Mounting Congress charge against the government, Jyothiraditya Scindia, the Congress MP, asserted in the Lok Sabha, that ‘mere sloganeering does not amount to sedition’ and even summoned legal provisions to buttress his contention. Speaking to The Hindu, two days later, the former Home and Finance Minister, Mr. P. Chidambaram concurs with Mr. Scindia, clarifying incitement to violence to be the constitutive ingredient of any sedition charge. In fact, this view is echoed by a vast array of intellectuals and political parties alike that are ranged against BJP and who are in the mortal fear of an imminent Hindutva takeover. This mindset is reflected not just in political discourse of the Congress, Left and other allied parties, but also motivated a couple of JNU Emeritus Professors to present their views in Newspaper columns. Strangely, there are no takers for the Union Home Minister’s claim that for security reasons and in view of the oath of confidentiality, he could not divulged the full gamut of evidence on which he acted while apprehending JNU students.
Let us note at the outset that these apostles of Free Speech treat the incidents of physical violence against the JNUSU President, Kanhaiah Kumar, admittedly inside the court premises, by Police and (Nationalist?) Lawyers on par with the anti-Indian and pro-Pakistani and pro-terrorist rants by innocent and young students of the most intellectualized University of the country! It does not occur to them that these anti-Indian slogans, in the context of a pro-Pakistani and pro-terrorist ambience, have immediate implications for India’s security concerns.
Notice that ever since the JNU incident there have been incessant, rumblings from Kashmiri terrorists as well as from across the border culminated on 27th February in a J&K bandh at the behest of separatist elements such as Yasin Malik and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, in an effort to debunking India It is regrettable that a suave and articulate veteran politician like Mr. P. Chidambaram down plays the import of the JNU incident drawing our attention to the defunct (or at least, moribund) LTTE and Khalistan movement! If he really has India’s interest at heart the former minister would not have chosen to mislead people. But obviously he is more concerned about generating a favorable popular mind-set that UPA can cash in during coming and future elections.
In contrast, the police excesses and resentful, if impulsive, action by lawyers, reprehensible as they are, do not carry such an ominous baggage. That is equating ordinary burglary with siphoning of sensitive defense documents! That is, the “judicially non-cognizable” anti-Indian sloganeering has the effect of encouraging elements both within and across the border that are inimically disposed towards the country whereas the police and lawyers’ excesses, cognizable under the law, are but a routine, internal matter.
Worse, by presenting such sloganeering as a manifestation of freedom of expression, these intellectuals and political eminences’ grises are creating a sense of righteous pride among students and thereby facilitating its spread as is evident from the Jadhavpur University incidents. Are they truly unaware that diffusing this kind of subdued anti-Indian campaign would give further boost to the inimical elements? And thereby further complicating a situation that is already intractable. How do claims of a Rahul Gandhi who asserted the other day that Nationalism is in his blood, or pointing to the Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination by an RSS member going to help the country extricate unscathed from a possible intensified terrorist maneuvers? Or, would Mr. Sitaram Yechury’s parallels between today’s state of “authoritarianism” and the dispensation during the Emergency days lessen in any way the terrorist resolve not to wreak destruction on this country?
Surely not. But by making a case for verbal anti-Indianism to be within the definition of Nationalism, these enlightened leaders are diluting not just the notion but the basic commitment of people towards their country. It could be that the judicial cognizance of Sedition is inadequate most probably due to the constraint of having to balance this with the notion of Free Speech. Jurists of the day were perhaps robust in their confidence that high ideals such as Nationalism and Patriotism are non-negotiable and Free Speech would find its definition within these parameters.
