The contrast is becoming more and more obvious: On February 13, the prime minister spent an entire day in Mumbai making a pitch for the world to invest in India. Those in Mumbai were amazed at how the PM visited every exhibition hall and each stall with rapt attention and energy that would put a 20 year old to shame. The picture in JNU was different. A group of political leaders, surrounded by a handful of students, was charting its own “Break in India” movement. Their addresses were not about investment, opportunity and aspiration but about who will put the strongest brakes on India’s development journey.
Cut back to January 19. The PM was on a major Northeast visit, where agriculture ministers from across India had gathered for discussions. He visited Sikkim and Assam, announced pathbreaking development initiatives. At the same time, the Congress vice president touched down in Hyderabad to lend a political voice to an unfortunate suicide. What the campus needed was cooling of tempers. What it got, instead, was unfortunate politics.
Go back further to the run-up to the Bihar elections. Awards were being returned and intolerance was alleged. But within a day of the result, the chorus stopped. In October, when the India-Africa Forum Summit brought the entire African leadership to New Delhi, the priority of the Congress was to seek political mileage out of the happenings in Kerala House.
There are numerous such examples, prompting someone to remark on social media that while the PM is asking the world to “Make in India”, others are pursuing an agenda to “Break in India” or “Break India”. Unable to win hearts at the ballot, their design is clear: To instill a misplaced fear through petty politicking.
For the last several days, the voices emerging from JNU are not about pioneering research, for which a university should be known. Instead, small but shrill sections of the university have become the loudest cheerleaders for a man punished by the Indian judiciary for attacking no less than our Parliament. If this is not enough, clarion calls for India’s disintegration have filled the campus.
Let us be clear that a handful of students belonging to political outfits and an ideology on oxygen support pose no threat to the nation. Their whims, fancies and selective outrage, if anything, will do more disservice to their cause than help them. There are few takers for mindless breast-beating on the issues they have picked.
What is, however, alarming is the glorification of the events in JNU. By what logic are slogans like “Afzal, we are ashamed, for your killers are alive”, or slogans for India’s disintegration, considered cool, intellectual and in the spirit of free speech?
The freedom of expression has been given by the Constitution so that young minds can debate, discuss and deliberate on ideas that will enrich the individual, society and the nation. It is part of our culture to question. We have questioned the gods, our elders, each other, and ourselves. We have only emerged stronger after such an expansive churning of thoughts and ideas. Some of the greatest reforms in the Hindu faith were never imposed by stealth or slogans but through the guidance of saints, seers and people from within.
What is happening in JNU is not freedom of expression. It is neither democracy nor a liberal democratic ethos on display. It is nothing but a cheap political and publicity stunt. Those protesting in JNU, and those supporting them, should answer how chants in support of Afzal Guru became a crusade for freedom of expression? Free speech doesn’t give the right to say things that are unsubstantiated, untrue, or go against the highest court of the land. Such blatant contempt for the Constitution is deplorable. Selective application of “I will disagree with you but I will defend your right to say it” does not serve any purpose.
This is the right moment for the “disaster tourists” to sit back, introspect and course correct. Why extract political capital through those who glorify the killers of our soldiers, the attackers of Parliament? Why seek dividends from the death of a youngster? Why dash off to any tragedy just to get a few handful of votes? Is this the India you want to build? There are disturbing reports of a relative of a senior MP being a part of the protests. But do we elect MPs so that they can support ideologies that seek to damage the nation?
In 2010, when Maoists mercilessly massacred 76 personnel of the CRPF, there were celebrations by some student bodies in JNU. Slogans against India reverberated on campus. That time, the unthinkable happened: The ABVP, NSUI and Youth for Equality came together and staged a march against such deplorable theatrics. There was a Congress government at the Centre but a student body affiliated with the BJP preferred to heed the call of the nation rather than engage in political stunts. Is this too much to expect now? Has the lure of power prevailed over the good of 125 crore Indians?
The PM has embarked on a unique mission to invite the world to India. The results have been encouraging. FDI inflows are up, our road network is expanding, we are producing more power, and corruption is at its lowest ebb. My humble request to those who can’t digest this is: If you have constructive criticism, share it. But if you don’t, then for the sake of the youth, the poor and the marginalised, don’t challenge the integrity and the unity of the nation. This will neither help you in the short run nor the nation in the long run.