By Chepal Sherpa:
While the news rooms of corporate media houses are busy “debating” whether Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) forms the “den for anti-nationals” – as the mouthpiece of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) “Panchjanya” claims – student protesters from different universities across the country continue the #OccupyUGC movement, which has been on for almost a month. The same media which gets flabbergasted at RSS ‘s branding of JNU as ‘anti-national’ turns indifferent to the brutal lathicharge on these very students by the police. The government continues to be indifferent to the genuine demands raised by the students who have put up outside the UGC office braving the cold winter nights, protesting against the attempt at selling higher education to corporate giants by the state. Not only #OccupyUGC; the ongoing ‘Pinjra Tod’ movement against the patriarchal control of women students in hostels and PGs in Delhi; FTII students’ protest in Pune for more than a hundred and fifty days against the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as the head; the workers’ protest in Gurgaon and adjoining areas against the inhuman conditions in the factories and dilution of labour laws by the government; protests by writers, poets, historians, academicians against the “growing intolerance” in the society have all been taking place simultaneously, in recent times.
These movements appear to have put the the current BJP-led NDA government at the centre in a quandary. This is what makes the RSS attack on JNU’s students interesting. The RSS, which provides intellectual and organizational clout to the BJP has always considered JNU to be the fountainhead of leftist thought in the country; in its reasoning, the leftists are akin to fifth-columnists and are instigating all the protests against its protégé BJP.
It is not for the first time that JNU is being targeted and falsely branded as being “anti-national” and accused of “promoting Naxals”. We have seen the recent statement of BJP leader Subramanian Swamy in which he demanded that there should be “an Anti Narcotics Bureau office” and “BSF camp” inside JNU campus. Similarly, on 2nd June 2014, the right-leaning newspaper The Pioneer in one of its articles – “Too Serious To Be Brushed Aside” – authored by KG Suresh, made a similarly vicious attack on JNU, through its portrayal of the students’ organizations and political culture of resistance in JNU as being “separatist and anti-nationalist”. These are not exceptions, wherein certain dominant groups and governmental agents have launched a frontal attack on JNU; these attempts to tarnish JNU as a campus full of “seditious elements” remain the norm, as far as the powers-that-be are concerned.
What is the explanation to this? Why is JNU a thorn in the flesh of ruling classes and the Indian State?
It is also not out of some whim that the ruling classes and their ideologues cannot stand institutions like JNU. The logic of ‘Modinomics’ or the neo-liberal ‘development model’ including new initiatives like “Make in India” and “Digital India”, demands an absolutely smooth and hurdle-free social order so that there is no inconvenience in the proper functioning of the capitalist loot. In a third world country like India which forms a fertile ground for capitalist ventures, JNU becomes a hurdle for the ruling classes in implementing its “development” agenda which is nothing but development by dispossession. For JNU in the recent decades has become predominantly vocal against the policies and strategies of the Indian state, particularly the “neoliberal development model” initiated in the days of the Rajiv Gandhi government in (early-1980s) and formally adopted in the year 1991.
The country has witnessed massive privatization of education and higher education in particular since the last two decades, consequently making higher education expensive and unaffordable for the lower classes. JNU has remained untouched and has been able to maintain a lower living cost and relatively affordable fee structure of Rs. 256 per year when all other colleges and universities have sky-rocketing fee structures in the country. More importantly, in JNU, a democratic and liberal atmosphere has remained intact, where one can freely discuss and critique the state’s policies.
The space which has been carved out in JNU is the result of the long-standing tradition of organized left students’ movement. In short, left students’ politics has been able to resist the policies of privatization and state’s homogenizing power, and the campus has remained critical and politicized against the oppressive policies and moves of the state (for example, the recent proposal to make “Yoga Sciences” and “Vedic Culture” compulsory was put down by the Academic Council following pressure from the Students Union). Therefore, JNU has remained the target of the state and right-wing organizations.
