I write to you very reluctantly as I am not sure if you would accept my right to speak to you. Many of you know that I do not share your ideology, one which has the RSS as its fountainhead. Yet, I feel we can have a conversation. This is also because many of my students have been members of the ABVP. I have not tried to covert them; at the same time, I cannot disown them.
As a student activist, I was an AISF member. But after taking up the profession of teaching, I decided not to be a party to any side in student politics. I am critical of the CPM, CPI(ML), CPI, the CPI (Maoist), the Congress and the Jamaat-e-Islami but when their student outfits call me, I do go. I was warned by well-wishing colleagues to not forward an application for a hall from the student organisation that supports the PWG, but did not pay heed to them.
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I am confident that people with antagonistic ideologies can talk to each other. This confidence comes from childhood memories: That of Mahendra Babu, a respected high school headmaster and a well-known RSS pracharak in and around Siwan, a small town in Bihar. They did not belong to the same caste or profession but there was rarely a week when my father, a teacher at the DAV College, would not visit him or he would not be at our house. My father was a Nehruvian then and continues to cherish Nehruvian thoughts even after India has turned its back on Nehru. My father and Mahendra Babu didn’t meet only to exchange pleasantries. They would spend hours discussing politics. Those were the days when the RSS was trying to come out of the shadow that the murder of the Mahatma had cast over it. Yet, Mahendra chacha, as we knew him, was not denounced by my father nor did he ever think of converting my father to his kind of Hindu nationalism.
I have not forgotten Janardan Tiwari, a member of the then political arm of the RSS, the Jana Sangh, and three time MP from Siwan. He knew full well that my father would never vote for him but Janardan Tiwari always made a point to meet him before the elections. From my Siwan memories, I cannot remember an evening when Mahendra Babu was not seen without Faiz Sahab, a Muslim to the core, and also a chacha to us. He never asked him to move to Pakistan which has been in the eyes of many RSS members the destination of all the Muslims of India: Musalmaan kaa ek sthan, kabristaan yaa Pakistan.
I recall the friendship of Ajmat Ali with Tripathi Siya Raman. They were teachers of the same college where my father taught, one a card holder of the CPI, the other a follower of the RSS. Or, my uncle, my father’s elder brother, who, in even in his old days, would call to share his joy after reading a piece by me, which was often critical of the ideology he held and propagated, the Hindu nationalist ideology of the RSS. You would be surprised to know that Chandrashekhar, the student leader of the AISA, from the much-reviled JNU was a regular at Mahendra Babu’s. His son told me that a day before he was murdered, Chandrashekhar had dined with them at their place. He never called Chandrashekhar a traitor or somebody who should be barred from public places or imprisoned.
As a student activist and a known communist, I was never attacked by fellow activists from the ABVP. We protested against each other, but never tried to evict the other.
I decided to write to you after sharing a panel with one of your leaders on the noisy and bloody day at my campus. I had seen my colleagues and other students being hit by some of you. I heard and read them warning that communists would not be allowed to covert DU into JNU and that anti-nationals would not be allowed in the campus.
Your leader denied the involvement of ABVP in violence but what he said next disturbed me. He argued that the Ramjas College students were venting their emotion and the role of the ABVP was only to support them. It was not only a tacit approval of the violence but also a strategic evasion of your own role in it — blaming unnamed people for an act you committed. This is not how youth behaves. Your idol Bhagat Singh did not try to escape after the bomb blast. He took responsibility for what he had done and paid the price for it. What you are doing now cannot be called courageous. You do not talk, you shout. You do not meet your opponents face to face, you try to eliminate them physically.
This isn’t how students should behave. Have faith in your argument, meet argument with argument. If you respond to argument with physical force, you lose.
I think of Mahendra Babu. How would he have reacted to such acts from members of an organisation he had patronised? I imagine Chandrashekhar in the place of Umar Khalid or Shehla Rashid. Would Mahendra Babu have approved of forcing them out? Mahendra Babu was from a small town and from the times when one could have endless conversation without the fear of the opposite side winning the debate. The conservationists believed not so much in the power of conversation as in its beauty. The need to meet someone so different from you and walk with him, in fact, confirms your own humanity. Nations are actually unending conversation among its people. They stop growing when such conversation is blunted.
It is blunting of argument and conversation that we see in Delhi University, Jodhpur University, Haryana Central University, Mohanlal Sukhadia University, Jharkhand University and many other places. It is only your shouts that pierce the silence. Do you really think my friends that you have won?