The attack on Jawaharlal Nehru University, in the larger context, is an assault on reason. The government wants any critical thought or criticism that comes up against the ruling party or its ideological dispensation or the way it is governing to end.
Today JNU was attacked, but it comes in the backdrop of the assault on Jamia Millia, Aligarh Muslim University, Benaras Hindu University, Jadavpur University, Allahabad University and Hyderabad Central University among others.
All the institutions are under attack. The second issue is that this is their ploy to privatise education and it is evident who will make the profits. It is not only about them making profits, but it will make education out of reach for the common man. Whatever reservation is there now, it will go then. This will deprive the Dalits, the marginalised and the tribals who will be the worst affected. That is what they want.
They have an ideological construct and that is called the Hindu Rashtra, which today is the Hindutva Rashtra. They want to replace the Indian Constitution and the Indian government with their Hindutva Rashtra. That is where the whole situation is leading up to.
Politics during our time was never vitriolic. Our generation fought against the Emergency and restored democracy. Even though the atmosphere during Emergency was stifling, bitter and there were anti-social elements, but we still had the space for democratic discussions. That is vanishing now. That is the biggest difference. During the Emergency, we conducted strikes in JNU and we could influence the faculty to support us.
In fact, because of my political affiliations, there were direct order to my supervisor Krishna Bharadwaj, who was then the Dean of the School of Social Sciences, to not sign my papers for UGC national scholarship. At that time, the scholarship papers had to be signed every month. She refused, saying her job was to look after the student’s academic work and not his political affiliations. She said she wasn’t there to police my politics. And she continued to sign my scholarship papers.
Whatever disputes student parties may have had between themselves, never before had it degenerated to this level. During our times too, rivalry was intense, and I was made to contest elections thrice in a span of 10 months. But, there was never this kind of violence. This was soon after the Emergency was withdrawn in 1977. There was an election soon after the Emergency was withdrawn, and I was elected in April 1977.
Regular Student Body elections were conducted in October and then I was re-elected. Then there was a major agitation where we were demanding an inquiry into the “Emergency excesses” in the University and the University was shut down for a month. At that time, as the VC was not allowed to enter, we ran the University, the messes and we requested some of the professors to take classes. Classes were engaged on the lawns and then we used to collect money for the mess bill from people with placards stating, ‘The University is open, the VC is on strike’. It was a slogan that I had coined then.
When the strike was withdrawn, the students said that I committed a mistake by signing a joint statement with the Delhi University Student’s Union as that was controlled by the RSS. As I had lost the general body vote, I had to resign. This happened in December and soon after it was the winter break. After the winter break, an election was held again, and I won again. This was one of my proudest moments. There were extremely bitter moments, but never violence.
Assaulting teachers is unheard of in JNU. I have been through JNU politics and several others have too, but even through all the bitter rivalry, it never crossed the limit of attacking teachers or anybody else.
Now, there is no space for that and that is because the people supporting this government do not believe in the Constitution. They believe in a fascistic project of the Hindutva Rashtra. Because of the nature of the project, the space for dissent has been continually assaulted.
For five hours, JNU VC did not act nor did he speak to the police to restore normalcy about the armed attack. This makes him complicit in the matter too. The JNU administration put out a tweet that armed and masked men from outside entered the campus, vandalised property and beat up students and teachers. Then, it was withdrawn, and a longer statement was released. It intended to portray that it was a fight between two groups of students inside the campus. This is the narrative that they are attempting to spread.
But the truth is there for everyone to see on social media. WhatsApp group chats show there were people from outside, the logistics of how people entered at a certain time through a particular gate. Who they are can be seen from the slogans that they
are raising. This was clearly a pre-planned attack, and this constitutes an attack, not only on education, but on reason, rationality and on democracy. To portray this as an inter-student rivalry is wrong.
I must say that it is very heartening to see the commitment of this generation of students to the Indian Constitution and its secular democratic foundations. That has come out sharply during the course of these agitations. Now, that is a positive element as that is India’s future. The process of politicisation of students has begun. All our politics took shape when we were students.
The protests are evolving. I may not be able to define how specifically. Many of those who voted for Modi are a part of these protests now. They will tell you this themselves. They are saying that they voted for this government thinking that it would be better for India, but now they have realised that it isn’t so.
Their own children are getting beaten up. JNUSU President Aishe Ghosh’s mother has said she supports her daughter. These are all middle-class families and an awareness is growing among them too. Then there is the everyday struggle that families are going through. Now, people are having biryani without onions. It used to be unthinkable, but that is what life has been reduced to.
This is how a movement builds up. It has its own laws of motion and these laws of motion are not dictated by five-year terms. It is evolving and shaping up. Soon, a focal point will emerge.
(As told to Ashlin Mathew)
(Views are personal)