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Why Cries Of 'Sedition' Will Only Inspire Us To Fight Back Harder

24/02/2016 7:09 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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Indian right-wing activists shout slogans during a protest outside Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi on February 16, 2016. A student union leader Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested on Friday for allegedly shouting anti-India slogans at a rally in protest against a Kashmiri separatist's execution three years ago. AFP PHOTO / Money SHARMA / AFP / MONEY SHARMA (Photo credit should read MONEY SHARMA/AFP/Getty Images)

Over the last few days, as the events at JNU unfolded, India has been caught up in the debate of what is national and anti-national. Our political leadership, our media and many public figures have deliberately tried to obfuscate this debate by creating a shrill and hysterical definition of hyper-nationalism. The attempt has been to challenge the patriotism of every liberal open-minded democratic individual who dares to disagree. Some are threatened, others roughed up or beaten. Most of us are branded anti-national.

In truth this entire matter has nothing to do with nationalism whatsoever. It is a cleverly woven distraction by an incapable, non-performing and oppressive government whose inability to wade through India's diverse economic, social and cultural diversity and challenges has been laid bare over the last 20 months. These events have been used to manufacture a controversy to instil a deep sense of fear among critics and to silence all opposition by making scapegoats of a few students. In a seditious country like India, this is a huge mistake.

[The government] wants to engage us in circular dialogue on nationalism so that we overlook its recurrent failures.

The controversy is about our respective freedoms, our right to dissent but the government's objective does not seem to be a conversation on freedom but obfuscation and distraction. It wants to engage us in circular dialogue on nationalism so that we overlook its recurrent failures.

For starters, it wants to distract us from its incompetent and ineffective economic policy and dismal governance. It wants us to forget that the double digit economic growth it promised is unlikely to be delivered this year or next. As large parts of India are pushed into agrarian distress, causing suffering and thousands of farmer's suicides, many in collusion with the media wants this fact off the headlines. The government also wants us to forget the empty slogans of Make in India that have delivered little. In short, the promised mythical acchhe din haven't arrived and nor will they anytime soon.

This is not all. The government wants us to distract us from how it is slashing budgets for health and education, causing endless human suffering and death while it writes of billions in bad loans for India's rich. It seems we are busy creating a country where crony capitalism prevails and India's rich prosper while bright and patriotic students like Kanhaiya Kumar are jailed for their right to dissent. Or Rohith Vemula is forced to end his life, his demands for his right to equality and a few thousand rupees to sustain his academic pursuits left unmet. Is this the development India deserves? This is exactly what they don't want us to ask.

The truth is that the emperor, in this case the government, has no clothes and lies hopelessly exposed.

The truth is governments rarely care about nationalism or development. The real agenda is sustaining their own power. This ongoing drama is a carefully scripted ploy to keep all these issues off the headlines. The media seems complicit in this effort. For weeks to come nothing else will occupy the media space or our mindshare. When this conflagration dies down, another deliberate controversy will be manufactured to distract us.

The truth is that the emperor, in this case the government, has no clothes and lies hopelessly exposed. Governing the diverse and multilayered concept called India seems to demand too much maturity and equanimity. A Home Minister who linked JNU students to Hafiz Saeed and then hastily retreated into silence. An Education Minister who's done little except harasses and trouble varsities to push a certain agenda. How can these be effective leaders for governing India?

Let's take a moment and consider who the real anti nationals are -- politicians engaged in polarizing India, a colluding and lying media or these students who want answers?

Like the Congress during the Emergency, this government believes it is above criticism, despite its incompetence and high-handedness. Like the Emergency, this misadventure will be regretted.

The government should understand that in a nation born of sedition, a charge of sedition is perhaps the most inspiring call you can give us. Using words like sedition, only betrays your colonial and intellectually narrow mindsets.

History will judge who the true anti-nationals are. Until then, you can call us seditious -- we will rise to the occasion every time. And that will be your fall.

Both JNU and India will survive this shrieking, hysterical nationalist witch-hunt. If anything, a more liberal, resilient India will emerge with deeper commitment towards diversity and inclusiveness. For now, these histrionics may overshadow the truth. Seditious, anti-national, unpatriotic -- call them what you can. They won't cower or run away in fear. From where one Kanhaiya rose, hundreds will emerge. We will continue to do in our universities and in our lives what we Indians love to do --disagree and argue.

In the end, we the people will take any government to task not just on events like JNU but also on everything else. We will not forget what you have delivered in governance or economic growth or inclusiveness, diversity or intellectual progress. We will not forget that you have chosen to damage and attack the free-thinking liberal traditions of what defines this republic. We will stand by our Constitution as the ultimate arbiter of our nationalism. History will judge who the true anti-nationals are. Until then, you can continue to call us seditious -- we will rise to the occasion every time. And that, undoubtedly, will be your fall.

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