The sloganeering calling for India's destruction at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus on 9 February and the subsequent arrests of students on sedition charges has snowballed into a massive ideological debate.
Amidst the furore, two kinds of narrative seem to be gaining ground. The first suggests that the tapes showing students raising anti-national slogans are doctored and the student leaders accused of leading the protest are not guilty. This, of course, is something for the investigative agencies to determine. The other perspective is that even if the students in question did rally in support of Afzal Guru (convicted and found guilty of masterminding the Parliament attack in 2001), the Indian democracy should accommodate their voices in the arena of public discussion. This narrative worries me. It worries me because the extreme left is trying to justify, and even appreciate, seditious ideas in the name of democracy, human rights and free expression.
The extreme left is trying to justify, and even appreciate, seditious ideas in the name of democracy, human rights and free expression.
I agree that universities are meant to be free spaces for liberal public discourse. That's what's needed in a democracy to create a progressive society. Thus, JNU is fully entitled to organize debates on the issues confronted by the nation. It's also true that institutions of higher studies (especially of the humanities and literature) across the globe tend to tilt to the political left. JNU is no exception to that.
However, what about the quality of the discourse? Due to my academic background in literature and humanities, I, during my university days, used to visit JNU quite frequently. Even then, I was far from impressed at the standard of debate or the topics they focused on for their protests and demonstrations. Quite often, the 'wrongs' they'd rail against had no real proximity to the problems of Indian society.
This impression was solidified when I was exposed to the standard of public discourse at other renowned universities in Western Europe. For example, the students of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) or Oxford University may discuss the possible abolition of monarchy in Britain; the young French intellectuals at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences-Po) might play with the idea of the inception of next republic (where Parliament gets more power than sovereign president) or even bringing a new legislation to tax the super rich as suggested by Thomas Piketty. But in India, JNU thought leaders choose to shout slogans for the 'liberation' of Kashmir from the Indian union.
Can the so-called enlightened left thinkers imagine the repercussions of a political equation in which India will neighbour a Sharia-ruled Independent Kashmir?
But do the students of the Left-backed All India Students' Association (AISA) ever voice their concern about the atrocities committed against people in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir? Can they even foresee what will happen to the entire Indian subcontinent if Kashmir gets independence? It is likely that Azad Kashmir will opt for a Sharia-ruled state. Can the so-called enlightened left thinkers imagine the repercussions of a political equation in which India will neighbour a Sharia-ruled country called Independent Kashmir? Further, it might lead to the balkanization of Indian territory as well.
So, how can asking for something that will weaken your own nation's territorial integrity be called constructive intellectual discourse? The nation's taxpayers finance your education, and you venerate a terrorist who attacked the Parliament of the same republic! How can you claim yourself as a votary of nation-building? Certainly, you can't.
This impoverished quality of thought in JNU leaders comes from the lack of political wisdom in national left parties - the Communist Party of India (CPI) and Communist Party Marxist (CPM). They seem to have lost (especially after the dissolution of the USSR in 1989 and Indian economic liberalization in 1991) the political imagination to envision a society based upon left values. They still want to imagine themselves in the pre-Cold War and pre-liberalization era. They've not yet come to terms with the fact that there's no alternative to free-market economics.
The Indian left sees American capitalism as a sole cause of the ills that the world faces today. Secondly, they selectively choose certain violations of human rights to present themselves as champions of the people. They see the Indian army committing atrocities in Indian Kashmir but don't want to talk about any problem in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. They openly show sympathy to Maoist leaders but rarely condemn the killing of innocent civilians by Naxal guerrillas. That selective approach has made them so blind that they don't see anything wrong with their ideological children commemorating the death anniversary of a terrorist.
Anything that goes against the idea of India, be it right or left, must be treated with an iron hand.
It's a sad reality that the Indian left has slipped into a state of intellectual bankruptcy where they are absolutely clueless about re-inventing themselves. It's a pity because they could do some good if they focused on issues that touch the pulse of ordinary humans: how much influence should the market have on society; how to regulate the process of globalization; how to establish a connecting point in between Keynesian and Hayekian society; how to fight for the rights of developing countries at the WTO. But instead of thinking of these constructive issues, they indulge in destructive ones like Afzal Guru and the independence of Kashmir.
Anything that goes against the idea of India, be it right or left, must be treated with an iron hand. If the very foundation of the republic is shaken then it's going to serve no one, not even those loonies of the left who live in an ivory tower and flirt very non-seriously with the idea of a nation-state.
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