By Toba Tek Singh:
Here is how Bharatiya Janata Party and Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad created the Jawaharlal Nehru University controversy, as part of a calculated and sinister political strategy.
To many of us, the events happening in what is now being called the JNU row seem to be scenes from a black comedy, but sadly, they are all too true – in fact, they are a drama that has been orchestrated by the BJP to win votes.
Since the past year, the BJP government has lost face time and time again. The infamous 10 lakh suit with Modi’s name all over it, the government’s image as being anti-poor and anti-farmer due to the land bill, the humiliating defeat in Bihar in October 2015, the Vyapam scam, the allegations that Sushma Swaraj helped Lalit Modi, the Dadri lynching and the intolerance debate that followed, and the suicide of Rohith Vemula have all been major setbacks to the current government.
With the upcoming elections in West Bengal, Assam, Kerala and Puducherry, and the student movement gaining momentum with Rohith Vemula as a rallying point, they needed a new issue which would portray them in a favourable light, and they needed it fast. And they found it. Or shall we say, manufactured it.
Students of JNU were organising an event on February 9, 2016. The event organisers had pasted posters across the campus inviting students to gather for a protest march against the “judicial killing of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhat” and in solidarity with the “struggle” of Kashmiri migrants to be showcased through poetry, art and music. The ABVP protested against the posters, and pressurised the administration to cancel the event. There is nothing new about this. ABVP has been raising protests against many such events, such as disrupting the screening of Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai in Delhi University and other colleges all over the country.
On February 10, Zee News ran a report that ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ slogans were shouted in JNU by the organisers of the event, and that night, they held a panel discussion on this issue. They repeatedly showed a video where some unidentified people are shouting, and heatedly alleged that this shouting was “Pakistan Zindabad” and the students were the organisers of the event.
The BJP now had exactly the (manufactured) ammunition they needed to launch a nationwide campaign against ‘anti-nationals’ in Indian universities. Thus, BJP vs. students/Dalit students changed to Nationalists vs. anti-Nationalists (which now includes leftists, Dalits, minorities, ‘sickulars’ etc.).
The most amazing fact which is now emerging is that there is no proof that anti-national slogans such as “Pakistan Zindabad” and “Kashmir ki azai tak bharat ki barbadi tak, jang rahegi jaari” were shouted at all! Zee News producer Vishwa Deepak has quit over the “biased coverage” by his organisation, and in a moving resignation letter writes that the slogans were not “Pakistan Zindabad” but “Bharatiya Court Zindabad,” which were played “again and again to stoke passions.” In reality, some of the people in the video have been identified as ABVP activists and were actually shouting “Bhartiya Court Zindabad.” This is especially significant because this is the video the Delhi police used to register a suo motu FIR against the students, as reported by the Indian Express.
Another video which showed Kanhaiya Kumar shouting anti-national slogans has also been exposed to be doctored. In the original video, Kanhaiya was asking for freedom from casteism, poverty and communalism but the audio was tampered with to make it seem as if he was asking for freedom from India. A third video which shows a crowd of students and the slogans of “Bharat tere tukde honge, inshallah inshallah” can also clearly be seen to be doctored with a different audio track. In the video, you can see that there is one person talking while others are standing that person, but the audio has some clear sloganeering. The only controversial slogans we could find in the available videos (which we believe are authentic) are the usual ones by Kashmiri students such as “Azaadi” and “Jitne Afzal maroge, har ghar se Afzal niklenge.”
Since then, there has been a concentrated effort to keep the ‘anti-national’ angle in the limelight, and in people’s minds. Top BJP leaders including home minister Rajnath Singh (who alleged that Hafiz Saeed supported the JNU protests, based on a parody account on Twitter), Smriti Irani, and other party spokespersons have been making statements every day on the need to root out anti-national elements from the country.
