Sunday, February 14, 2016

Pratap Bhanu Mehta - ‘Modi sarkar threatened democracy; that is the most anti-national of all acts’ // Sushil Aaron - The JNU crackdown could be the BJP’s undoing

NB: This is an excellent article on the Modi government's blatant ideological partisanship; and the Sangh Parivar's unrelenting assault on our minds and on democracy itself. The Government of India is fast becoming a manufactory for riot-production - much like the Sangh to whom it owes allegiance. Ultra-nationalism is the only weapon they have in their pre-election propaganda machine. We also need to remember the distinction between the platform of democracy and the politics of the groups occupying that platform. As Professor Mehta says (in his reference to the past record of the Congress and Left on on freedom of expression); dissent will have to be rescued from the politics of opportunism. This means that those who criticise the Hindutva brigade for their totalitarian ideology, violence and politics of intimidation, should remember that they will be judged by the same standards - and should refrain from indulging in similar kinds of political behaviour. 

Some people believe a revolution is going on. They may belong to the sangh parivar, one or other jehadi lashkar, 'commando force', or 'people army'. In my view, the only revolution that is happening is the revolution of nihilism. 

All democrats should stand with the resisting students as long their aims remain constitutional and methods non-violent. At the same time they should speak out against violations of democratic norms by leftists and the Congress. The issue is not which parties are to be seen supporting the JNU academic community. Such parties are obliged to endorse the students demands if they wish to retain political credibility. What is at stake are the principles of university autonomy and freedom of expression. 

We must distinguish the platform of democracy from the groups that occupy it. 

Here are some extracts from an article I had written in 2012: 

The term radicalism (going to the root of things) is usually taken in a positive sense, although ‘root’ explanations can be simplistic. But radicalism cuts across the political spectrum. What Right, Left and ‘marketist’ radicalisms have in common is dogma and fanaticism. It is not a Party but a platform of political moderation that is lacking. I do not wish to gloss over the serious distinctions between various radical doctrines, but will focus here on the similarities. These include the idea that independence is incomplete until their dogma attains power; the view that the Constitution and democracy should be used rather than respected (see below); sustained attempts towards the ideological infusion of state institutions; a self-fulfilling vision of civil society as a theatre of civil war; and the maintenance of armed groups that can be ‘spontaneously’ deployed when required. This is the ground shared by enemies and it tends to remain unspeakable. All we have is the refrain: ‘my violence is better than your violence’….

The great delusion of our time is that ‘revolution’ is the totem of historical progress. There is indeed a revolution underway, but not of the communist fantasy. It is the revolution of nihilism, wherein ideas and virtues lose all meaning, human beings become mere instruments, ‘action’ is always imbued with violence, and everything is subsumed within a quest for absolute power. Those swayed by Absolute Truths cannot understand that such language leads to an endless oscillation between domination and chaos. From now on, no left-wing politics can carry philosophical conviction if it fails to address the scourge of violence. The sad truth is that a faction-ridden communist movement has proven itself incapable of self-reflection when it comes to understanding its own decline..

... what is at issue here is not the definition of patriotism, or who is or is not anti-national. Large sections of the media and intelligentsia are gullibly letting the question of nationalism frame the terms of debate... being anti-national is not a crime.. if the definition of nationalism is narrow and pinched-up, if it does not brook serious criticism, if it is aligned with tyranny, if it trades on an anti-intellectual ignorance, and its purpose is to unleash a frenzy of destructive passion, then being anti-national might even be an obligation... Make no mistake: the purpose of such a use of state power is to put all defenders of liberty, all radical critics of the state, on the defensive. Its purpose is to make traitors of all of us. 

The arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar and the crackdown on political dissent at JNU suggest that we are living under a government that is both rabidly malign and politically incompetent. It is using nationalism to crush constitutional patriotism, legal tyranny to crush dissent, political power to settle petty scores, and administrative power to destroy institutions. The instigation of this crackdown was the alleged chanting of some anti-national slogans at JNU, and a meeting to mark the death anniversary of Afzal Guru.

But the government’s disproportionate response smacks of tyranny of the highest order. It ordered the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar, whose speech had nothing anti-national about it. The fury with which the home minister and HRD minister intoned on defending “Mother India” and wiping out anti-national events, suggests several things. This was a political decision taken at the highest levels of government. It represents an open declaration by government that it will not tolerate any dissent. It clearly put on display this government’s imperiously presumptuous claim that it has the monopoly on nationalism. It was meant to be a display of brute force against a speech that was not in any way an immediate instigation to violence.

The crackdown was an act designed to revel in ignorance of the law of sedition. Indeed, it was insidious in its remarkable ability to make ignorance the flaming torchbearer of nationalism. The government does not want to just crush dissent; it wants to crush thinking, as its repeated assaults on universities demonstrate.

They want to peddle a patriotism whose condition of possibility is the wiping out of all thought. It is important not to confuse several issues. Some of the students may have been deeply misguided in the beliefs they hold. But a university is the space to debate them: yes, even the hanging of Afzal Guru. But nothing they said amounts to a definition of illegality that should befit a liberal democracy. As a society, we are also losing sight of a basic distinction: the threshold of justification required for using the coercive power of the state is not satisfied merely because someone disagrees. In fact, the critique of what the students were doing has been vitiated because it has resorted to force.