Sentient intellectuals batting against moral policing or for self-censorship in films, or against banning books, in short all those privileging individual’s enlightened disciplinary trait against an order driven by a set of externally imposed directives, would unhesitatingly proscribe the need for Laws to codify, and thereby dictate, every detail of human action. It is thus incumbent upon any responsible individual to weigh, a priori, consequences that the words he intends to deploy may have, not just for him or herself but, in cases like JNU, for the society and the country as a whole. This alone would impart legitimacy to one’s entitlement of the right to free speech. It is indeed for this reason that the Constitution itself enshrines a set of citizens’ obligations (Article 51A).
Against this backdrop, it is hardly necessary to emphasize, responsibility of those in public life or those defending public causes, in the exercise of their right to Free Speech, is enhanced manifold. Thus, even if it is admitted that the young students of JNU parroted innocently or inadvertently something that has anti-Indian, pro-Pakistani and pro-terrorist ring, it is for the experienced and enlightened politicos and intellectuals to dissuade them by showing perilous consequences of their discourse, more so on the part of a party like the Congress whose history is inextricably intertwined with the contemporary political History of India. But what did they do? Displaying Western-style analytical skills, they considered exercise of the right without any regard to the consequences of such an exercise. It is as if the Free Speech can be exercised in a vacuum! They forgot that speech can be linked, more or less, substantially to the motives of speaker! It is as if Mr. Chidambaram when asked by an UN committee acting, say, on a strong Pakistani and pro-Kashmiri terrorist complaint, to explain his interview with The Hindu (26-02-2016, p.12), stating, in front of the international community, that he did not mean anything and that he was merely exercising his right to free speech! How derisory it is! So is the defense of the politico-intellectual community vis-a-vis the JNU students.
Dissension has a place and context. So is the difference of opinion especially when they concern national security and country’s dignity. When such things become subject of open meetings and of possible rallies and campaigns, they cease to be a mere academic or drawing room exchange of ideas. Such speeches or sloganeering acquire per force a motivated character. And it becomes responsibility of any government worth its votes to nip such inimical tendencies in the bud. And any government intervention entails use of some force that can be dubbed authoritarian. This is where unfolds despicable Congress strategy.
Notice that both in the JNU as well as HCU narrative figure Pakistani linked terrorists, Afzal Guru and Yakub Memon. And in both cases, they were eulogized and/or martyrized. In each case, it was not as if the ASA or AISF was participating in an academic discussion over the merits of their hanging. Should that be the case, even within the confines of their own student political fora, there would have been an admission of their terrorist precedents and their intent to cause damage to the country. The discussion would have been confined to the alleged summary justice rendered to them. Thus, contrary to what Mr. Chidambarm claims in his Hindu interview, it is not a case of honest difference of opinion. It is a premeditated ambush to provoke government into action against the students.
The strategy therefore consisted in choosing a sensitive but non-mainstream political context in which to brandish anti-national intent by stretching the limits of free speech thereby constrain the government to action against such developments and dub this as an attempt to stifle dissent and free speech rallying in the process the rank and file of the students and unsuspecting freedom-loving people and intellectuals behind the party, in short, creating a popular mind-set against the ruling dispensation. This kind of amoral and diabolic strategy, adapted by those who claim that Nationalism and Patriotism runs in their blood, but are insensitive to the strategy’s National Security and cross-border implications, could only be seen, intuitively, as the result of the highly secretive and prolonged sabbatical, last year, of Rahul Gandhi. For, it requires a measure of ‘non-nationalism’ to device such strategies purely as part of a roadmap for capturing power.
As ASA and AISF are leftist student bodies, and given left parties’ strong BJP phobia, it could safely be presumed that the left parties are providing a ‘front’ to the Congress designs. Given this perspective, a Congress design to silently convert even AAP into such a front by incorporating Bhindranwale into AAP’s election posters in Haryana cannot be ruled out. But Mr. Kejriwal, it must be said in all fairness, preferred to deal with such issues in a straight forward manner.
