The University Grants Commission (UGC) has directed universities across India to observe September 29, 2018, as ‘Surgical Strike Day,’ celebrating the surgical strikes conducted by the Indian army across the India-Pakistan border. The UGC letter dated September 19, 2018, addressed to the vice-chancellors of universities guides students to pledge support to the armed forces by writing letters or designing cards in both physical and digital formats. Universities have also been provided with a clear directive of ‘what is to be done’ for observing the day.
The significance of a particular day by etching it in public memory is an important part of building ideological consensus. The Modi government has used this strategy impressively to leave its mark on the yearly calendar of India. Until now the Modi government has named five days, namely International Yoga Day (21st June), GST Day(1st July), National Integration Day (19th November), Good Governance Day (25th December), and Surgical Strike Day(29th September). The birth anniversary of Dr BR Ambedkar (14th April) was observed as ‘Digital India Day’. Out of the five days named by Modi government, three are based on their pet projects, one on their leader and former PM late Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and one on Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Celebrating ‘Surgical Strike Day’ is just another attempt by BJP to make its presence felt on the national calendar of India and an effort to mark its strong presence in public memory, using the armed forces as a tool.
When Indian security forces conducted surgical strikes across the border, two years ago, the event was published by Indian Media & Government and was presented as an ‘extraordinary event’ in the history of the nation. The whole military operation was employed by the BJP to further their politics of “hyper-nationalism.” During the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections in 2017, several hoardings and billboards came up in Uttar Pradesh based on ‘surgical strike’. Recently, the BJP government released several videos of the surgical strike. This is a step which has no precedent in Indian history as military operations are never disclosed. Using the armed forces and their sacrifices for political gains, and manipulating the emotions of Indian people has been an important component of BJPs’ political strategy. For example, the imagery of soldiers braving extreme cold and uninhabitable conditions at Siachen was heavily employed by BJP and their sympathisers during demonetization to justify or belittle the problems faced by common people at that time like the long queues and even people losing lives.
This diktat to observe a ‘Surgical Strike Day’ in around 900 universities and 38,000 colleges across the nation should not come as a surprise. Last year the vice-chancellor of JNU demanded the installation of an army tank in campus to ‘instil a love for the army’ amongst students! The education policy of Modi government which is ideologically motivated by saffronization and privatisation of education has caused a massive uproar in different universities and colleges across the nation. The budgetary allocation under the Modi government for higher education has constantly been decreasing, which has led to a massive hike in fees and seat cuts across universities. Since 2014 the idea and practice of academic freedom or free debate and discussion has faced constant attack from both the central government and ABVP (student organisation affiliated to RSS.) From banning Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle in IIT Madras to disruption of movie screening in Kirorimal College of Delhi University, BJP government and its family organisations have dealt with any form of critical inquiry with a high handed approach. Coupled with fee hikes, seat cuts and attack on academic freedom, the education policy of the BJP government has been against the idea of social justice and gender justice. On several occasions, they have attacked reservation policy and have a history of unchecked sexual harassment and gender discrimination in campuses. All these lead to unrests in premier universities and colleges like University of Hyderabad, FTII, JNU, DU, IIT Madras, BHU, Jadavpur University, Ramjas College etc.
The only method which Modi government has employed to counter and quell demonstrations and protests in different universities & colleges has been the use of repressive state machinery in combination with ideological warfare by projecting the protesting students as ‘troublemakers’ and branding them as ‘anti-national’. The government, instead of talking to the students and addressing their grievances and concerns, confronted them as ‘enemies’ by employing the binary of national/anti-national to build public perception against students of different universities. The observance of ‘Surgical Strike Day’ is a part of Modi governments’ approach towards dealing with campus unrests in particular and dissenting voices in general. They wish to silence the dissent resulting from their anti-student policies by contrasting it with the sacrifices and bravery of Indian Armed Forces- symbolic employment of Indian Armed forces in University and college campuses.
The politics behind observing September 29 as ‘Surgical Strike Day’ must be understood in the context of the unrest among student community owing to the policies of the Modi government and BJPs’ political strategy of claiming the sacrifices and heroics of Indian armed forces as their own in order to present themselves as the champions of nationalism. Also, the 2019 general elections are just around the corner. The larger aim of BJP is ‘creating a legacy of itself’ in the nation by naming days after their “achievements”.