New Delhi, March 3: The violence in Delhi University is representative of the sentiments prevailing in universities across the nation. After the year 2015 was spent debating diminishing tolerance in Indian society as far as national narrative is concerned, the year 2016 saw the introduction of the nationalists vs anti-nationals debate that started with allegedly anti-country sloganeering in the Jawahar Lal Nehru University campus. Since then, a raging battle between the followers of the right and the left ideologies is going on, both on social media and in the real world. Prominent universities have provided an ideal battleground for the ideological battles between two sides of the political spectrum. Almost similar issues and debates are being fanned in universities, ostensibly by political stakeholders. While the Left and liberals argue that the Central government has installed RSS-backed V-Cs who impose its ideology on campuses, the main issues for the right-wingers are the upholding of the Indian culture and fight against ‘anti-nationals’. Most of the prominent universities including Delhi University, Aligarh Muslim University, Jawahar Lal Nehru University, and Aligarh Muslim University witness political name-calling and ideological wars.
Jawaharlal Nehru University
The Jawaharlal Nehru University has been in the eye of a storm since February 8 last year when anti-India were allegedly raised on the campus. Student leaders Umar Khalid and Kanhaiya Kumar got sedition charges slapped on them and had to undergo a short tourney to Tihar before being granted bail. Since then, the ABVP and the AISA have come in confrontation with each other several times. The flashpoint in the political rivalry came when a Biotechnology student disappeared from the campus allegedly after an altercation with ABVP workers. Najeeb Ahmed has been missing from the campus since October 2016. AISA alleges that he had a fight with members of the ABVP before his disappearance. The issue has become a full-fledged political controversy after the involvement of national leaders. Najeeb’s disappearance also became a poll issue during Uttar Pradesh Assembly Elections 2017. The BSP used this as a poll plank in Badaun to get the sympathies of the Muslim community.
The real reason behind Ramjas violence had roots in JNU as ABVP was protesting against the invitation to Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid in a seminar. After the violence, political leaders like Sitaram Yechury visited the campus in solidarity with the students. Union ministers like Ravishankar Prasad and Kiren Rijiju handled ABVP’s cause and have been speaking at length about what qualifies as freedom of speech and what not. The open political interference has resulted in the 24*7 telecast of the controversy by the national television media.
Meanwhile, the students in JNU are protesting for another issue that concerns the students more. The students have been protesting a UGC notification which may result in seat cuts in MPhil and Phd programs. The protest is on for three weeks now. But it has not seen the kind of political intervention like the national and anti-national fracas has been seeing. Perhaps, the genuine academic issues of students do not resonate with the masses and hence, political parties do not find merit in siding with the students.
Banaras Hindu University
The Banaras Hindu University has also been embroiled in a controversy. BHU vice-chancellor Prof Girish Chandra Tripathi is “proud” to be an RSS member, however, he rebuts allegations of imposing its ideology.
“The conjecture that BHU has become an RSS fortress is false. I am not associated with the university because of BJP. I was in Allahabad University for the last 40 years. I have never been a BJP member even for a rupee. But I am associated with RSS and am proud of that. The same RSS has taught me that the university cannot be run on one particular ideology,” he told India Today.
However, a few students and a few reports apparently narrate a different story. Four young women studying in BHU—Mineshi, Deepshri, Mridula Manglam and Nivedita Shandilya– have alleged discriminatory treatment to the girls in the university. (Also read: Ramjas College row: NSUI students begin ‘gift a rose’ campaign to restore peace on campus)
The students allege the BHU administration doesn’t allow them to engage in debates about RSS, whereas, boys are allowed to do that. “We cannot participate in any debate with a political group outside BHU, especially if it is against the Sangh or RSS ideology. Writing against the RSS creates problems for us. Our teachers warn us against participation in debates or NSS/NCC, saying that our dignity was in our hands if we did”, Nivedita told India Today.
“Both boys and girl hostels pay the same fee for the mess, but for the girls non-vegetarian food is not allowed in the scheduled mess menu. It is allowed for boys. Girls can have non-veg food, but they have to purchase it from outside. Boys have non-veg food in their regular mess schedule,” Minesha was quoted by India Today.
The girls level charges against the administration that while the boys are allowed wifi access 24*7, the girls are not. The administration refutes the charges.The issue was debated in the Rajya Sabha.
Last year, on the death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, some BHU students organised a symposium on ‘Division of India, Gandhi and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).’ According to reports by The Wire, BHU chief proctor ON Singh intervened and stopped the program. According to the students, he termed it illogical and illegal from the ‘point of view’ of the university. He reportedly said that students were spreading misconceptions under RSS’s name.
The Wire had got access to Gyan Prakash Mishra of BHU: “We have never bound anybody from pondering on Gandhian philosophy. However, there is a special instruction by vice chancellor to not permit any political activities on the campus. The campus is for study and discipline; we expect from every student to emulate the university guidelines.”