That some called this Operation Intolerance-2 is fully appropriate. After all, the combined opposition reaped rich dividends, by virtually sweeping Bihar polls, in the round-1 of the Intolerance Operation that saw hundreds of intellectuals, writers, creative talents, film makers, artists… etc. return their awards on the pretext of a couple of incidents that saw some fringe elements taking the law into their hands. Oddly enough the ruling dispensation could not counter this apparently instigated protest. Part of the reason could be that the BJP expected a simultaneous polarization to take place balancing its electoral fortunes in Bihar. It is truly intriguing that a Hindu Nationalist party could not adequately read the Hindu psyché that is anathema to palpable perpetrations of excesses and injustices – a mindset that transcends barriers of caste and religion. Indeed, that is the reason why we can say Hinduism is inherently secular.
Even so, it should not be very hard to move our intellectuals against a Hindutva agenda. For, the Hindu culture is ideologically prescriptive because it understands mortal foibles and seeks to uplift its adherents to higher forms of life (within materialistic fold but in view of betterment of innate human quality). Whereas Western culture is directive, its directive principles being domination and conversion, this latter term intended to ensure the former. Other than this, the individual is fully non-constrained even from the standpoint of morals, scruples, and even human quality. Now, most of our socially recognized intellectuals are Western-trained, Western-educated, and are Western-converted, that is, those who imbibed and internalized to the core, by choice or compulsion, the amoral and self-serving freedom of the Western life-styles… Worse, Hindu culture’s simple, straight-forward and inward-looking mindset is in stark contrast with the devious, sophisticated and self-centered thinking of the West.
Thus, these two types of mindsets are fundamentally antagonistic and work at cross purposes. Though the Hindu ethos is fundamentally universalizing, Western mind is isolationist, if only to dominate and annihilate formidable and challenging soulful cultures and civilizations. True to this view, two of the Emeritus Professors of JNU, Prof. Zoya Hasan and Prof. Prabhat Patnaik, who published their views in the columns of The Hindu (dated 24-02-2016 & 27-02-2016), argue how stifling of dissent and free speech would lead to imposition of Hindutva ideology. It did not occur to them that it constitutes a deadly irrationality on the part of the students to brandish anti-nationalism thereby build a case in favor and in the context of a belligerent neighbor such as Pakistan. These enlightened professors were alarmed at an imminent Hindutva takeover within the country but did not spare even a moment to ponder over the use that the inimical Pakistan and hard-headed Kashmiri terrorists might make of the anti-national ambience created by one of the most prestigious university of the country and the enhanced repercussions that such a development may have if it were to catch on! After all, inimical elements do not waste their time pondering over judicial status of the students’ action!
It is thus obvious that these intellectuals’ national commitment is only secondary and that they primarily bat for some sectarian advantages. Such concerns stem from assimilating the age-old Indian cultural ethos to mere Hindu religious practice and fearing as imminent the prospect of India becoming a theocratic state, that would entail restrictions imposed by a prescriptive culture (cf. above) on otherwise a free form of Western-borrowed life-styles entailing consequent loss of Western patronage; loss of face at having to live within the bounds of a culture dubbed ‘primitive’ thereby losing the aura of trend-setting modern community; for religious minorities the apprehension of religious subordination… It is truly amazing that we do not mind selling our soul to Western ‘ethos’ (with or without coercive undercurrent) but are reluctant to acknowledge pre-eminence of a system that forged cultural genius of this country providing in the process a valid alternative system of values and living principles!
The argument thus begins with modern India and its secular Constitution! Argues Prof. Zoya Hasan in her article, “Redefining Indian Nationhood” (The Hindu, 24-02-2016, p.10), “Modern India was formed in 1947 on the basis of a broader concept of non-ethnic, civic nationalism” And follows it up stating that this identity “is being sharply redefined” as it is advocated that Hindu identity “cannot be separated from Indian nationhood even as it undermines secularism, one of the pillars of Indian democracy…” So much of verbosity given the author’s reluctance to acknowledge 5000-year old Indian culture based on Hindu ethos and the in-built secular credentials of this latter. In very simple terms, it is like children of a doctor couple refusing to do anything other than medicine for fear of being disowned by their parents if they study engineering or languages!
