Political parties cannot abdicate responsibility and leave task of opposing NRC to students
While campuses are aflame, it is the responsibility of political parties to fight the CAA and NRC politically. Campu unrest can be short lived and is easily arrested
India’s constitutional democracy would become history if political parties across the political divide do not take the cue from the nationwide student unrest to fight the current burst of fascism with greater solidarity.
The ongoing student protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) across the university campuses in the country — from Jamia Millia Islamia in the north to Madras University in the south, from the campuses of the northeastern and eastern states to western states like Maharashtra — have raised the prospect of a nationwide movement with far-reaching implications.
Will this movement draw its inspiration from the anti-Vietnam War sentiment that engulfed the campuses across the United States of America, especially the country’s inner cities, during the 1960s?
Is there a lesson for this movement from the campuses of Europe which saw revolutionary convulsions that called in question the raison d’etre of the bourgeois establishment?
Well, for all we know, the student unrest that erupted over the grossly iniquitous CAA may subside sooner than later. At the prodding of the governments, most universities have postponed examinations and declared holidays for the next two weeks; when they re-open after in the New Year, there may not be enough steam left in the CAA to stir the campuses again. Unless, of course, political forces opposed to the CAA join hands to provide the students a larger platform to raise their battle in defence of constitutional democracy. That happened in 1974; it can happen now. But there is a twist in the tale.
In 1974, as in the 1960s, in US universities and in Europe, students indulged in widespread violence to press home their point. In the western campuses, students belonging to the revolutionary left groups justified the violence as a historical necessity to overthrow the capitalist state.
However, there was another side to the story; there were a large number of students who opposed the American war in Vietnam but did not subscribe to the methods of violence. They were disparaged as naïve liberals by the Left, but they constituted the bedrock on which the anti-War sentiment got built up in America. Revolutionary violence had its inspiration from the class struggle hypothesis of Karl Marx; but students became the soft target of the repressive state apparatus.
Mahatma Gandhi showed us that a country could be liberated from the yolk of an imperialist power through non-violent struggle; Martin Luther King made Gandhi his inspiration and led a non-violent movement to give the blacks full citizenship rights in USA. There are myriad examples to show that peaceful and democratic protests triumph in the long run
Not surprisingly, the Jamia protest has been belittled, and the police intervention justified, by the supporters of the CAA because of the violence, because of the vandalism that accompanied it.
Anybody believing in a constitutional democracy must condemn the incidents of violence. Jamia students were in the forefront to disassociate themselves from any act of arson and vandalism. If any individual student is found to have indulged in acts of vandalism, he or she could be taken to task. But have the police given any evidence of Jamia students’ complicity in the crime? No. Not yet
Nothing has surfaced so far to prove the involvement of students in violence. But it did not deter policemen from entering the campus, caning students, using tear gas and rubber bullets; they ransacked hostel rooms, barged into the library and forcibly dragged students who were studying there. The video footage showed blood spilled all over the campus.
There is the other side to the story. Why hasn’t the police been able to identify the culprits? Clear video footage of a few miscreants setting fire to the buses is available; TV channels have showed the clips over and over again. Why can’t the police identify them and take them to task?
That is probably because the police know it well that those who burnt down the buses were not students; they were hoodlums who had nothing to do with the university. But that reality would completely debunk the police claim and would also put the defenders of police atrocities on the back foot.
On the contrary, there are videos in which individual policemen can be seen systematically damaging the bikes parked inside AMU premises. There appears to be sufficient evidence to show that some policemen in uniform indulged in brazen vandalism. They must be booked and proceeded against before any semblance of normality can return to the campus.
But, beyond Jamia and AMU, there is a larger battle ahead – the battle to keep the constitutional democracy in India alive at a time when systemic onslaught is being made to transform our country into a majoritarian democracy.
It has to be an intense battle if the communal designs have to be stopped in the tracks. That would be possible only when political parties, across the ideological divide, come together to oppose the derailment of the constitutional democracy, as reflected in the enactment of the CAA.
Take the case of Finland where fascism’s tryst with the nation was rebuffed by the unwavering solidarity of the democratic forces. But that was not before some of the centrist as well as rightist parties, opposed to communism, flirted with the extremeright Lapua Movement which began with the pledge to eliminate the communists, politically and physically, from the soil of Finland.
In fact, the Conservative government gave the Lapua leaders important positions in the government. Encouraged by the powerful positions, the Lapua leaders physically assaulted anyone – within the ruling coalition or the opposition – who questioned their methods or their ideology.
The Finnish democracy was in danger. The extraordinary call had to be made. The Conservatives and the Communists — adversaries, rather enemies for decades — joined hands in a fight to finish the fascist forces.
Belgium was a similar case where the Catholic Party and the Socialists – political adversaries for decades – came together, in what they called Lawfulness Front, to thwart the ambitions of the Rex Party which had fashioned itself after the fascists and drew support from both Hitler and Mussolini.
It is a Do-or-Die moment in Independent India, a critical juncture where all other differences ought to pale into insignificance.
(The writer is a former journalist and commentator based in New Delhi)