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Monday, May 23, 2022

Hindutva and Fascism: They may not be identical, but why suspend a teacher who asked students to compare the two?

The thinking citizens of this country ought to wonder about the answers of the students if they had been allowed to attempt the exam question on Hindutva and Fascism

Written by Manoj Kumar Jha |
Updated: May 12, 2022 4:44:17 pm
In their specifics, Hindutva and Fascism may not be exactly identical.

A question in an undergraduate examination of political science comparing two ideologies appeared to have alarmed the powers that be. The University Grants Commission (UGC) has reprimanded the Sharda University, claiming that the question goes against our national ethos and asked it to ensure this does not happen again. Some students protested against the question and disallowed their fellow students from answering it as well. Such reactions suggest that now requiring students to think is an objectionable revolt against the “staid” objective of imbibing information passively. The headlines of the reports and articles in The Indian Express regarding this incident sum up a whole host of issues relating to higher education in India.

One, in the new education regime, college and university administrators have been given unrestricted freedom to rule like despots as long as they do not ask the government for funds. The only requirement is the enforcement of intellectual obedience – now demanded in unconcealed communications by the UGC and Ministry of Education. This is implemented on ground with the “able assistance” of student groups aligned with the Bharatiya Janata Party. The extent to which this is normalised on campuses should be gauged from the blocking of invitations even by progressive students groups. It feels tiring to repeat again and again that this regrettable trend undermines the very function of a university.

Two, the more recent incidents show a proclivity for disciplining private universities as well. Satisfied with how the subordination of intellectual thought at public universities has progressed, it appears that the “competent authorities” are now diverting their attention to private universities where, in an environment of little to no state regulation, there was a danger that free thought might flourish.

Three, the way in which the university in question referred to an ad-hoc teacher is a rude reminder of the precarity and powerlessness built into the system, which is only intensifying. Teaching is also a livelihood of teachers. Teachers who can be hired and fired at the will of administrators, and teachers who can get promoted only as a reward for their consent to keep quiet or take pride in colluding with the intimidation of their own colleagues, can never teach students critical thinking.

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Education can be liberating, but education is also a form of social control. Everyone knows that under Fascism, freedom of speech remains limited. However, not many realise that Fascism discourages thinking and exchange of ideas because thinking can lead to political, scientific and even economic advancement. This is the reason why Fascism, no matter how populist, can never be in the interest of the poor and depressed classes. Throughout history, Fascists have instigated people to conflict, and have glorified those who wage war against intellect, primarily because they are interested in obedient subordination of all to the “will and guidance” of the state instead of social justice and peace. It is easy to recognise that this is totalitarianism.

The term “totalitarianism” was coined by a professor of philosophy, Giovanni Gentile, who described himself as a “philosopher of Fascism”. Fascism being in power in Italy at the time, both the terms – “fascism” and “totalitarianism” — did not carry the negative connotations of our times. Gentile had immense influence not only on public education as Benito Mussolini’s education minister but went on to define the very idea of a “fascist intellectual”. He believed that truth can be “revealed” to mind and should be in aid of the Fascist state. This idea has been useful for rulers with totalitarian tendencies of all shades and has received a fresh lease of life in the post-truth era. Although the present day proponents of filling students up to the brim with nationalistic jingoism would like everyone to forget the historical roots of their ideas, their attempts at blocking not only expression but also thought are nothing new. Co-option of sections of youth to unleashing machismo on university and college campuses gives away their genealogy.

In their specifics, Hindutva and Fascism may not be exactly identical. But suspension of a teacher, who asked students to compare the two, shows that they certainly share some important traits. Among these is a determination to control the thoughts of masses through a tight grip over media and the expressions of those whose primary task is to think and make others reflect.

Even if we do not speak up every time on everything that morally requires us to raise our voices, the thinking citizens of this country ought to wonder about the answers of the students if they had been allowed to attempt the exam question. Why couldn’t the students who thought that the two ideologies in question are not alike, write an answer and give arguments supporting their position? Perhaps this question should continue to echo in all our minds.

The writer is an academic and MP, Rashtriya Janata Dal

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