On September 29, Umar Khalid delivered the Bhagat Singh Memorial Talk hosted by the Azad Mann Students’ Club at TISS Hyderabad, on the topic “Where does ‘India at 70’ stand in Bhagat Singh’s vision? The need for dissent and student activism”.
This topic was chosen by Azad Mann as it appears to be extremely relevant to the present scenario in various universities of this country, be it the situation in JNU with regards to the GSCASH issue, or be the protests by students of BHU, or the countless other stories of dissent arising from various other educational institutes across this country.
The talk was held to mark the 110th birth anniversary of Shaheed Comrade Bhagat Singh on September 28, and the talk and discussions that followed have certainly done justice to his words – “Bombs and pistols do not make a revolution. The sword of revolution is sharpened on the whetting-stone of ideas.” While all this is well and good, the question of why I write this article must be addressed.
Of course, as a member of Azad Mann, it may be said that I have the motive of popularising the club. This I shall not out-rightly deny. However, the main idea that I want to put forth is the experience of listening to and interacting with someone who has been branded and vilified as an anti-national.
Umar first dealt with the various student struggles that are ongoing in the country, including that of his personal experiences in JNU. He linked these with the youth activism that was espoused by Bhagat Singh. Further, he went into the details of how the communal agenda of the RSS is directly linked to their Brahmanical character and how the corporate interests, both Indian and global are using these to push their neo-liberal agenda. It was an incisive analysis of how these various characteristics of the present ruling dispensation go hand in hand together.
He also made clear how it is not enough to deal with the RSS/BJP on a merely electoral/political level but how the battle has to be on the ideological plane, to break their supposed “Hindu unity” which is used to organise against Muslims and non-Hindus for elections, and is immediately abandoned post elections when they reveal their casteist character in the various attacks on Dalits.
A very evocative statement that Umar made was when he said that even though as a communist he was an atheist, the past one and half years since the incidents in February 2016 at JNU have made him feel “most Muslim”. This clearly showed how, above all else, he was targeted to the extent that he was because of his identity as a Muslim.
In the discussions that followed, students raised questions that ranged from questions on identity politics, how to carry out political-activist work in the present dangerous environment, on the ideas of Bhagat Singh and Dr Ambedkar, and to where Umar might find himself a decade from now.
Umar responded with nuanced and thought-provoking answers. One of the most important ones was, put in simple terms, combine and work with a dialogue between Dr Ambedkar’s ideas, particularly on the annihilation of caste, and Bhagat Singh’s revolutionary thought – which the Bhagat Singh Ambedkar Students Organisation is attempting to do and is encapsulated in the now popular slogan – Jai bhim, lal salam. It was evident that Umar has a very high level of clarity of thought.
From all this, the experience of listening to an ‘anti-national’, one key thing that I learned was that if Umar Khalid was an ‘anti-national’ for his ideas and activism, then the term ‘anti-national’ should be defined as – “One who is not afraid to dissent and stand with the peoples of this country against the various injustices that they face.” As a member of Azad Mann Students’ Club, TISS Hyderabad, I repeat here what Azad Mann has said before – that it stands with Umar and all those who dissent like him.