An act of tyranny: ‘Modi govt threatened democracy; that is the most anti-national of all acts’

Nothing that JNU students did poses nearly as much of a threat to India as government's subversion of freedom

Written by Pratap Bhanu Mehta | Updated: February 16, 2016 10:21 am
 jawaharlal nehru university, Kanhaiya Kumat, jnu protest, jnu, afzal guru event, jnu sedition case, jnu case delhi police, jnu case NIA, jnu student arrest, india news, latest news A student shouts slogans as JNU teachers and students form a human chain inside the campus in protest against arrest of JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar on Sunday. (Source: Express Photo by Oinam Anand)

The arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar and the crackdown on political dissent at JNU suggest that we are living under a government that is both rabidly malign and politically incompetent. It is using nationalism to crush constitutional patriotism, legal tyranny to crush dissent, political power to settle petty scores, and administrative power to destroy institutions. The instigation of this crackdown was the alleged chanting of some anti-national slogans at JNU, and a meeting to mark the death anniversary of Afzal Guru. But the government’s disproportionate response smacks of tyranny of the highest order. It ordered the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar, whose speech had nothing anti-national about it.

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The fury with which the home minister and HRD minister intoned on defending “Mother India” and wiping out anti-national events, suggests several things. This was a political decision taken at the highest levels of government. It represents an open declaration by government that it will not tolerate any dissent. It clearly put on display this government’s imperiously presumptuous claim that it has the monopoly on nationalism. It was meant to be a display of brute force against a speech that was not in any way an immediate instigation to violence. The crackdown was an act designed to revel in ignorance of the law of sedition. Indeed, it was insidious in its remarkable ability to make ignorance the flaming torchbearer of nationalism. The government does not want to just crush dissent; it wants to crush thinking, as its repeated assaults on universities demonstrate.

Watch video: JNU Students, Left Activists Protest At Jantar Mantar

They want to peddle a patriotism whose condition of possibility is the wiping out of all thought. It is important not to confuse several issues. Some of the students may have been deeply misguided in the beliefs they hold. But a university is the space to debate them: yes, even the hanging of Afzal Guru. But nothing they said amounts to a definition of illegality that should befit a liberal democracy. As a society, we are also losing sight of a basic distinction: the threshold of justification required for using the coercive power of the state is not satisfied merely because someone disagrees. In fact, the critique of what the students were doing has been vitiated because it has resorted to force. It is also important to remember that what is at issue here is not the definition of patriotism, or who is or is not anti-national. Large sections of the media and intelligentsia are gullibly letting the question of nationalism frame the terms of debate. So, even at the risk of hyperbole, it is a moment to assert that being anti-national is not a crime. Indeed, if the definition of nationalism is narrow and pinched-up, if it does not brook serious criticism, if it is aligned with tyranny, if it trades on an anti-intellectual ignorance, and its purpose is to unleash a frenzy of destructive passion, then being anti-national might even be an obligation. Make no mistake: the purpose of such a use of state power is to put all defenders of liberty, all radical critics of the state, on the defensive. Its purpose is to make traitors of all of us.

Express Editorial | Do not disagree: JNU arrests are ill-judged, threaten basic rights

But besides being malign, the government’s actions are politically stupid. In a narrow sense, the crackdown fulfils the government’s agenda: polarise and confuse the population by constantly debating nationalism; give full rein to the politics of resentment that the government harbours against institutions it has declared “Left.” But it does long-run damage to the government’s credibility in several ways. It gives the opposition exactly the pretext to unite that they need. It is hard to see the government being able to carry much of the country with it, if it constantly uses such vendetta. It will not be a surprise if another parliament session is the casualty of such overreaction. And the opposition would be well within its rights. Dissent is not something to be trifled with. As atrocious as the Congress and Left’s record on freedom of expression is, this is an opportunity for them to signal a new beginning. But they have to learn this lesson. The Congress and the Left have been hiding behind their own self-declared virtue for far too long, to the point where they created and used all the legal instruments of suppression the BJP is deploying with such effect. The politics of dissent will have to be rescued from the politics of opportunism.

