Jawaharlal Nehru University Incident Revisited
Although apparently, India claims to be the largest democracy, acting upon the principles of liberalism and secularism, yet since the leader of the ruling party BJP Narendra Modi became Prime Minister of India, various extremist developments like unprecedented rise of Hindu extremism, persecution of minorities, forced conversions of other religious minorities into Hindus, ban on beef and cow slaughter, inclusion of Hindu religious books in curriculum, unprovoked firing at the Line of Control in Kashmir and Working Boundary across Pak-Indian border, creation of war-like situation with Pakistan etc. clearly show that encouraged by the Hindu fundamentalist outfits such as BJP, RSS VHP, Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena including other similar parties have been promoting religious and ethnic chauvinism in India by propagating ideology of Hindutva (Hindu nationalism). Especially, assaults on Christians and Muslims including their places of worships and property have been intensified by the fanatic Hindu mobs.
Indian Constitution which claims India to be a secular state was torn into pieces when on February 9, 2016, a group of students at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) organised an event to mark the death anniversary of the extra-judicial killing of Afzal Guru and shouted anti-India and pro-Pakistani slogans, and for liberation of the India-held Kashmir.
JNU Students Union president Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested on sedition charges and a case of sedition against several unknown students was also lodged. The university also initiated action, barring eight students from academic activity pending an enquiry.
On the other side, students of JNU protested, saying that they would not allow classes to be held on the campus till students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar is released. Meanwhile, teachers of the university also joined the students in boycotting classes and stating that they would take classes on nationalism. Earlier, teachers had rallied behind its protesting students and questioned the administration’s decision to allow the police crackdown on the campus.
In this regard, extremist policy of the Indian government could be judged from a shocking sequel to the incidents of February 15, 2016 in the Patiala House courts complex which witnessed violence, when a mob of the government-backed Indian fundamentalist parties, wearing lawyer’s robe, attacked supporters of Kanhaiya Kumar. The assault began when Kumar was scheduled to appear before metropolitan magistrate Loveleen and continued for about 45 minutes during which whoever ran into the mob, looking young and carrying a mobile was slapped, kicked and chased away from the premises. Journalists and students were also targeted, and the older men and women were intimidated by the mob.
In this respect, even some Indians criticised the BJP rulers. Pointing out the lawlessness in New Delhi in the wake of Patiala House court attacks and the way the government has handled the JNU row, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi who also visited the JNU campus along with senior leaders and MPs of the party criticised the BJP government, remarking it of “bullying the prestigious institution—every compelling issue the students are facing in India today and place them in its anti-BJP narrative.” The Police of Delhi played the role of a silent spectator as attackers defied the Supreme Court’s order for restricted entry to the trial court complex, smashed Kumar en route to his court hearing.
In fact, these students believed that Afzal Guru did not deserve capital punishment and also have their skepticism about his alleged involvement in connection with the attack on the Indian parliament. Notably, in its judgment of August 5, 2005, Indian Supreme Court admitted that “the evidence against Guru was only circumstantial, and that there was no evidence that he belonged to any terrorist group or organisation.”
However, India champions the slogans of shining India, “Democratic India” and “Secular India” every now and then to hide the dark face of its extremism. Incident is still haunting India and hard earned perception of secular and democratic face is fast eroding. The recent wave, emanating from Jawaharlal Nehru University is, in fact, linked to the consciousness and self-actualisation by few honorable people of India. These are the sane voices which carry the bitterness of reality. Afzal Guru was a Kashmiri youth who was dragged in and convicted by a biased justice system, deeply entrenched in the great India mentality. Hanging of Afzal Guru has entered Indian society in the form of Guru Virus and is expressing at its own. However, the hardliners thoughts are caught in a quagmire of self-accusation. Those who gathered on the commemoration of Afzal Guru’s hanging anniversary were opposed by Hindu youth. Mantra of anti-India slogans is reflective of the guilt carried by the radical India.
It is notable that while in custody and on their appearance before the court the educated youth was subject to torture by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) activists in presence of police. According to some reports of Indian Media, on March 3, 2016, student leader Kanhaiya Kumar (after he was released on bail on 2 March) gave a speech to a packed auditorium on the JNU campus, in which he said that he was seeking, not FREEDOM FROM INDIA, but FREEDOM WITHIN INDIA. He appealed to his fellow students to free the nation from the clutches of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which he said was trying to divide the nation. Referring to the right wing student party, ABVP, whose members were instrumental in bringing about his arrest, he called them his “opposition”, not his enemy. He urged his supporters to keep raising the slogans of azadi (freedom).
Nevertheless, Indian Government is silently as well as openly supporting extremism in all its forms and manifestation. All ills of Indian society are being diverted to Pakistan and even the saner voices are not allowed to echo. Cancellation of Pakistan-India Cricket match from Dharam-shala, media publicity on Pathankot incident and blatant denial in case of Kulbhushan Yadav (Indian secret agency RAW agent captured in Pakistan) are a few examples of Indian leadership guilt. The BJP led government has exposed the true face of India, wrapped in the myth of secularism. Indian involvement in state sponsored terrorism and extremism is haunting India, thus forcing the international community to review their links with India.
In this context, there is a divide between enlightened and moderate Indian youth vis-a-vis extremist and radical Indian leadership. Whereas, a segment of youth stands for sanity and freedom of expression, the majority supports radical as well as extremist behaviors prevalent within their society.
Intolerance is eroding the very foundations of so called democratic India. Denying basic rights of expression to the well-educated university students reflects the guilt of Afzal Guru’s killers. Guru Virus is haunting India and the Intolerant India is refusing basic rights to its saner citizens and minorities.
Indian secular structure and the democratic skeleton are no longer able to withstand the burden of its inner weaknesses. It is not the question of Kashmir, Pakistan or Afzal Guru which has become a dreadful dream for the intolerant Indian leadership, but it is the fear of inner implosion that is behind this phenomenon.
If the leadership of New Delhi was saner, there could have been a way out, but with the existing Modi’s rule, no miracles are expected. Reaction by Indian artists, intellectuals and the international community are indicative of the bad times India is likely to face.
While, blaming Pakistan for every folly is no more effective. The episode of Kulbashan Yadav has shaken the Indian stance on terrorism. Now, international community is well aware about the misdeeds of India, but due to commercial gains of the West, it is trying to please the Indian leadership by closing their eyes. Within Indian media, now, opinion makers are raising serious concerns about Indian intentions and state sponsored and state executed terrorism.
If India is to survive it has to stop interference in neighbouring countries, de-radicalize their leadership, grant people freedom within India, otherwise they will have to get freedom from India, as the Jawaharlal Nehru University incident is wake-up call for India.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations