ‘rope a dope trick’ to put himself in a losing position in order to finally emerge victorious. Modi, too, lulled the opposition after his spectacular Bihar defeat.
Nearly everyone thought that he would be accommodative and try to work with the opposition to get the key Goods and Services Tax (GST) legislation and other parliamentary business transacted. Contrary to what might be presumed, his body language suggests that he wants things to be done in Parliament or outside on his own terms. If anyone thinks that he can be persuaded by public appeals, pluralist ideas and logical arguments, that he will be pressured to yield by democratic means, then, it seems, they will be sadly mistaken.
He has clarity about what he wants from his job and is going about it in a methodical manner. During his first speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort, he called himself an outsider in Delhi who did not know the ways of the capital. Despite 20 months in office, he continues to be deeply suspicious of the Nehruvian institutions in Delhi and how they breed ill-will towards him. He is convinced that his and the BJP’s influence will become more enduring once these are diminished.
Although Modi has been quiet, many in the BJP consider the Jawaharlal Nehru University (widely recognised all over the world as a hub of enlightened, critical thinking) an epicentre of the exploration of Left ideology that spawns ideological hatred of Hindutva ideology and the BJP. His government has benefitted from the presumed ‘misgivings’ that the earlier UPA regime had towards the ‘extreme Left’ and the red corridor in Maoist terrain.
The opportunity arose on February 9, when there were protests against the hanging of Parliament attack accused Afzal Guru. This is not the first time that there has been a public discussion in JNU (or elsewhere) against his hanging. Also, long before the BJP came to power, some of these groups and individuals were being watched closely by the intelligence agencies. Some individuals who had recently split from one such radical outfit, the Democratic Students Union (DSU), decided to have a cultural evening/poetry session to commemorate Guru’s hanging.
Some Kashmiri outfits, not from JNU, also participated in the event, permission for which was withdrawn by the university authorities at the last minute. The presence of those who shouted slogans is still shrouded in mystery, but that gave an opportunity to the government to book a bunch of student leaders on charges of sedition. The student leaders included the JNU Students Union president, Kanhaiya Kumar, and two ‘independent Left’ students, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya. Kanhaiya represents the CPI’s students’ wing, AISF. He denied shouting such slogans; ironically, the Delhi Police relied on video footage of Zee Television. A producer later cried foul, resigned, and revealed that the channel had doctored the footage by layering it with an audio of slogans where ‘anti-national’ slogans were deliberately introduced in the background.
What followed was too chaotic to make for easy description. In police presence, Kanhaiya was roughed up by lawyers in court. Journalists, too, were beaten up. The Supreme Court stepped in, and then stepped back in the Kanhaiya case.
More than 400 universities across the world have criticised the entry of police into the campus and the manner in which Kanhaiya, and others, have been incarcerated. It has been amply conveyed to the liberal intelligentsia that there is no protection if your academic enquiries smell of opposition to the established religious/political beliefs of the ruling regime.
Many of these doubts about the trajectory of the dominant thought process were laid to rest when Union HRD Minister Smriti Irani stepped out to defend the government’s coercive action in JNU, and the tragic suicide of Dalit scholar RohithVemula in Hyderabad Central University. Using all kinds of documents, many of them furiously contested by the opposition parties, she tried to prove the government’s moral high ground. She also read out a pamphlet where the mythical Mahishasura was celebrated ahead of Goddess Durga by Adivasi, Dalit and OBC students in JNU.
These are tricky areas for engaging in a conversation on the validity of Indian mythology. However, Irani made it clear that her view of Hindu religion was extremely upper caste. This perception is hurting the BJP as Dalits are increasingly looking for a partner that will help them preserve the gains that they have made in the last several years. At the ground level it is possible to see a tactical convergence of the Left with the Dalits. Most of the pamphlets emanating from these events show ‘Lal Salaam’ with ‘Jai Bheem’.
The BJP is cognisant of the disruption its rise is causing to established alliances. Through the JNU operation, it has tried to successfully reassert ‘nationalism’ at the core of its politics. It has tried to juxtapose the Left with the jihadi, and prove thereby how both want the country to be vivisected. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley spoke in Parliament about the convergence of these groups and how they were a threat to the country. The presence of a Muslim student leader, Umar Khalid, among those accused of raising ‘anti-national’ slogans became reason enough to seal this rather shaky thesis. What was ignored was that Khalid is a practising atheist and he has nothing to do with any of the Islamic terror outfits.
The genie of ‘nationalism’ that has been released after the JNU imbroglio is reinterpreting the way the law is applied to the guilty. The lawyers, with obvious links to the BJP, who beat up Kanhaiya and journalists have got away with a mild rap since they positioned themselves as protectors of ‘Bharat Mata’. What was ignored was the brazen manner in which they chased down journalists and beat up Kanhaiya on the court premises with utter disregard for the Supreme Court’s order. The asymmetrical manner in which the crimes of sloganeers and lawyers have been perceived by the law enforcement authorities prove that the scenario has changed rapidly.
The manner in which the Modi-led government is pushing hard against the secular educational institutions and trying to tar them is an attempt to gain greater control over the national discourse. That way, Modi believes, he can influence the outcome of the slated five Assembly elections plus divert attention from the several unresolved promises that require his intervention.
Time will show at what stage he will put the genie of nationalism back in the bottle. If, at all, he changes his mind.