The crackdown signals an utter lack of judgment in the government, where ministers manage to manufacture a national crisis out of what were always, at best, minor affectations in student politics. The ABVP’s constantly seeking government interference in university affairs on ideological grounds does not portend well for the future. It has even given all those not on the Left a reason to rally with the “Left.” JNU’s importance to national intellectual life had been waning; the BJP has just resurrected it. Even from the point of view of their own critique of the Left, this is an own goal. It suggests that the BJP is a party that cannot repress its own base instincts, whose petty politics of resentment will always subvert whatever long-term goals it might have. The BJP has still not learnt any lesson from its fate over the last two years. The toleration debate will overshadow everything else it does, not because of some congenital anti-BJP conspiracy: it is because the protection of freedom is the life blood of a democracy. And in this case, it is the BJP that upped the ante. The BJP does not also understand one subtle point: that unless there is real and immediate violence involved, a democracy that cuts “anti-nationals” some slack is a robust democracy. For the fact that even people who push the boundaries of expression are safe makes us all feel safe.

Nothing that the students did poses nearly as much threat to India, as the subversion of freedom and judgement this government represents. The honourable ministers should realise that if this is a debate about nationalism, it is they, rather than JNU, who should be in the dock. They have threatened democracy; that is the most anti-national of all acts.

The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi, and contributing editor, The Indian Express