Aligarh Muslim University
The Aligarh Muslim University became a major attraction for political parties after the Modi government told the Supreme Court last year that it was withdrawing a petition against a high court order that said AMU was a minority institution. The BJP had always been opposed to AMU’s minority status, though the matter was not much debated in the previous NDA government. The issue has pitted the students against the government. Soon after the episode, Vice-Chancellor Lieutenant General Zameer Uddin Shah had expressed apprehensions of a student unrest to a news channel. Nothing of that sort happened. However, the general feeling of fear of the government’s intervention remains in the minds of the students and which manifest every now and then. A couple of weeks back, some students had carried out a protest march demanding a ban on RSS after an alleged BJP functionary was allegedly found to be working for ISI. The AMUSU President was present in the march.
Meanwhile, AMU stands united with JNU against ABVP. In December last year, they protested against the Delhi Police for failing to trace missing JNU student Najeeb Ahmed. A mild lathi-charge was used by the Aligarh police to disperse them as they were squatting on the tracks of the Railway station.
During the Ramjas violence, the AMU students led by Professor Irfan Habib took out a protest march in solidarity with the students of the college.
“It is ironical that the forces, the adherents of which distributed sweets when Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated, are trying to teach us the meaning of nationalism,” professor Irfan Habib had said after the march.
“Adolf Hitler the leaders of the party swear in the name of the poor but follow policies which help the rich,” he added.
In retaliation, the ABVP workers burnt his effigy and called him a ‘traitor’.
“Before this violence, which was a clash between two groups, anti-India slogans were raised, did Irfan Habib condemn them? The point is these people are diverting real issues. Irfan Habib was not here, he didn’t know what happened? How can he put allegations on us? He is making a political statement and we were responding that politically. Unless there is an act of violence, and we condemn violence, we were well within our rights to express our disagreements as this is a democratic country, not a communist country,” ABVP leader Saket Bahuguna told India.com.
Recently, Ghazala Ahmad, an AMUSU member, filed an FIR against JNU student leader Shehla Rashid for “inappropriate and objectionable words against the Prophet and against other religions”.
What ails top Indian universities? (Also read: Opinion: How the champions of freedom of speech undermined Gurmehar Kaur’s freedom of choice)
“If we look at our past, during the freedom movement, our leaders were raising issues of social and economic freedom, so we call them anti-national? The point is that they don’t accept the difference of opinion and everyone has to tow the line of how the Hindutva brigade is thinking about the nation,” said Professor Shadaab Bano of Aligarh Muslim University.
“Universities are vantage points where knowledge is being produced. For them, this is the sight that needs to be captured, which needs to be destroyed so that all the knowledge India treasures, composite culture, diversity, the plurality that we inherit, needs to be destroyed. And this new knowledge that has no historical background, no base, needs to be manufactured. Hence the universities are in their sights. The revivalists and the rightwingers, they want to capture education, “ she added.
JNU student leader Umar Khalid said that the government was off to finish higher education in the country.
“Since the government has come to power, they have a very anti-education agenda. This government is distinctly worse than the previous government. And they want to finish higher education. And they know they can’t finish higher education without finishing students movement. And ABVP that calls itself a student organisation is the agent of the government to finish student movements. It is also an anti-intellectual government which is against knowledge. They know if people start thinking, they would reject this government. The RSS, the BJP, and the ABVP are the same team,” he said.
ABVP leader and national media convenor, Saket Bahuguna dismissed RSS’ or government’s intervention in universities.
“RSS is not a banned organisation. Anybody can be a member of the organisation. It is a social organisation and anybody can be a part and there is no politics in it,” he said in a phone interview.
On charges by detractors of indulgence in violent activities in universities across the country, Bahuguna said that the communists are saying these things as they have been exposed.
“All the charges these communists are levelling at us, these are only allegations. The point is that they have been exposed. They have been exposed in JNU; they have been exposed in Delhi University. These were the people who have raised anti-India slogans in campuses.
“There is a section of communists, ultra-leftists, who have joined hands with separatists and Maoists. They have been creating commotion in all the universities. First, they organised Yakub Memon’s ‘namaz-e-janaza’ in Hyderabad University, then they organised a program for Afzal Guru in JNU, and then they invited the mastermind of the program Umar Khalid to DU. Who is organising these events? Who is creating chaos in the first place? My charge against communists is that they are against the country and they are raising anti-India slogans deliberately in universities to create the commotion.”
He said leaders like Sitaram Yechury and Arvind Kejriwal were playing politics in Ramjas campus.
“There is undue interference from leaders like Sitaram Yechury, Arvind Kejriwal and Yogendra Yadav,” he said.
About BJP leaders, he said there were not merely political leaders but ministers. “It was a law and order situation. They were reacting to it on tweets; there weren’t any interference from their side,” he added.
JNUstudent leader Shehla Rashid countered; she said the ABVP cannot hide behind nationalism.
“Saket Bahuguna cannot hide behind nationalism and Maoism. Has he had any protest against Dhruv Saxena who has ISI links? Has BJP cancelled his party membership? What action has they taken against him?” she said.
“He just can go around calling people separatists, Maoists and whatever. ABVP people are the ones who flaunt guns in DU campus. Amit Tanwar was spotted in union office with guns. And people who are unarmed and asking for peace and stress for freedom of expression are called Maoist and they are given rape threats,” she concluded.