19/02/2016 8:13 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST

The BJP's Vulgar Display Of Power At JNU Is A Wider Warning

MONEY SHARMA via Getty Images
Indian right-wing activists try to break down a barricade 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)

Incitement to violence. That is currently the million dollar question regarding the events at JNU and all they have led to. The sedition charge against JNU students' union president Kanhaiya Kumar requires there to be an incitement to violence in some way, shape or form. That glaring clause has not stopped the Delhi Police. It suggests that the government has woken up to the value of the charge as a deterrent to unfavourable expression. It also creates a new class of the rightfully frightened.

Let's be clear about some facts. "Bharat ki barbadi tak jang rahegi", a slogan verifiably heard on campus on the 'seditious' night in question, is certainly not an innocent thing to be shouting. However, there is no record of Kanhaiya Kumar being involved in this kind of sloganeering. There is, contrarily, proof (video footage not in the interest of certain news channels to air) of Kanhaiya Kumar condemning such slogans in no uncertain terms the very next day. The ones who did indulge in incriminating chants are unidentifiable and very likely not JNU students at all. Kanhaiya's arrest indicates that the Home Ministry and the police which it directs are more intent on vendetta than facts. This begs a question: in the current climate, can we expect the courts to be any different?

We all have to question what it means to have faith in the Constitution, but not in its enforcers.

It remains to be seen. The fear is that the courts may invoke terms like 'national interest' and 'collective conscience' as casually as Home Minister Rajnath Singh asserts the involvement of Lashkar-e-Taiba. That claim, based on a fake Twitter handle, is alarming in that it is not an offhanded comment in a bigoted corner of the internet but instead comes from a Cabinet member. It reflects premature overreach and just how thin the government is willing to spread itself to enforce its will.

In a matter of days, the government's actions have run afoul of students, teachers, journalists and a large section of civil society. Kanhaiya himself was manhandled at court by a bunch of 'lawyers'. If Delhi Police chief B S Bassi can confidently arrest Kanhaiya without any evidence, and at the same time claim that BJP MLA O P Sharma was involved in a "scuffle", when Mr Sharma and his goons are clearly caught on video thrashing CPI's Ameeque Jamai at least five on one, then we all have to question what it means to have faith in the Constitution, but not in its enforcers. The legal legacies of imperialism should be questioned too, as we are witnessing a sedition charge based on a law from 1860 being enforced by a police force itself functioning under the Police Act of 1861.

Whether the government's vulgar display of power amounts to it trishul-ing itself in the foot will take time to ascertain.

Whether the government's vulgar display of power amounts to it trishul-ing itself in the foot will take time to ascertain. Perhaps the forthcoming Assembly elections will shed more light on that. Till that time and even later on, other Indian institutions which have traditionally divergent politics from the Sangh should be on high alert. They have legitimate reason to fear for their ethos. Gajendra Chauhan is at the helm of FTII, Rohith Vemula has ended his life and now the JNUSU head is being deemed a national threat. This is a pattern for yet-untouched individuals and institutions to regard with caution.

As the definition of nationalism continues to narrow down, as historically envisaged by the RSS, it should be noted that, in the last two years, most unsavoury manifestations of the Sangh agenda have been social, educational or incidental in nature. That the cops are slapping sedition charges in an arbitrary manner where there is no proof of the person in question inciting violence is a newer, more disturbing phenomenon. It indicates that not only is there a cultural war of attrition being fought at an institutional and 'fringe element' level, but the Home Ministry too is not hesitant to direct the police to make swift arrests on heavy charges with little or nothing to go on. It adds a more serious dimension to the NDA's ambitions. And it blurs further the lines between patriotism and right-wing politics, between dissent and anti-nationalism. And, bizarrely, sedition.

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