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BRP Bhaskar: A spurious nationalism project
February 23, 2016
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has landed the Narendra Modi government in a soup by launching a war against alleged anti-nationals. University campuses and courtrooms are the chosen battlegrounds.

The RSS had played a critical role in getting the BJP to project Modi as its prime ministerial candidate and spearheaded the party’s successful poll campaign in the Hindi heartland which helped it to secure a parliamentary majority.

The Human Resources Development ministry, which oversees education, is one of the government departments in whose working the RSS, which describes itself as a cultural outfit, takes direct interest. A group comprising representatives of 11 RSS affiliates has been liaising with HRD Minister Smriti Irani on a regular basis to ensure that her work is in consonance with its aims.

It is easy for the Centre to influence school education as the Central Board of Secondary Education and the National Council of Educational Research and Training, which decide the curriculum and prepare the textbooks, are directly under it. Since the universities enjoy autonomy, it can influence them only through the Vice-Chancellors appointed by it.

The RSS’s designs on prestigious institutions like the Jawaharlal Nehru University, the Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institutes of Management came to light last year when its two publications, the Organiser and the Panchjanya, carried articles which dubbed them dens of anti-national activity.

The modus operandi is for the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the BJP’s student body, to complain of anti-national activity and for the VCs and the police to initiate action against students belonging to other organisations on the basis of its complaints. If they don’t act, the Centre pressures them.

While in IIT-Madras and the Hyderabad University, the ABVP targeted Dalit groups, in JNU it picked on the Left organisations which have dominated its campus throughout. It used a function organised by a small group to honour the memory of executed Parliament attack case accused Afzal Guru as a pretext to complain of anti-national activities by the Left organisations.

The Supreme Court, in its judgment in the Parliament attack case, had invoked the need to satisfy the nation’s conscience, and jurists like former Law Commission Chairman AP Shah have opined that Guru’s hanging was politically motivated.

Doctored videos attributing slogans and speeches heard at the Afzal Guru function to JNU Students’ Union President Kanhaiya Kumar were soon in circulation, and sensationalist television channels aired them. The police, called into the campus by Vice-Chancellor Jagdeesh Kumar, arrested Kanhaiya Kumar and a few others under the archaic colonial-era sedition provision of the penal code.

The JNU events developed into a huge embarrassment for the government as students and teachers of institutions across India and several prestigious foreign universities condemned Kanhaiya Kumar’s arrest.

Opposition parties denounced the government’s handling of the situation and made common cause with the students. Voices of dissent rose from within the BJP camp too.

Calling for the release of Kanhaiya Kumar, Shatrughan Sinha, a film actor and long-time BJP MP, pointed out that JNU was a seat of learning with some very respectable teachers and some of India’s brightest young minds.

Three office-bearers of the ABVP’s JNU unit quit the organisation, declaring they could not be the mouthpiece of such a government.

To boost the nationalism project, the HRD Ministry directed all central universities to raise the national flag on 200-foot high masts on the campus. JNU has been flying the flag for decades.

The RSS is a new convert to flag-waving nationalism. It flew the national flag atop its headquarters in Nagpur for the first time in 2002, three years after the first BJP-led government came to power and 52 years after the Indian republic was established.

During the freedom struggle, RSS chief MS Golwalkar famously advised Hindus not to waste their energy fighting the British but save it to fight “our internal enemies that are Muslims, Christians and Communists.”

The RSS was banned thrice since Inependence – the first time after Gandhi’s murder in 1948, then during the Emergency in 1975 and finally after its cadres demolished the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya in 1992.

Putting the current situation in perspective, eminent historian and JNU professor emerita Romila Thapar said the battle was between religious nationalism and secular nationalism.

The RSS having queered the pitch, Modi has no option but to brazen it out. He has said the current furore is an attempt by political opponents and non-government organisations to destabilise his government.

The government’s offer of a full discussion of the JNU issue in Parliament is beside the point, which is whether it is capable of reining in its supporters who are posing an open challenge to the rule of law.

The lengths to which they are willing to go in pursuit of the spurious nationalism project became clear when lawyers owing allegiance to it assaulted Kanhaiya Kumar in the trial court premises and stoned and chased away a team deputed by the Supreme Court to report on developments there. Some of them have also sought to bait the apex court by seeking contempt proceedings against Kanhaiya Kumar for allegedly criticising its judgment in the case against Afzal Guru.

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 The author is a political analyst of reckoning

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