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First Published on: February 15, 2016 12:24 am
  1. A
    Abhinav Gour
    Feb 15, 2016 at 4:31 pm
    I think the writer is suffering from paranoia
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    1. P
      Priyank
      Feb 16, 2016 at 12:03 pm
      They truly are no threat but at the same time. "Freedom of speech" doesn't mean "Freedom of sedition"
      Reply
      1. S
        Saurabh-sunny
        Feb 15, 2016 at 6:45 am
        Dear pratab, i believe you belongs to those haterted modi community, which may sell their family and say modi has done it. i asked you what you have done for the nation,you forget what is to have to make a nation pride, if same incident happen in stan they myt have shoot all those students till now, it's INDIA where they are getting time to prove them self as a innocent, no matter what happen no one i will wright again NO ONE has a right to speak against our nation, my nation "INDIA" (to let u KNOW if don't belong to this nation). Let me explain you more perfectly where were human writes when the head of our soldier were cut off, where where the those who return the awards, where were the people like you when dadri and lokmatt incident were occurring.(LIST IS UNCOUNTABLE) Sir, it not modi sarkar it's people LIKE YOU in MEDIA which are threating my nation. I am a sudent and it hurts a lot when people OF INDIAN EXPRESS which was one time pride of common people and holding heritage of GREAT Mr. Goenkar nath is disolving in sand, People like you are among those who are RISING the FALSE rating of national solid media. Grow up it's never a late or else SHAME ON YOU calling your self a INDIAN... I AM AN INDIAN and no matter what happen every blood in body we will do or die FOR THIS NATION, IF YOU CANT'T CHANGE SOMETHING ATLEAST DON'T RUIN THE OTHERS EFFORTS OF MAKING SOMETHING NEW JAI HIND
        Reply
        1. H
          Hemant Kumar
          Feb 15, 2016 at 4:22 am
          In the atmosphere of enlightened nationalism, we can see who are snakes, pressutes like Bhanu Mehtas who and whose friends, mai-baaps have sucked poor of India dry ruining the country making it a callous India where people have forgot common brotherhood. In this age of technology, these writers want to peddle their third rate non developmental ideas.
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          1. A
            Aditya Singh
            Feb 14, 2016 at 9:15 pm
            origin of anti national ideas in the minds of youth is biggest threat to nation nothing else.
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            1. W
              wneap
              Feb 15, 2016 at 4:26 am
              "The arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar and the crackdown on political dissent at JNU suggest that we are living under a government that is both rabidly malign and politically incompetent." "Rabidly malign" is when... - Mamata Bannerjee has a Professor arrested because he shared her cartoons or - when she has a farmer arrested for questioning her during a rally or - when PC Chidambaram has a Chennaite arrested for tweeting about his son. Not when Police takes action under a law against people threatening to break your country into pieces!
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              1. W
                wneap
                Feb 15, 2016 at 4:19 am
                Every time these authors use the word 'dissent' to describe what the JNU students did, they should clearly spell out in brackets what exactly they said. By the time they finish writing they would realize the rubbish they have written and throw it into the dustbin.
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                1. A
                  ABC
                  Feb 16, 2016 at 10:40 am
                  pressute
                  Reply
                  1. A
                    Abhishek Akhani
                    Feb 16, 2016 at 10:09 am
                    Dumbest article writer....
                    Reply
                    1. A
                      Amit
                      Feb 15, 2016 at 11:38 am
                      Rubbish article. I wish I could kill the anti-ntionals and their vote-mongering supports. RaGa anyways doesnot have brains so nobody except the congi sycophants give a da mn to him
                      Reply
                      1. B
                        Balkrishan sharma
                        Feb 16, 2016 at 2:58 pm
                        The author of this article needs to be corrected about Nationalism, this corroborates that IE is on the line of anti nationalism! But a rubbish suggestion on the topic by IE?
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                        1. B
                          Bbblloo
                          Feb 15, 2016 at 6:25 am
                          Truly surprised to see BPM writing this and completely ignoring what even left and congress have rejected and condoned, at least in public view.
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                          1. B
                            B b
                            Feb 16, 2016 at 10:30 am
                            Pratap Bhanu Mehta has written an oped piece in Indian Express, 15 Feb, 2016 that betrays the absence of calm and composure that often characterises his blogs. It is indeed high in rhetoric and pionate in defence of democratic freedoms especially the 'freedom of expression'. I am afraid his line of arguments, subtle as well not so subtle, will not be intelligible much less convince those who have voted BJP to power. It is a piece written to validate the shenanigans of the political adversaries of Narendra Modi government and other critics of the present ruling dispensation in the country. It will be grist also for those outside India who have been regularly rallying against BJP/RSS in general and Narendra Modi in particular. It will also gladden the hearts of those who have always held BJP as something 'illegitimate' notwithstanding its growing electoral base, electoral successes over the last two and a half decades and a reasonably good record of governance in many states and at the centre. Be that as it may There are many troubling constructs and expressions that Mr Mehta has used in this write up which are excessively rhetorical and devoid of substance or simply fallacious in their reasoning. Here are a few of these: Mr Mehta calls police action in arresting JNUSU president 'crackdown on political dissent'. Come on Mr Mehta ! Where is your sense of proportion ? As far as facts have been reported in the newspapers and on TV news channels JNUSU president has been picked up for interrogation in connection with an anti-national demonstration of the worst kind where slogans like "Bharat ki barbadi tak jang rahegi jaari ' and " Bharat ke Tukde hone tak jang rahe gi jaari ' were raised. Now not even a mildly patriotic person will find such slogans at a nationally recognised and publicly funded insution tolerable. Generations of Indians from across the country have during the course of freedom struggle conceived of India as a united country in pursuit of all round development of its diverse people and made numerous sacrifices across generations to achieve 'Bharat, that is India' as described in the Article 1 of our Consution. How can such pernicious sloganeering be countenanced as " some anti-national slogans" as Mr Mehta thinks it was. A high minded and ultra liberal academic like Mr Mehta may find nothing wrong with it but an average Indian will find it absolutely repugnant. Bharat has seen 'barbadi' over a millennia and its people have suffered immensely: politically, socially, economically and civilizationally. Any such expression even by 'deeply misguided students' needs to be abhorred. Can such activity be called 'political dissent' within the framework of a consutional democracy ? Is it not what our worst enemies have vowed to attempt over a thousand years ? Whose language the 'students, we're talking? If sloganeering was limited to 'Azadi of Kashmir' that would not be so malignant as a wish for 'Bharat ki