In the case of Umar Khalid, some news channels ran different reports every day: that an IB report showed that he was a Jaish-e-Mohammad sympathiser (a terror group in Kashmir); that he had visited Pakistan twice; that he was planning this in many other universities; and that he had made 800 calls in the past month to various places including Kashmir. All this, without any proof whatsoever. A top official told the Hindu that there was no such IB report, and Umar does not even have a passport.
The question we need to ask is, where was the media getting this information from? If they were making it up themselves, why were they doing so? In any case, they must be held accountable for running unverified information and inciting hatred and violence against students. If they were getting the information from somewhere, whose sinister design is this?
An article in the Hindu, from which I’m going to quote extensively, shows that the BJP wants to make this a huge national issue.
The BJP continued to keep the pitch high on the JNU controversy and announced that it would “expose” anti-national forces through protests on the streets and discussion in Parliament.
“We will raise the issue of nationalism in protests on the streets and we want a discussion on it in Parliament as well,” [BJP national secretary Shrikant Sharma] added.
In fact, according to government managers, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at an all-party meeting called by him on Tuesday, said that he too desired that “all views on nationalism, patriotism and what constitutes maryada (normative limits)” be discussed in Parliament.
The government, sources said, is keen to elaborate on the nature of the slogans that had been raised inside the JNU campus.
“The discussion will not be specifically on JNU, but on higher education and campuses, and speakers will refer to the Rohith Vemula suicide at the University of Hyderabad,” said a source in the government.
This is a very old strategy of the BJP to win elections: polarise the people in an effort to win support in upcoming elections, such as those in West Bengal, Assam and Kerala. The BJP is working hard to put Rahul Gandhi, the Congress, and the Left into the ‘anti-national’ category, against which it will paint its own identity as the ‘protector of Bharat Mata’. All this is very clear from the various statements the party leaders and supporters are making every day.
The strategy seems to be working at least in the short-term, because the word on the street is that action against people who raise ‘anti-national’ slogans is well-deserved, even if it includes lawyers attacking journalists and students from JNU. (The BJP MLA O P Sharma and these lawyers claimed that the people they attacked had been shouting anti-Indian slogans, again without any proof whatsoever.) The people I talked to are not clear on what exactly happened, but they have seen the (fake) video of Kanhaiya and Umar Khalid raising anti-national slogans on their phones and TVs.
No one who has participated in discussions on the JNU issue can deny that the people are clearly divided. There is hate and anger on both sides, and the discourse is horrible. Indian society has not evolved so much that it can support freedom of speech when it is against the nation. The idea of ‘Bharat Mata’ continues to capture the imagination of the people of India.
What the BJP leaders are not giving due importance to is the politicisation of the progressive students their suppression is resulting in. For most people of my generation, the Congress in the government is all we’ve known, and the RSS has been a benign threat. The Sangh Parivar’s vitriolic campaign was focused mainly in the rural and semi-urban areas, and it is only now that they have reached Delhi. Thus, P. Sainath says in his lecture in JNU, “By the way, that process (you are fighting against) has been around in the countryside of India for two decades. It has now reached the elite campuses of India – that process is the criminalisation of dissent….Welcome to the rest of India!”
All the ‘liberals’ who were ready to embrace the BJP in 2014, unaware or ignoring its dangerous ideology because they thought it would lead to ‘development’ are now seeing just how oppressive and dangerous a right-wing, sectarian party can be. And with the idealism of youth, we are now finding a reason to be politically conscious and politically active citizens.
At such a time, all of us who can see the BJP’s tactic to communalise and polarise the atmosphere by pitting so-called ‘nationalists’ against the ‘anti-nationalists’, need to step up and respond to this hate-mongering with love and understanding. I honestly believe that everyone has a rational side to them. So, instead of fighting, we must try to engage people in debate, and show them the reality of the BJP’s campaign. Against their efforts to spread lies, we have to make a greater effort to spread the truth. We need to stand together in this time of lies and rumour-mongering, and show the BJP that powered with critical thinking and the internet, they can neither succeed in terrorising the students into conformity nor in making us hate each other.