It is also important to remember that what is at issue here is not the definition of patriotism, or who is or is not anti-national. Large sections of the media and intelligentsia are gullibly letting the question of nationalism frame the terms of debate. So, even at the risk of hyperbole, it is a moment to assert that being anti-national is not a crime. Indeed, if the definition of nationalism is narrow and pinched-up, if it does not brook serious criticism, if it is aligned with tyranny, if it trades on an anti-intellectual ignorance, and its purpose is to unleash a frenzy of destructive passion, then being anti-national might even be an obligation.

Make no mistake: the purpose of such a use of state power is to put all defenders of liberty, all radical critics of the state, on the defensive. Its purpose is to make traitors of all of us. But besides being malign, the government’s actions are politically stupid. In a narrow sense, the crackdown fulfils the government’s agenda: polarise and confuse the population by constantly debating nationalism; give full rein to the politics of resentment that the government harbours against institutions it has declared “Left.” But it does long-run damage to the government’s credibility in several ways. It gives the opposition exactly the pretext to unite that they need. It is hard to see the government being able to carry much of the country with it, if it constantly uses such vendetta. It will not be a surprise if another parliament session is the casualty of such overreaction.

And the opposition would be well within its rights. Dissent is not something to be trifled with. As atrocious as the Congress and Left’s record on freedom of expression is, this is an opportunity for them to signal a new beginning. But they have to learn this lesson. The Congress and the Left have been hiding behind their own self-declared virtue for far too long, to the point where they created and used all the legal instruments of suppression the BJP is deploying with such effect. The politics of dissent will have to be rescued from the politics of opportunism. The crackdown signals an utter lack of judgment in the government, where ministers manage to manufacture a national crisis out of what were always, at best, minor affectations in student politics.

The ABVP’s constantly seeking government interference in university affairs on ideological grounds does not portend well for the future. It has even given all those not on the Left a reason to rally with the “Left.” JNU’s importance to national intellectual life had been waning; the BJP has just resurrected it. Even from the point of view of their own critique of the Left, this is an own goal. It suggests that the BJP is a party that cannot repress its own base instincts, whose petty politics of resentment will always subvert whatever long-term goals it might have.

he BJP has still not learnt any lesson from its fate over the last two years. The toleration debate will overshadow everything else it does, not because of some congenital anti-BJP conspiracy: it is because the protection of freedom is the life blood of a democracy. And in this case, it is the BJP that upped the ante. The BJP does not also understand one subtle point: that unless there is real and immediate violence involved, a democracy that cuts “anti-nationals” some slack is a robust democracy. For the fact that even people who push the boundaries of expression are safe makes us all feel safe.

Nothing that the students did poses nearly as much threat to India, as the subversion of freedom and judgement this government represents. The honourable ministers should realise that if this is a debate about nationalism, it is they, rather than JNU, who should be in the dock. They have threatened democracy; that is the most anti-national of all acts.

Sandipan Sharma: JNU row is a sham, BJP's nationalism is opportunism
Being a nationalist in the eyes of the 'patriotic' right is impossible. One has to have the felicity of a chameleon to conform to its ever-changing definition of nationalism. If patriotism is what the BJP does, if patriotism is what the BJP patriot says, then the idea changes drastically with results of elections.

Nivedita Menon: On why our universities are in ferment
The Sangh Parivar’s student wing across campuses has been given the responsibility of raising the slogan of anti-nationalism wherever democratic aspirations are expressed, or filing some complaint on an innocuous issue & the HRD Ministry swoops in to act.

In the political lexicon of the Right, more dangerous than the enemies at India's borders is the enemy within. In the rudimentary shorthand of the sangh parivar, these Trojan horses are generically described as anti-national or anti-India. Political wickedness in the sanghi tradition is hyphenated: anti-national, pseudo-secular. The mechanical use of a qualifying prefix - anti, pseudo - to make political virtue into political vice has something to do with the poverty of Hindutva's vocabulary.

Rohan D' Souza: When dissent becomes sedition, democracy gasps for breath
The emperor's masks: 'apolitical' RSS calls the shots in Modi sarkar

Sushil Aaron - The JNU crackdown could be the BJP’s undoing
 “Why do holders of high office so often act contrary to the way reason points and enlightened self-interest suggests? Why does intelligent mental process seem so often not to function?” asked the historian Barbara W. Tuchman in her classic, The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam. That’s the question that comes to mind seeing the BJP’s decision-making in recent weeks. Judging from the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar, the student’s union president of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) on sedition charges amid a crackdown on the university, Narendra Modi’s party and government seem incapable of clearheaded thinking about their own interests, let alone the nation’s.

