The recent controversy in one of India’s university campuses considered to be the mecca of freethinking, JNU, has generated a lot of heat and dust in the public discourse. It all started with a group of misled youth sloganeering in favour of a man who was confirmed to be a deadly terrorist by a court of law after strictly observing due process. In any other common-law jurisdiction, this act of sheer belligerence would have attracted the charge of contempt of court. Calling the lawful hanging of a terrorist an institutional murder is outright denigration of the rule of law. Nevertheless, JNU has a history of holding events that are not in the best interests of the nation. The celebration of the brutal killings of 76 CRPF jawans in Dantewada is still fresh in public memory.
On the contrary, I am of the opinion that little has been discussed on the import of the attack on Parliament, which shook the national conscience. As a member of the 13th Lok Sabha, I was present inside the central hall of Parliament when the attack took place on December 13, 2001. A sense of uncertainty prevailed as death loomed over us. Initially, on hearing gunshots, we were unaware and perplexed about what was happening. We were clueless if it was a terrorist attack on the nation and we were in the midst of external aggression. The thought of an assault on the temple of democracy was beyond the imagination of the Indian Parliament and all of us. A lot of questions were doing the rounds inside the hallowed precincts of Parliament House. I remember the then deputy prime minister, L.K. Advani, and the then Union minister for parliamentary affairs, the late Pramod Mahajan, taking the lead.
Smartphones and live feeds were not yet part of the technological lexicon. In that atmosphere of fear psychosis, we were worried about what was next. I will never forget the hour for which we were stuck behind continuous gunshots and unpredictability. Once the security forces started guiding MPs outside the Parliament complex, we saw the dead body of one of the terrorists. Apart from more-than-sufficient arms and ammunition, they were carrying loads of dry fruit that could have easily sustained them for a week or so. Words are insufficient to commemorate the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for our safety, for the safety of the most valued institution of democracy in our nation. My heart bleeds along with those of the citizens of this country when slogans are raised in favour of the person who was chiefly instrumental in planning, directing and implementing the terrorist attack on Indian democracy.
Attempts are being made to establish an interface between the incidents at Hyderabad Central University (HCU) and JNU. Without mincing words, as a Dalit political activist from a nationalist political party having more than 10 crore members, I see an evil design behind the propagation of the idea of an alliance between Dalits and Muslims against the idea of one nation. The idea of an alliance does not hold ground when tested against historical and sociological parameters. Academically, there can be two hypothetical categories to examine the relationship and interface between Dalits and Muslims: Victims and victors. Muslims have historically represented the class of victors. This can be historically proven by looking at the external invasions from the 11th century onwards. On the contrary, the story is different for the Dalit community, wherein historical injustices need not be testified to on any institutional parameters.
The desperate attempt to correlate JNU with the unfortunate demise of a Dalit scholar in HCU has a crystal-clear political connotation to it.
For the benefit of the reader, there has been a constant disenchantment of the subaltern community with mainstream political parties. The Congress patronised Dalit leadership but did not do justice to the likes of Babu Jagjivan Ram, who has been called the “hawkish” minister of defence in the context of the Bangladesh Liberation War by Gary Bass in The Blood Telegram. The historical distaste of Babasaheb for the Congress has been a matter of scholarship for our political scientists and historians for quite some time now. The formative years of the nation witnessed a completely different form and nature of politics. The post-Nehru period was the worst in the organisational history of the Congress as then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi indulged in cultivating regional satraps in order to sustain her dominance at the Centre. The Congress has repeatedly lost the golden opportunity to cultivate Dalit leadership in the nation. On the contrary, Dalits have asserted themselves through other political formations like the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh, the Republican Party of India in Maharashtra and the BJP nationally. It is interesting to note that the vote shares of Dalits and MPs from reserved constituencies have been constantly rising in the BJP.
Critics may note that the Central government is trying to redefine the contours of welfare administration in India. A shift from a largely “entitlement”-based paradigm to an “empowerment”-based model is at work. Schemes such as Start-Up India, Mudra and so on will boost the confidence of the youth belonging to the Dalit community. The flag-bearers of social justice need to go through the historic amendments introduced to the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The NDA government has substantially expanded the ambit of offences and also provided for stricter punishments for lackadaisical bureaucrats.
The Dalit youth wants an institutional interface to engage with and explore the world of endless possibilities in an aspirational India. She seeks to surge ahead to a place where both career and lifestyle opportunities are alike for everyone regardless of their social origins. We have traversed a long path of struggle since Independence. The Dalit discourse needs optimism, not the traditional atmosphere of pessimism and tokenism, which has negatively contributed to the growth and development of society. Let us come together and work for a developed nation with a just society.