Basically, JNU becomes a target for two things, firstly, for what it is, as an example of an alternative progressive model of university funded by the state where the students have the right to have a say over the kind of academic curriculum that can be pursued, with general democratic students’ rights, and secondly, as the source of political resistance to the policies of the state mainly serving the corporate interest and capitalists in general – through the form of an organized students’ movement. For you will find the JNU students’ union and other left-wing students’ political organizations in the streets of Delhi and other parts of the country opposing the state’s anti-people policies and maintaining a solidarity with the peoples’ movements all over the country against capitalist private appropriation of natural resources, livelihood, and for an equal and just society.
State power sets up the theatre for the unfolding of this game of capitalist appropriation in the form of ‘Liberalization-Privatization-Globalization’ (LPG) political-economic program, of which India is a constituent part. This is what Lenin refers to as the ‘Imperialist chain’. This entails the state power garnering from the people an absolute adherence to these polices and brutal suppression of any form of resistance which challenges this dominant logic of the state. The L-P-G program referred to as ‘globalization’ in dominant bourgeois theory can be understood as an imperialist globalization which basically hits the oppressed classes and sections of the society – women, minorities, students, working-class, farmers, oppressed nationalities etc. Moreover, the state in India has been a forceful structure implementing these policies. It needs a powerful figure like Modi and BJP to steam-roll the capitalist venture over the whole of society. But how is this realized and what are the modalities and mechanisms through which this form of rule is maintained?
In the last decade and half, governments at the centre have been run in the form of coalitions– United Progressive Alliance (UPA), led by the Congress party, and National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by BJP which came to power in 2014.
In the incumbent government, Modi (and the important office holders from BJP) remain silent, and he maintains his image as the angel of ‘good-governance’ and ‘development’ intact, not making any kind of threatening remarks or call for action against dissenting voices and intellectual quarters of the society.
Dirty work like engaging in militant confrontation and branding of intellectuals and oppositional forces on the other hand, is left and restricted to the ‘hardcore’ Sangh factions like RSS and other organizations affiliated to it who maintain official distance from the BJP, and the party ideologues like Subramaniam Swamy known for their “hard take” on “separatists”, “anti-nationals”, “jehadis”, etc. The logic underneath being that any opposing factions or forces in the society have to be bulldozed and thereby contained. The extension of the same logic is to keep the Modi led agenda of ‘development’ unhindered. The UPA government adopted a different approach in handling what they perceived as threats to the development process and legality of the state. P. Chidambaram, the then Union Home Minister was antagonistic and confrontationist, securing for himself dual and binary functions; as a calm, logical and shrewd official spokesperson of the government’s “security apparatus” taking care of the ‘law and order’ situation, for furthering its developmental agenda. On the other hand his hard takes and real threats to “intellectuals” and “dissenting voices” protesting against the policies of the state amounted to branding and intimidation.
In UPA rule, we could find in Chidambaram a mixture of both fox and the lion integral to the logic of ‘development’. In contrast, the Modi led NDA has a slight reconfiguration of the arrangement wherein we find segments of the ruling bloc functioning relatively autonomous of each other. The inner logic of this form of autonomy of different segments of state power has to do with ensuring the efficient and smooth realization of the dominant logic of the state’s ‘developmental’ agenda.
At the helm of RSS’s attack, we might have to re-establish this fact that JNU has been the space for diverse and multiple ideas contrasting with each other. Let’s not make it a ‘meritocratic’ game proving the ‘merit’ of JNU “which has produced” leaders and bureaucrats and loyalists of the Indian state. What JNU needs today, most importantly and primarily, is to keep its fight against the very logic of ‘merit’ which has kept it so; which means not to liquidate the essence of this struggle by arguing JNU as “meritorious” and loyal to the state. The point is not to prove how “nationalist” and “secular” one is compared to RSS. Rather, the point is to claim and defend the right even to not agree with the very logic of dominant principle, be it the very doctrine of “nationalism” as an ideology or anything.
The attack is directed against the left students’ movement; hence, the retaliation can only be through the assertion of the essence of the politics of the students’ movement, not through the language of the institutional complex of JNU.