Enshrining Hindu ethos need not necessarily go against other faiths or styles of living! Only thing is one who looks to Jerusalem or Vatican, or Mecca or Madina may not quite understand, unless one takes special interest, finer elements of Hindu ethos just as one who studies Engineering or Language will not be in a position to appreciate Medical intricacies (but on that score, the former does not become any lesser individual). Moreover, secularism is just a way of politico-social management of differences in a country or society. It is not a tool to erase a nation’s past or its heritage. It does uphold religious freedom as long as, I suppose, a multicultural state is not sought to be turned into a conglomeration of theocratic states. Secularism is thus not against a nation acquiring or asserting its own identity. After all, a nation is worth its name only because of the particular vision it acquires in the course of its evolution. Without this, nations become bereft of a soul and a genius and are reduced to vacuous entities. That indeed is the way to turn a nation into a overgrown panchayat content to manage socio-political differences! Worse, such a condition creates a cultural vacuum that powerful cultures can easily exploit to fill with their own vision of the world,
Such an analysis should also answer Prof. Prabhat Patnaik (“What it Means to be ‘National’”, The Hindu, 27-02-2016, p. 10) who makes a learned distinction between an aggrandizing nationalism and an egalitarian nationalism. Arguing this latter to be an inclusive nationalism emerged out of the churning during Independence struggle, he opines that the BJP is turning it into an aggrandizing nationalism which according to him is self-defeating. But this is as it should be. For, inclusiveness is most pronounced when the country or a community faces a common challenge. But once such a challenge is surmounted, the task would be one of building on it. And Nation-building is not possible without evolving a common ethos. It is natural for such a process to be based on the rich and time-tested heritage of this country.
Indeed, the process of nation-building itself begins what Prof. Patnaik calls aggrandizing nationalism. After all, without believing the nation to be great (mera bharat mahan…) how can I work for it with commitment? And in what direction do I steer the nation? Do I just borrow ‘Quick Fix’ remedies from the West’s superficial and self-serving cultural First-Aid box to paper over this country’s woes? It is regrettable that even highly enlightened intellectuals’ vision is clouded by the facile Western culture to which apparently they are exposed and see everything non-Western as sectarian. Otherwise, these intellectuals would have seen Indian culture as an alternative vision of the world, valid in itself and holding its own among many other cultural renderings. Indeed, anyone who has Indian interest at heart would not only not confuse it with the overlapping Hindutva agenda but would also see lurking dangers of even a playful brandishing of anti-nationalism. The analysis then would focus on the limits of freedom of expression.
In conclusion, an instance of selective exercise by none other than the suave and Western educated Mr. P. Chidambaram in his interview with The Hindu (26-02-2016, p.12)
“See the mind of the Kashmiri youth gets affected not only by what happens in Kashmir Valley, it also gets affected by what happens elsewhere in India. I think the increased sense of fear and insecurity among the Muslims is playing on the minds of the Muslims all over India, including Muslims in Kashmir. How can one say that the Kashmir youth are not concerned about what happens to other Muslims in the rest of India?”
Mr. Chidambaram’s reasoning is unexceptionable. Targeting the government, it highlights the general impression of intolerance vis-à-vis Muslim community. But strangely enough, the same argument could be applied to Anti-nationalist Brandishing and Terrorist Glorification. How can the Kashmiri youth and terrorists remain unconcerned with what is happening elsewhere in the country? Would they not be affected by these developments occurring at JNU? More so, if such instances spread to other places and universities, for it is a development strengthening the terrorist action and the cause of separate Kashmir? Would Mr. Chidambarm then still argue that the sedition case is weak or would he call for a jurisprudence to tighten this legal loophole? That is if he places national interest above that of his party or coalition.
By Dr. Codadu Pratap