barbadi'. Does such thought and action fall within the meaning of 'consutional patriotism' that Mr Mehta wants to prevail. Whether or not the government overpla its hand in arresting JNUSU president will be known only after police, JNU and 'Kejriwal' investigations have been completed. Is it then fair For Mr Mehta to call it 'tyranny of the highest order' ? He calls the minister's statements that any one threatening Bharat Mata will not be tolerated as an 'open declaration by government that it will not tolerate any dissent'. Mr Mehta, since when has insulting or threatening Indian nationhood become 'kosher' enough to be accepted as ' dissent'? Please do not preach us to accept such absurd standards of political behaviour. He goes on to call government action as ' display of brute force against a speech that was not in any way an 'immediate' instigation to violence. Firstly, how can you call one person's arrest as 'use of brute force' ? And secondly, should a consutionally mandated and responsible government wait till a 'speech' erupts in the form of 'violence' when violence was clearly being threatened against India. If we accept Mr Mehta's advices all terrorist 'sleeper cells' should be allowed to carry out their silent operations and government should step in only when the terrorists have inflicted or are about to inflict violence. Mr Mehta, be real. National security cannot brook legal hair splitting and there is no guarantee that JNU sloganeers and their sympathisers and abettors in the student community may not drift into terrorism of one kind or another. Mr Mehta then goes on to state that Patriotism being promoted by BJP is conditioned by 'wiping out of all thought' Now this is an extreme kind of rhetoric. Mr Mehta is so carried away by his pionate rhetoric that he expounds a new and novel hypothesis which is that ' being anti-national is not a crime'. If that is so why has the Indian state been battling insurgents in north east, Maoists and militants in Punjab and J and K for over half a century. By Mr Mehta's standard Dawood Ibrahim, Tiger Menon and Yakub Menon should be called patriots. The icing on the cake comes in the last few paragraphs of the blog where Mr Mehta worries about the political balance sheet of BJ P and the harm it is doing to its long term relevance as a party of governance. Now, if the present government is so evil and so detrimental to Indian democracy why does Me Mehta worry about its longevity in the political arena? Isn't this an irrational twist to the line of his argument particularly his emphatic statement that actions of this government are, in fact, anti-national. To conclude I am unable to understand why the JNU students of all hues particularly the JNUSU President as well as the other office bearers, did not stop the anti-India sloganeering and chase away the intruders if they were not the University students ? Why was subterfuge of a 'cultural event' used to organise an event of anti-national orientation? Why JNUTA and JNUSU did not sit in 'dharna' against such an event ? Possibly, they have been caught on the wrong foot, at least this time, and have aggressively shifted the battle ground from national to supra-national realm of democracy and freedom. If the sloganeering was being indulged in by JNU students I am sure both the red and saffron brigade know their ideny-at least some of them. Then why they have not been identified and arrested ? And, finally, I agree with Mr Mehta that BJP is politically unsubtle and needs to hone its political skills, particularly when in power.
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                            1. B
                              Biru
                              Feb 16, 2016 at 9:51 am
                              Agar humare bare mein ya hamare ghar ke bare mein koi jhut aur i batt bolata hai to kya humhe ose khusi milita hai ya o sehi ba at bolta hai agar o sehi he to o students sehi hai agar o galat hai to o students galat hai.
                              Reply
                              1. P
                                Poorna
                                Feb 15, 2016 at 1:57 am
                                Very well said PBM. Let the government do governance not curb dissent. Let the issues be debated not buried. BJP has not learnt that "My way or highway" will not work in a vibrant democracy.
                                Reply
                                1. S
                                  Sirius
                                  Feb 15, 2016 at 7:47 am
                                  Mr. Mehta : For a moment, imagine, that the govt. would have ignored the sloganeering against 'Judicial Murder' of Guru, despite the video evidence. Subsequently, some activist files a PIL in SC for contempt of court by JNU students against a judicial verdict. Now, what in your opinion, would have been SC's reaction ? Had it sent notices to govt. on the 'inaction',would you , your friends in congress and CPI/CPI(M) said the same as you say in this article ?
                                  Reply
                                  1. A
                                    Ajit kumar
                                    Feb 15, 2016 at 6:26 am
                                    Mr Mehta is shouting anti india speech is freedom of speech. I considered u as most judicious writer in the country but I was u too are affected by so called left, liberal ,secular syndrome.
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                                    1. E
                                      Em
                                      Feb 16, 2016 at 8:29 am
                                      Writer of this article should be slapped hard and must be kicked out of this country. Those people who are supporting this article or downvoting other's comment must look at themselves before supporting anti-national activity. SHAME ON YOU...........
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                                      1. H
                                        Haradhan Mandal
                                        Feb 15, 2016 at 4:14 am
                                        Well said. well written. It is so OMINOUS. On one side there is their incessant false propaa and ,on the other side, they are spreading fear and fear psychosis among not only who stand up against them (even academically, intellectually) - but the neutral, impartial on-lookers and AAM AAMI. If you don't come under 'US' - we will first label you 'Anti-National'or 'Communist' or 'Jihadist' or their supporters and crush you. Thai is what Rohith Vemula - the Dalit Scholar - was made to - hounded to take his own life. That is where Kanhaiya Kumar is .
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                                        1. H
                                          Haradhan Mandal
                                          Feb 15, 2016 at 8:30 am
                                          You want to digress the discussion . 'What about Islamic conquest '- How could this happen - if you (Brahmin) were so advanced in SCIENCE and weapons and so advanced in Brain - and Kshatriyas were so Skillful warrior??? Those Islamic conquest attackers few (handful) nomadic ILLITERATE BACKWARD barbarians. Why Top Layer (Brahmin and Kshatriya - great great g fathers of RSS ) could not protect the lower cl Hindus - that was not the fault of Congress .
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                                            IML sood
                                            Feb 15, 2016 at 5:51 am
                                            What nonsense he is talking and IE is giving his anti national views so much importance.Fail to judge who is to be ashamed first. The main simple question is if being anti national and raising slogans against the honour and dignity is democracy than we Indian do not want Mehta type democracy.Such stooge has no right to be called Indian but a wolf in sheep clothing which may endanger our freedom.why not a big bycott with such so called supporters of terrorism
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