One of the seminal moments of India’s political journey to waters that belong firmly to the right has been the societal and media explosion about the events which took place in the campus of JNU, the night of Feb 9th, 2016.
When I was woken up with news of this event, the first instinct I felt was the following: “Well, this was a train wreck waiting to happen. This was unavoidable; it was a matter of when, not if”.
I was born in New Delhi and having grown up in circles in the city, which might be loosely termed as the “Lutyen’s bubble”, I’ve been aware of the gap that exists between the idea of India which is felt by this group and by huge swaths of the hinterland in the Indian subcontinent.
JNU has always been a hub of left-leaning, socialist thinkers with a regular romance of violent outbursts of hard-leftist thought (defending Maoist attacks on Indian paramilitary forces), and more recently violent outbursts of Jihadist thought (sympathy for the attackers on the Indian parliament).
Of course, it goes without saying that a healthy dose of anti-Americanism (which passes for anti-imperialism in the childish minds of most unshaven leftists), always gives an institute the veneer of intellectual accomplishment and JNU possesses that gratuitous sense of self-styled intellectualism in dollops.
This has been the texture of life on the campus of JNU for decades now. Anybody who has been on the campus, or has read pieces of their research work or has interacted with the faculty or the students will conclude that the above description is an apt summation of the flavor of the place.
There has always been a permissive atmosphere on campus to any political thought or ideology which is happy to portray the Indian state as the big bad wolf creating havoc in South Asia.
Students at JNU who have been happy to wallow in these thoughts for decades have never really been forced to contemplate the real-world consequences of such simplistic feeble thinking, not just because their antics have largely been confined to the bubble worlds of academia and state-subsidized education, but mainly because it doesn’t commit them to anything. It’s an attitude they can flaunt without ever having to prove that they mean what they say.
They don’t have to make good on this fashionable attitude by actually giving up a comfortable state-subsidized student life in the heart of the nation’s capital and joining forces with the Maoists in the jungles of Chhattisgarh, for example.
Unfortunately for these people, we happen to live in times, where delirium and self-indulgent fantasies of this kind do have real-world consequences. If you actually think that the Indian state is a bad idea, you might find a sneaking sympathy for others who feel the same way but for different reasons.
Enter the Jihadists who also loathe the Indian state because for them it represents the strongest edifice of anything that prevents the Islamization of the Indian subcontinent.
I open the door to the Jihadist – leftist alliance of purpose.
Hindu nationalism, which became main-stream in Indian politics in the late eighties and has been steadily gaining strength since then, has based its vision for India on opposing precisely these two political instincts.
And this political movement has delivered to India the most right wing Hindutva government that it has seen and a genuine Hindutva hero as its prime minister.
Therefore, under these changed circumstances, an indefinite continuation of “business as usual” politics in JNU was just untenable. Something had to give. Which is why I reacted with a sense of inevitability about this clash.
Like a gigantic boulder which had been sitting comfortably in its place for decades, JNU had become complacent about its place under the sun and had taken for granted that its way of thinking will never be challenged.
Facilitated by a combination of the rise of the ABVP on campus (the BJP’s student wing) and some media channels who don’t share the liberal consensus, this giant rock was pushed over and the reality of JNU was exposed to all of India in a messy, yet purposeful way.
There are many in Delhi, who might be wondering what the fuss is all about. Why was it necessary for the internal happenings in JNU to be broadcast to every nook and corner of India through TV?
There are two reasons for this.
Firstly, the young generation of today's India is much more right-wing than the youth of India of the 60s and 70s. I put the case that a politician of Narendra Modi’s profile would never have been able to become Prime Minister of India in the sixties. The current generation of Indians, is more comfortable with a kind of right-wing neo-nationalism and doesn’t feel shy of wearing that emotion in public. They display all the instincts one would associate with the political right such as the desire for an aggressive foreign policy, a willingness to use military means to achieve national security objectives, support for tough measures against terrorism, an embrace of free market economic principles and perhaps most strikingly no desire to romance poverty.
A large part of this youth bulge lives in India’s hinterland, outside Delhi. And for them JNU has traditionally possessed the symbolism of being a premier institution, into which, if they could achieve admission, would indicate a sign that they have arrived into the big league, reflecting the kind of aspiration that many people in India feel towards the IITs , IIMs, etc.
