A dangerous passion play that began at Hyderabad Central University and engulfed Jawaharlal Nehru University has now reached Srinagar with the fracas at the National Institute of Technology in the Valley. Those who have made it their chief occupation over the last few weeks to test the patriotism of assorted groups of Indian citizens may think it is fitting that the stage is now the perceived Ground Zero of Indian nationhood, but they could not be treading more dangerous ground. Playing with the charged tropes of nationalism, the national flag and “Mother India” is one thing in a south Delhi campus, and quite another in Kashmir. While such jingoism is unacceptable at any educational institution, only the appallingly ignorant or the deliberately self-serving could think of force-feeding “Bharat Mata ki Jai” to students on a Kashmir campus. The divisions stoked by the episode playing out at the NIT campus ever since some Kashmiri students are said to have supported the West Indies cricket team against India, between Kashmiri students and “non-locals” or “outsiders”, could touch off off-campus echoes in the Valley and the rest of the state. The situation seems tailor made, too, for an increase in perceptions of polarisation between the two regions of the state. Already, some Hindutva groups have called for a bandh in Jammu.
Over the last 14 months, the Valley has witnessed extraordinary changes — a government that brought together a party of “soft separatists” and hardline nationalists, a new militancy that security forces say is indigenous, popular support for the “boys” of a kind last seen during the 1990s, and two big incidents in neighbouring Punjab that have pointed to cross-border groups waiting to strike. The situation calls for wisdom and perspective, and a better grip of history, not a flag at the NIT gates, as a section of students has demanded.
As the party ruling the Centre and running the state in alliance with the PDP, the BJP should show greater responsibility. Unfortunately, a statement issued by the state unit of the party conveniently glosses over how the problem began at the NIT. It demands action against “all those” behind the violent incidents, including police officials, but makes it clear its sympathies are not with the Kashmiri students. And shockingly, it carries the suggestion that there could be a backlash against Kashmiri students studying in other parts of the country. The Union HRD ministry has sent a team to assess the situation. The country cannot afford a repeat at the NIT of the posturing over JNU.