An article in the November 1 issue of Panchjanya represents the most recent development in the Hindutva parivar’s attack on the idea of a secular and modern India. Written by RSS ideologue Ashwini Mishra, the article states that a university is a place where students of all cultures and social backgrounds get trained in nationalism and the ideology of the nation. It further states that though universities are meant to be centres of learning, the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) is a unique place where “speaking about nationalism is a crime”. Mishra states that this university is a place where leftists preach and train students in anti-nationalism. Citing examples, he states that JNU teachers and students supported Naxalites, insulted the martyrs of the Kargil war, promoted beef-eating, protested against capital for Afzal Guru. He also claims that JNU teachers spread poison against the upper castes. In short, according to him, the teachers and students of JNU have made concerted efforts to break “Hindu society and the nation”.
This unwarranted attack on the teachers and students of JNU comes at an important political juncture. First, the JNU students’ union is leading an important agitation against the withdrawal of non-NET (National Eligibility Test) fellowships and the privatisation of education. Second, the term of the current liberal and progressive vice chancellor is coming to an end and in his last academic council meeting, the university has taken an important stand to support the demands of the students. It has also resisted the attempts of the government to impose rightwing and ideologically motivated programmes in the university. Third, the teachers and researchers of the university are prominently supporting the anti-communal and pro-freedom of expression campaign started by intellectuals, scientists, writers, academics and others. The role of the teachers and students in defending democracy and the idea of an egalitarian society is well known, as many have been lending their voice against the neoliberal and dictatorial agenda of the present government. Given this context, the direct attack on JNU by the mouthpiece of the RSS is a calculated attempt to delegitimise dissent and blunt attempts to demystify the real agenda of the Narendra Modi government. The political context and timing of this attack also show the desperation of the Hindutva brigade. It also points to the crisis of legitimacy that the present day ruling class is facing.
So what does JNU stand for? If we look at the first schedule of the JNU Act it states that the “university shall endeavour to promote the study of the principles for which Jawaharlal Nehru worked during his life-time, national integration, social justice, secularism, democratic way of life, international understanding and scientific approach to the problems of society”.
Elaborating on this aspect, it also states that the university shall foster a composite culture, ensure that students and teachers from all over the country join and work for the social needs of the nation. In keeping with this objective, the students and teachers have fought hard to have an inclusive admission policy as well as inculcate and propagate the values that form the foundations of a modern and egalitarian nation. It is obvious that this idea of the nation and its articulation (as done by the JNU Act) is quite contrary to the philosophy of the conservative Hindutva nationalism propagated by the Sangh Parivar and the ruling classes. Such an idea of the nation also threatens these forces because, contrary to the Panchjanya article, JNU is a premier university with eminent and world-renowned academics whose active advocacy is crucial to mobilising public opinion against Modi and his government.
In the spirit of the idea of a nation espoused by JNU, the teachers and students have often found themselves on the wrong side of the ruling establishment. One should remember that, in the past, they have actively opposed the imposition of the Emergency in 1975, argued for justice in the 1984 riots, and opposed the demolition of the Babri Masjid. They have also led consistent campaigns against the neoliberal agenda of successive Congress and NDA governments in the past. They have also been fighting for justice for the victims of the Gujarat riots in 2002.
Given this history, it is important to understand that a majority of the academics and students in the university take political positions. They are active in movements that fight for the rights of the labouring class of people as well as the victims of ruling-class oppression. JNU and its teachers and students stand for the idea of a nation that is espoused by a majority of the oppressed and working classes in the country. Any attempt to dilute this idea must be resolutely opposed.
The writer is professor and chairperson, Centre for Informal Sector and Labour Studies, JNU.