The issues thrown up by the BJP-RSS attack on JNU have acquired a national dimension. The JNU struggle has become the focus of a wider struggle in the country. The Modi government is aiding and abetting the BJP-RSS drive to impose the Hindutva ideology in all spheres of society. This drive is specially concentrated on the universities and institutions of higher education which are under the purview of the central government. It is here that the central government sponsored Hindutva experiment is sought to be undertaken.
Two central government universities – the Hyderabad Central University and the Jawaharlal Nehru University – have been in the eye of the storm. In the case of the Hyderabad University, it was the intervention of a BJP union minister from Hyderabad, Bandaru Dattatreya, which led to the chain of events leading to the suspension and eventual suicide of Rohith Vemula. In JNU, it was the union home minister, Rajnath Singh, who ordered the Police Commissioner to take strong action against "anti-national" activities on the campus which led to the arrest of the JNU Students Union president, Kanhaiya Kumar, and cases of sedition filed against him and other student leaders. In both universities, the central government took the initiative to act against the so-called "anti-national" elements.
It is not accidental that Kanhaiya Kumar, a Communist, and Rohith Vemula, an Ambedkarite, were thus targeted by the ruling establishment. The RSS and the BJP government want to use the State machinery to suppress all opposition voices against the communal and Hindutva forces in the universities. In return, the HRD ministry and the RSS outfits wish to remould the educational system and the university campuses on a Hindutva authoritarian model. Hence it seeks to brand all secular, democratic and progressive opinion as "anti-national". In reality, what they are working for is to undermine the democratic and secular principles in the Constitution of India.
For the BJP-RSS cohorts, JNU has been an eyesore, an affront to their cherished Hindutva beliefs. They view JNU as a "dangerous" intellectual and academic centre which projects a radical democratic vision in stark contrast to the reactionary communal ideology. That is why their standard definition of JNU is a "den of anti-nationals".
The RSS was against the national movement for independence because for it, the fight against foreign rule meant not fight against British rule, but fight against the erstwhile Muslim rulers. There is no anti-imperialism in their version of nationalism. That is why Modi and company are willing to betray India's interests whether it be in the WTO or when it comes to forging a strategic alliance with the United States of America. Their nationalism is not Indian nationalism but Hindu nationalism. Anyone who subscribes to an anti-imperialist, secular nationalism is, therefore, a target for their attack.
The execution of the Hindutva project is being conducted at two levels. At the top, the government is working in close coordination with the RSS to bring about basic changes in the educational system – changes in the curriculum and introduction of textbooks with communal content and history rewritten from the Hindutva communal viewpoint. For this, key personnel have been appointed in the top policy making bodies in higher education and research. Along with this, the HRD ministry is actively intervening in universities and institutions like the IITs. It was an HRD directive which led to the prohibition of Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle in IIT, Madras last year. Now the central universities vice chancellors have, at the instance of the HRD minister, decided that the national flag will fly at all times in the universities on a 207 feet high pole. This is a crude attempt by the BJP government to use the national flag for its partisan goals. In the name of "nationalism" all dissenting views and ideas will be suppressed.
RSS Storm troopers
At the ground level, the RSS student wing, the ABVP, is being unleashed to confront and attack any student activity which is considered hostile to Hindutva nationalism. The ABVP was in the forefront to attack the dalit students in the Hyderabad Central University; it was in the lead in JNU to complain about "anti-national" activities of some students; the ABVP has also attacked student groups in Delhi University and other places when they sought to show a film on the Muzaffarnagar riots. In another central university, Allahabad, the same elements obstructed a meeting to be addressed by a senior journalist.
Outside the universities, RSS outfits like the Bajrang Dal, the BJP lawyers' front, ex-servicemen's association and other organisations were mobilised to target the Left parties, and students and teachers who stood up for their rights and refused to be cowed down. Under the leadership of BJP president Amit Shah and the RSS, there is a countrywide campaign being conducted, along with a section of the corporate media, to brand all the Left and democratic forces as "anti-national".
Assault on Secular-Democratic Values
The attack on JNU is thus part of a wider assault on the secular-democratic principles initiated by the Modi government. The shocking incidents in the Patiala House Court in the capital of India are a warning of the insidious authoritarianism which is setting in. Teachers, students and journalists were assaulted with impunity and the police watched passively under orders not to intervene. The beating up of Kanhaiya Kumar within the court is all the more heinous as he was in police custody at that time. The judiciary at that level also did nothing to intervene. This is how the institutions of the State get subverted by a communal-authoritarian ruling party.
The striking feature of the present student struggles is the emergence of a new breed of student leaders. They come from families of the working class and the poor. Kanhaiya Kumar's mother is an Anganwadi worker while Rohith Vemula's mother earns a livelihood by tailoring. They are a new generation of student leaders who are willing to challenge the establishment and are moved by ideological convictions which are totally opposed to sectarian communalism and neo-liberal capitalism. The student struggles that are now taking shape all over the country against the Modi government and Hindutva are a portent of the times ahead.
United Fight Back
The rightwing communal offensive has to be met squarely and rebuffed. It will be a mistake to see what happened in JNU as a local and isolated incident. That is why the six Left parties gave a call to conduct a countrywide campaign among the people from February 23-25 to expose the dark designs of the RSS-BJP combine and the Modi government. The attempts to suppress freedom of expression in the universities; the fascistic use of "nationalism" and the open assault on the Constitutional rights of citizens have to be fought and foiled. For every party, organisation and group which subscribes to democratic and secular values, the BJP-RSS drive poses a serious challenge. They must come together to unitedly meet this challenge.
(Prakash Karat is Member, Polit Bureau, CPI(M).