At the outset, let us be clear that ABVP ’s decision to make a physical intervention to stop the Cultures of Protest event in Delhi University requires outright condemnation.
Interestingly, some section of Right wing online media were seen as pointing out that irrespective of the backgrounds of the speaker, ABVP should have held to the democratic ethos instead of resorting to mindless vandalism. That said, the Left’s victimhood narrative on this incident should always be taken with a pinch of salt. Most of India’s campuses have never been the democratic utopia that the Left makes it sound like. That, if the idea of a democratic space is not restricted to programmed recitation of anti-incumbency polemic with zero scope for nuance and tagging any differing voice as “Sanghi” or “Phashisht”.
It is of paramount importance to understand here that this practice of censorship of speakers invited to socio-political discussions in campuses is in fact a forte of the Left. And more often than not, it was ABVP that ended up in the receiving end of this censorship that guards the altars of dissent. Besides, now there are increasing voices from the Bahujan/Ambedkarite sections against how the Left is holding the polity of educational institutions as per their whims. Looking back, we find in the long list PM Indira Gandhi and Lal Krishna Advani who were denied entrance in JNU, Dr. Manmohan Singh who was shown black flag (while he was Professor Emeritus in JNU), among others. The treatment received by Rajiv Malhotra in TISS and the way independent filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri was manhandled at Jadavpur University when he arrived for screening of Buddha in a Traffic Jam movie are recent examples.
Not long ago, the suicide of ABVP member Abhishek in Karnataka involved another case of denying entrance to a speaker invited by ABVP, this time by Congress affiliated NSUI.
As a Keralite, I can go on and make a longer list of arrogant and authoritative conduct of CPI(M)’s SFI in Kerala’s campuses, but what is important here is to note the inherently intolerant political culture that exists in almost all of India’s campuses that are politically vibrant. No one else is to blame for this other than the Left- whose political voice in the country is mainly restricted to campuses, and whose steady supply of leaders who specialize in anti-State propaganda are sourced from campuses. The very narrative of entities like All India Students’ Association (AISA) – the student wing of the radical Left CPI(Marxist-Leninist) Liberation- involve consistent armed/violent confrontation of the State, its policies and its machineries and a palpable scorn for democracy. While it is completely healthy to have a largely dissenting political culture in campuses, it is equally abhorrent to maintain a narrow sense of enforced anti-State mentality. For instance, an insightful and strategic dialogue on India’s foreign policy would be unimaginable while esoteric ideas on why nationalism and nation are actually mere ‘social constructs’ rule the discourse. It is due to this propaganda and belief that ‘deconstructing’ and ‘overthrowing’ the State is being seen as a paramount part of the rhetoric surrounding student activism that democratic spirit in campuses always go for a toss.
Coming to the particular case at hand, ABVP’s rage regarding the event was that Umar Khalid – one among the bunch of JNU leaders who shot to fame after the “Azadi” episode wherein slogans like “Bharat tere tukde honge” were raised- was invited as a speaker.
Now, whether India as a democratic state should sustain freedom of speech to the extent that slogans that elicit balkanization of the state itself should be allowed in country’s well funded universities is a question best left to the reader’s moral standpoint. But then, India’s intellectual landscape has been traditionally lenient, and has allowed and facilitated the proliferation of highly diverse, often conflicting thoughts, as exemplified by the fame and support Umar Khalid enjoys in our country.
It is in this spirit of critical enquiry that we should see what student leaders like Umar Khalid, or for that matter, AISA’s Shehla Rashid stand for.
This excerpt is from one of Umar Khalid’s facebook posts: “I don’t care if I fall as long as someone else picks up my gun and keeps on shooting. These were the words of Che Guevara, but could have just been Burhan Wani’s too”. Burhan Wani was one of the main poster boys for separatist militant movement spearheaded by Hizbul Mujahideen in Kashmir Valley and was active in recruiting youngsters in the Valley through social media platforms for armed fight against the Indian Army. While many liberals held that Wani was a proponent for Azad Kashmir, nobody reported much on the fact that Wani’s body was wrapped in Pakistan national flag.
Going for a brief reality check: A section of Kashmiris think that they do not belong to Indian State, while another section thinks otherwise- as seen by the 2000+ Kashmiri youth who turned up despite threats from certain ‘liberation’ groups for Indian Army’s recruitment drive last year. Taking this ground reality into consideration, we must be clear that militancy by non-state actors of any form should be categorically rejected. I believe that it is relevant to make it a point that Burhan Wani was recruited for militancy at the age of 15. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to consider whether he was a victim of circumstances.
However, when educated ‘student leaders’ like Umar Khalid who incite people to pick up gun and keep shooting, presides over ‘Cultural Evenings’ with “Bharat ki barbadi” chants, and belonging to a radical outfit are invited for speaking on an event named Cultures of Protest, at least a modicum of hypernationalist ire can be expected, considering how ABVP’s events were censored in the past. Well, it is strangely co-incidental that the whole ruckus happened over an event named ‘Cultures of Protest’ !
Equally backfiring was AISA leader Shehla Rashid’s tweet that “huge stones” were hurled at her by the protestors. If only we could rewind to the days when pelting stones in the Valley was described as a valiant act of defiance supported by these pro-emancipation leaders of Central Universities. Regardless, as is the case with every burning issue in today’s India, the media was largely superfluous and filled with hype in its approach, playing to the cards of the elite academic intelligentsia. Otherwise, how do we explain The Hindu’s captioning of an ‘on-action’ photo of SFI Delhi State Committee President Prashant Mukherjee (who is not a student of DU) smashing a protestor, as an attack by ABVP ?
— Saket Bahuguna (@BahugunaSaket) February 23, 2017
Why was there no clarity to quell doubts regarding a fake propaganda that Section 144 was imposed? Why was everyone kept in the dark about Ramjas College cancelling the invitation to the speakers later on? Why were the protestors tagged as “ ABVP goons ” instead of Delhi University Students’ Union (DUSU), as this is how protests in JNU are reported? What was the opinion of Ramjas College Students’ Union?
ABVP ’s alleged undemocratic incursion into the event has received a mixed response from the community of online Right. Especially for those who think ABVP is following the path of the Left by overriding democratic spirit, I would like to stress that both the nationalist and leftist/communist movements, and for that matter, the way ‘democratization’ was introduced across India by the successive Governments at the Centre were not results of decent, polished people sitting around round tables and voicing their opinions but a mix of violent clashes and negotiations that overlap each other. This is not to be seen as a cynicism of democracy but more as an embrace of reality. Democracy can be exercised only when both the sides stick to the rules and play by those rules.
Sadly, the Communist take on democracy works on two levels: First, at the level of terming India’s democracy as a bourgeois democracy and justifying the Left’s poor electoral acceptance and its violent methods through this prism. Second is the post-2014 phenomenon where the narrative has changed such that India is suddenly a country which once boasted of a rich heritage of democracy that is being increasingly challenged by a “Fascist Sangh agenda” since May 2014.
Clearly, the second narrative can be seen in an embarrassing contrast with the first one. Therefore, while condemning ABVP ’s act, we must be aware of how Communists use their narrative on democracy like a double-edged sword and that confronting such forces require actions at multiple levels that often transcend political correctness. The Ramjas College episode and the way the Left’s hypocrisy is being unearthed today can be best put in the words of one Austrain economist Ludwig von Mises’ words: “The Marxian’s love for democracy was a stratagem only, a pious fraud for the deception of the masses. Within a socialist community, there is no room left for freedom.”