Take the BJP’s situation in recent months for example. The party was roundly beaten in the Bihar elections in November. The CBI’s raid on Arvind Kejriwal’s office in December backfired. The Pathankot counterterrorist operation went badly. Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide got the BJP about three weeks of bad publicity last month, damaging its equation with university audiences and Dalit constituencies nationwide. On the other hand, the business class and the urban middle class that led a decisive vote for the BJP in May 2014’s national elections are fast losing hopes they had rested on PM Modi. The stock market has gone back where it was during the so-called policy paralysis phase of the previous UPA government. The rupee has been on a slide that appears unlikely to reverse soon and retail inflation has touched a 17-month high.

All this would ordinarily force governments to pipe down, to wait out the adverse news cycle and use the time to make political deals to conduct legislative business. The last thing a party under such circumstances needs is to open another front in the perception battle.

Not the BJP. In a desperate bid to recover political authority, it appears hell-bent on generating events disregarding the potential for blowback. The government goes after JNU students, characterising dissenting voices as anti-national, and wants to give police the right to enter the university campus at any time and install surveillance cameras – while simultaneously arresting Kumar, an eloquent student leader, whose stirring speech on February 11 is currently going viral via YouTube.

No one in the party seems to have given a thought to the optics of arresting Kumar, the son of an anganwadi worker who earns Rs. 3,000 a month. Have the ABVP leaders who are evidently able to force the hand of Cabinet ministers even done a background check on Kumar? Barely weeks after it was perceived as abetting a talented Dalit scholar’s suicide, the BJP and its government is now arresting the son of a paralysed farmer on dubious charges. The BJP seems to have no idea how many social forces it is lining up against itself in the course of the culture wars it is waging across the country.

There are other reasons why the crackdown on JNU will backfire on the BJP.  First, taking on university students is bad for Modi’s image abroad. Amnesty has already issued a strong statement. Expect The New York Times, The Guardian, The Economist and others to follow. Having weathered the cloud over his past; he will not want the present to be the cause for more interrogation.

Two, and more crucially, it isn’t easy to bully JNU -- it is not Kashmir, for example, where the State can aim to end student activism and impose surveillance without too many noticing or objecting. The right-wing pro-BJP army on Twitter, which has a little idea about how social science works and relentlessly lampoons JNU as a place for left-wing loonies, underestimates the university’s influence and reach. Over the decades, JNU has produced historians, economists, sociologists and political scientists who are highly rated the world over.

Because India is a major object of research for academics globally, the university’s academics and students have strong international networks. The JNU campus is widely recognised as a space where a critical temperament is nurtured, where young people mingle freely, encounter India’s diversity, seek love, nerdily discuss ideas, and rail against organised power. It is a distinct subculture forged within four walls, a place that the academic elite has affection for and will want to protect, particularly when it is up against State brutality. Hundreds – perhaps thousands – of JNU alumni work or have previously worked in universities abroad and at home, not to mention those in the media, industry and government. The BJP should weigh the merits of rousing this collective. For brand visibility, cracking down on JNU is no different than repressing the Sorbonne or the London School of Economics — a potential world news event that can become a headache for governments.

Three, this crisis will further galvanise anti-BJP forces across the country, including within the bureaucracy. It will further polarise student opinion along Left and Right lines in major universities. Rahul Gandhi is already getting a better reception from students than, say, a year ago. The anti-JNU measures seems particularly thoughtless especially when it is difficult to anticipate where the BJP’s next electoral victory will come from. 

Excepting Assam, where it has some chance, the party is expected to lose in West Bengal, Punjab and Kerala. It is up against anti-incumbency pressures in Gujarat, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, while the BSP is consolidating in UP. Because of the university’s pan-India student body, developments in JNU will feed into discourses in UP, and should the BJP lose there in 2017, we can safely expect the country’s bureaucrats to hedge their bets, stall work and look to new political masters on 2019’s horizon. Corporate India will also sense the changing wind by then.

Four, the BJP cannot afford to be seen as using State power to serve the purposes of its student body, the ABVP. Stoking unrest in various universities on contestable grounds is to scare away the middle class and underestimate the value the latter places on education. Part of India’s middle class may be entertained by pro-BJP television news anchors, but the majority of parents sending children to higher education do not have the luxury of watching culture wars break out in universities, especially when they are being orchestrated by muscle and State power rather than emerging through elective choice and academic process.

To pursue this confrontational path with those who disagree with it is to create a yearning for civil peace and a less intense public sphere – which the Congress and regional parties will eagerly tap into even if constituents are fully aware of their past dysfunctionality and hypocrisies.

The BJP has not only been unable to deliver on the economic front but it is consistently finding ways to aggravate liberal sections of the middle class each time they put on the TV. It is one thing to criticise politicians for failing to deliver on promised services, quite another to encounter those who offend sensibilities, activate moral frameworks on a daily basis, and those who couldn’t be bothered to pay lip service to the ideals of plurality, harmony, togetherness, and diversity which Indians instinctively relate to. The BJP seems to be getting its social and cultural policy dictated by the right-wing loonies that its Cabinet ministers follow on Twitter. It is a bubble that will ultimately be the party’s undoing.

Also see:
RSS men attacked us, police forced us to forego legal action, say Sonepat Dalits