There were massive hoardings at each corner of the campus. The topic ‘Urban Naxalism’ (Naxalism in red ink) seemed quite different from the mainstream seminars that usually happen in Delhi University. I looked at the speakers in the hope that the panel would have diverse ideological representation so as to encourage healthy debates, and to my surprise, all of them belonged to the “right-wing”. I heard students around me discussing whether or not to attend this seminar and most of them wanted to, irrespective of their political positions, only out of sheer curiosity.
What seemed odd was the advertisement for the seminar: It was publicised as if it were a movie. I have never seen such a large-scale advertisement of an academic seminar. Also note the fact that the seminar was organised by an independent body, namely ‘Group of Intellectuals and Academicians’ (GIA), in association with Hansraj College. Though I had disagreements with the whole concept of ‘Urban Naxalism’, I went ahead along with a few friends to hear their arguments. The auditorium was fully packed, around 400 people, and a lot of students and media persons were present.
Many students had come from the south campus and off-campus colleges, which made me realize that all that advertisement was not just restricted to the north campus. The event had a clichéd start with lighting the lamp for ‘Bharat Mata’. Interestingly, in terms of iconography, the ‘Bharat Mata’ in the painting was holding a saffron flag and was strongly resembling a Hindu goddess. I ignored it as the seminar began. Popular ‘right-wing’ activists, Abhijit Majumdar, Monika Arora, Sunil Ambekar, Vivek Agnihotri, and A.K Baghi, spoke at the seminar. The speakers shared a lot of commonalities. They all vehemently opposed and discarded secularism, as they thought it was a foreign concept. They compared communist leaders such as Lenin, Stalin, Mao, etc., to Hitler and concluded that they were all the same.
They said Indian Women have always been empowered and Feminism, being a Eurocentric theory, should be rejected. A.K. Baghi, particularly, was disappointed with the Indian Education System and held it responsible for producing ‘urban naxals’. Monika Arora went on to brand all the left activists in metropolitan cities as urban naxals and said that they provided monetary and intellectual help to naxals in the forests. She kept saying that tribals hated naxals and rather sought paramilitary support. According to her, all the liberal and left-leaning professors ‘trained’ their students to constantly question the system, and status quo and this was problematic because she thought this would cause instability, chaos, and violence.
She also spoke about mob lynching and said that people would obviously object to anyone who carried a cow, and argued that those who did not speak about Sikh riots cannot complain about mob-violence in the name of the cow. Later, Sunil Ambekar, National Organising Secretary of ABVP, made a remark about the incident in HCU. He said, “Why did members of ‘Ambedkar Students Association’ talk about Afzal Guru? …The boy’s mother has taken money from Naxals and it is a fact.” (The boy he is referring to here is Rohit Vemula). He urged the youth to reclaim university spaces from the clutches of the left and said, that a student attracted towards the left should be given chances to come back to the right.
Vivek Agnihotri, the chief speaker, narrated how violent Taimur (the emperor) was and added: “It is very unfortunate that an Indian superstar has named his son Taimur.” All the panellists were expressing more or less the same views and there wasn’t any cross-questioning allowed, as long as I was present there. A lot of ABVP activists could be seen at the seminar and I personally, was scared to pass any comment or voice any opinion at that moment because they could turn violent anytime. The speakers were spewing venom in the name of right to speech. Outright lies were peddled and they, rather than arguing logically, relied on emotional appeal. I was shocked when a speaker commented that Rohith Vemula’s mother was funded by naxals. How inhuman was it to make such bizarre remarks about a mother who had lost her son to barbaric, Brahmanical, and systemic oppression!
They were so regressive that they denied the importance of Feminism right away and suggested ‘Familism’ (god knows what that is) as a better alternative. Basically, they did not want independent women because that would be a potential threat to the patriarchal family we have in India right now. Vivek Agnihotri was so naïve that he thought that caste is not a problem anymore because very few people follow it. It was ironically said at a seminar where the panel was vulgarly dominated by upper-caste men and consisted of a single (upper-caste) woman.
All voices of dissent were conveniently grouped under the name of ‘Urban Naxalism’. Also, do remember that this seminar was organised right before DUSU elections and its clear motive was to antagonize all the left and liberal voices on the campus. This event can be aptly connected to the rapid decrease in free spaces in the universities. One can see the trend. Initially, those of us who opposed the ideology of right were misguided young people, then we became anti-nationals, and now we are urban naxals. Since when did questioning the government become intellectual terrorism? By what logic can one justify that raising voice against communalisation of secular fabric, oppression of women, dalits, tribals, and other marginalised sections of the society, and heinous mob-lynchings is equivalent to naxalism?
Any question thrown at the government reverts with a counter-question. Whataboutery has become the mother tongue of all the right-leaning people. They escape questions classically by not taking any. The seminar reflected the same nature. Monika Arora, for example, talked more about the lynchings that had happened in the past and literally nothing condemning the ones that are happening right now. Even worse, she denied the existence of any violence by gau-rakshaks and said: “If a group of people stop by and question the slaughterers, it is not cow terrorism.” Apparently, she was ridiculously ignorant of the kind of terror that gau-rakshaks have unleashed.
The picture that the speakers wanted to paint is crystal clear now. Their only aim is to crush the opposition and villanise differing views to an extent that an average Indian discards them, even before listening to them just on the grounds that the arguments criticize status quo. They want the young minds to be intolerant and rigid to new ideas and not accept anything which does not fit the ‘right’ discourse. It is, without any doubt, an authoritarian agenda. Universities are being targeted to spread hatred because these are the places where ideological debates and discussions happen. They want to kill the cultures of protest and voices of dissent but are they aware that ideas are bulletproof?