And for this demographic to be exposed to the reality of life on the campus of JNU was a much needed media expose. Imagine how they would feel if the sloganeering done on the campus of JNU was recorded in the campus of the National Defence Academy or at the site of the Kargil War Memorial.
JNU is in the dock today. It has to answer to the court of public opinion. Every single question being raised today about its competence as an institute, its right to receive millions of Rupees in public money, its loyalty to India, its contribution to India’s public space, etc. is a legitimate one and cannot simply be shrugged away.
Also, the JNU administration cannot hide behind the fig leaf of this being the case of a few bad apples. Anyone familiar with the history and student culture of JNU would know that their campus has always had the reputation of being a place of succor and sustenance for those who hate the Indian state and those who hope to destabilize it someday in the future.
Such a place rightly deserves to be in the spotlight of public opinion and to be observed on a daily basis by the citizens who pay to maintain it along with the national security apparatus of India, (which rightly suspects it of being a haven for Jihadists and anti-national sympathizers).
But to my mind, the second reason necessitating this exposure is more compelling.
JNU happens to be the ideological fountainhead of liberal thought in the intelligentsia of India. It's influence reaches far and wide into the civil and foreign services and into the mainstream media. It is therefore not surprising, that you find most TV anchors and commentators within the liberal media rushing to the defence of JNU and trying to eulogize the students who have been detained.
You might even smell the bad odour of a blasphemous insinuation by these people that a defamation of JNU might be more regrettable than a defamation of India!
This is a revelation of their ideological links to JNU’s preferred narrative of India.
And therefore this expose is not just of JNU, but of the entire liberal establishment of India. They are being forced to answer questions on national security and nationalism. This is the same establishment which launched a philosophical war on a Chief Minister of Gujarat fourteen years ago.
And the arguments they are now making for their own case are illuminating. Not just because they expose blind spots in their thinking, but also because they reveal mediocrity and in some cases, just plain dishonesty and stupidity.
And what are those arguments?
Let’s go over them one by one.
Argument 1: “This is a case of mob opinion convicting someone or some place, when no legal authority has found them guilty yet; a pure case of public defamation by irresponsible media channels”.
Well, that didn’t seem to matter to the same group of liberals (both in politics and in the media), when in 2002, using the same unprofessional media tactics, they happily defamed Narendra Modi, after the Gujarat riots. Every single left-leaning TV channel which is harping today on the lack of professionalism in the visual media used those very tactics to defame the current PM of India when no judicial verdict had found him complicit, let alone guilty. At that time, mob opinion and public imagination were enough for them to declare someone as condemned.
The fact that most of these media professionals don’t even see this glaring double standard when they bleat and complain about the media pandering to mob opinion in this case, reveals the most fantastic levels of mediocrity and stupidity prevailing in their profession.
Argument 2: “This is a case of the freedom of speech, which should be allowed on campus. Campuses are natural spaces for student subversive behaviour and rebellion and therefore should be protected”
Well, there are two problems with this argument.
Firstly, the principle of free speech being so disingenuously posited here is a pure red herring. JNU’s commitment to free speech and willingness to debate all ideas, irrespective of their likability can be judged by the fact that, none of the students who participated in this midnight jaunt would ever accept the proposal of a seminar by Baba Ramdev. How many conventions have been held in JNU where RSS chiefs or VHP leaders have been invited to preach their vision for India in an open intellectual battle-space?
Whether you agree with the views of Hindutva right wingers or not, the fact that they are universally unwelcome in JNU blows a gaping hole in their free speech argument.
And secondly, it has been the case for some time now in universities across the world today that free speech is brushing up against the very limits of the boundary which can be considered a threat to national security.
Not only are most terrorists coming from college educated backgrounds but colleges themselves are recognized today as radicalization centers in this global conflict. The 9/11 terrorists were all college educated, to a man. They perfectly fit the profile of university educated middle class men. Such examples are abundantly available today.
It has become common knowledge in intelligence communities across the globe that universities are active recruiting grounds for terrorists because of the free speech laws which exist on campus, and an ongoing struggle is ensuing between the needs of national security and the right to free expression on campuses.
As a result, universities are directly in the bulls-eye of the radar of intelligence agencies fighting the global war on Jihadi terror.
British intelligence has tracked several cases of terror suspects in University College, London, King’s College, London and the London School of Economics. Professor Anthony Glees at the University of Buckingham has written an entire paper on this phenomenon, titled “When Students Turn to Terror”. The British think-tank, "The Henry Jackson Society", has been studying an innumerable number of cases where university free speech laws have been regularly abused by terrorist sympathizers and hate preachers for the purposes of inciting violence, creating terror networks and even recruiting activists. Several such terror suspects have been prosecuted in British courts and the conviction figures reveal a disproportionate number of them having been radicalized on campuses. Similar trends have been found in universities across Germany, France, Holland and several other countries in the West.
Among the emergency measures adopted in France after the Paris attacks, are steps to monitor French universities to keep track of student activity which might be considered within the ambit of “aiding and abetting terrorists”. Advisories have been given to French universities to be alert to the possibility of such groups forming within campuses. Similar laws are being proposed for Belgium and Holland.
India is a gigantic target for Jihadi terrorists. It has been facing a proxy war by Jihadists for the last 30 years. There have already been terror attacks in India, which have been linked to Indian universities in the past. S.A.R Gilani was a lecturer at Delhi University, when he was linked to the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament.
In this context, JNU has been comprehensively revealed as a place which constitutes a massive potential national security threat to the whole of India.
This is something that no government which takes national security seriously, (as this one does), can afford to ignore. It will take only one catastrophic terrorist event which traces its link back to JNU to trigger an avalanche of public opinion to close down the place. The faculty at JNU should be aware of the possibility of this eventuality.
Argument 3: “These people are just students. Students are students and they should be allowed to express themselves, because after all they are just kids”
This might be the dumbest of them all. I urge anyone entertaining this thought to think back to every major terrorist attack in recent history. Almost all of them have been carried out by people who fall in the age group of students (school or college), and some of them are actually students.
The vast majority of terrorist attacks across the world are carried out by young men, sometimes accompanied by young women. You won’t be able to find too many terrorist incidents where the perpetrators of the crime happen to be retired geriatric people.
Anybody making this argument is simply oblivious to the world around them. And urgently needs waking up.
Finally, in conclusion, the reason I support the messy law enforcement attempts at tackling this incident by the Delhi police, is because unlike most legitimate debates, there really are not two equally compelling sides to this argument.
On the one hand, you have the argument for freedom of speech and the right to oppose the government in power.
And ostensibly, on the other, you have the need for the government to protect its citizens and to discourage public spaces from becoming dens of anti-national activity.
But on closer inspection, the freedoms of speech, expression and dissent never really violate the needs of national security.
After all, the entire body of criticism that has been directed towards the current government in power hardly began with the activities of JNU and none of those people are in jail for opposing this government.
Where the students at JNU crossed the line was to express a desire to bring down the Indian state. And to attract elements into its campus which were only too happy to sing along with them on that hymn sheet. The students who organized that event were of the hard-left persuasion and apparently, the people who took advantage of that event to get their message across were motivated by their desire to break Kashmir from India. That is a text-book case of an alliance making between the hard-left and the Jihadists.
The phenomenon of the hard-left working in tandem with the Islamist Jihadis is a global phenomenon and India is no exception to that trend. This alliance is more potent in India because India faces both a leftist and a Jihadi armed insurgency in different parts of its territory.
This constitutes a clear and present danger to the Indian state and mandates a response from state authorities.
But the real reason why I’m with the state authorities in this debate is because one side is wallowing in fantasy and the other side has to deal with reality.
I’d have a little more respect for the JNU students if their conviction that India deserves to break up actually led them to make good on their belief and leave the country they claim to despise. To sit around in coffee shops (for which tax payers pay, by the way) and dream up ways to bring down the Indian state is a pathetic but harmless joke only up to the point where someone who really does want to bring about that end, doesn't latch on to this group of “useful idiots”. That’s when the jamboree stops being funny and becomes dangerous. The fact that the students in question don’t seem to realize that that line exists and don’t seem to indicate any concern about violating it, even if they could see it, is why I’m describing them as fools weltering in a dangerous fantasy.
But on the other side, the Indian state is forced to engage with reality. They know that this kind of incident will be gleefully lapped up by the real enemies of India and would provide immeasurable support to their cause of actually breaking India. Consequently, they can’t afford to take incidents like this lightly. They’ll know, for example, that going forward, the eyes of every terrorist group in the world would have lit up, knowing that there are elements inside this campus who might be willing to wittingly (or unwittingly) help them accomplish their aims. As a result, India's security forces will have to deal with the lethal real world consequences of this imbecilic behaviour.
I’m a fan of reality.
And that is why I’m with the Indian state on this one.