Defending Freedom

Ayear Later the sedition question returns against the backdrop of Ramjas College violence with a vengeance. The saffron brigade seems to be in a hurry to saffronise the entire academic spectrum. The charges labelled by Minister for Home Kiren Rijiju against the leftists, rather ‘ultra-leftists’, in connection with Gurmehar Kaur related campus episode, are simply ludicrous. The Rijijus represent a privileged few who assume they have all the right ideas while people cannot possibly be trusted with making decisions affecting their lives or their nation. He doesn’t find any logic in demanding freedom because as per his wisdom the issue has long been settled once and for all in 1947. But people are demanding freedom of speech. They need freedom to live with dignity and honour. The people in the North East are demanding freedom from army rule. The same is true of Kashmir. His party’s student wing—Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad (ABVP)—is redefining nationalism while terrorising students who beg to differ from their concept of India. And their vision of India doesn’t exist without Pakistan. In their perception the sole yardstick to judge any Indian’s national integrity and patriotism centres around whether he is anti-Pakistan or not. Also, Mr Rijiju’s allegation that the Left groups celebrate whenever an Indian soldier dies on the borders is too childish to be taken seriously. It’s at worst a political ploy to grill the leftists. People want peace, not border clashes. What is more the Rijijus are not interested in people’s initiatives for strengthening cultural ties between India and Pakistan. The rulers on both sides of the fence have vested interests in maintaining permanent animosity and thwart any move to build a lasting thaw. They cash in on martyrdom of soldiers, they need martyrs to keep their jingoistic  outrage boiling. And jingoism as focused by ABVP in recent weeks, is the easiest way to divert public attention from the burning issues that affect the country most.

Saffron storm-troopers are everywhere. The situation is so supercharged that the aggrieved cannot protest because they run the risk of being called anti-national. Having failed to succeed in communal polarising the Bharatiya Janata Party and its frontal outfits, have resorted to ‘nationalism’ to silence any voice of dissent. Demanding good relations with neighbouring countries is viewed as anti-national. But bashing Pakistan while continually raising the bogey of anti-nationals cannot make Modi more national and a vote winner. His demonetisation drive is the most despotic act Indians have ever seen since 1947. His autocratic way of functioning is anything but ‘undeclared’ emergency. Opposition parties, including left parties, are actually beating around the bush as they always miss the real target somewhat deliberately, only to have the saffron brigade to have their way. Being the architect of ‘economic reforms’ Congress cannot really fight the BJP on the same turf. So Rahul Gandhi’s half-hearted criticism of demonetisation makes no sense. Then the victims of communal riots have literally put the Gandhi enterprise on trial.

For one thing listening and watching Modi’s showmanship there is method to his seemingly erratic measures. He is repaying his debt he owes to the corporates. The corporates are gaining from Modi’s monetary surgery. Anyone opposing Modi’s ‘madness’ must be eliminated, politically and physically. And ABVP storm troopers are pressed into service. So Gurmehar Kaur got the threat of rape and violence.

The saffron club describes the recent flare-ups in colleges and universities as a battle between ‘far leftists’ and ‘nationalists’. The reality is completely otherwise. As for Congress, they—saffronites—say it has no ideology. But not to preach any standard ideology is also a kind of ideology. ‘‘Anybody who supports the separatists is anti-India’’. But the far left doesn’t support separatists. Nor do they indulge in violence for the sake of violence. Their strategy has all along been defensive, they are defending themselves and their idea of new India against the state terror.

At the time of writing marches and counter-marches are going on in campuses in Delhi and elsewhere. As the situation is worsening with every passing day even President of India was obliged to issue a statement against curbing of democratic space in campus. It’s always nice to see great disorder emerging in the citadel of reaction but this disorder cannot be translated into order by the forces on the left and far left unless there is broad-based unity among radicals. Given the dogmatic, if not tragic, obsession the left and far left suffer from, it is unlikely to happen despite continuing saffron aggression. The recent attack on democratic rights by the saffron frontal organisations and their redoubtable leaders who would quite often like to go on record with obnoxious remarks is designed to make the Constitution irrelevant. In other words they want to make things difficult even for civil liberties activists, not to speak of left or unltra-left, to express their concerns freely. In truth most of the democratic institutions in the country are fragile. Instead of strengthening them, they are hell bent on destroying their autonomous character.

The official left has no basic anti-saffron agenda other than periodically raising secular-communal divide, especially with an eye to minority vote. Today any fight against saffron politics makes sense if it is directed against the corporates as well. But they cannot think of fighting corporates. Their anti-imperialist stance is skin-dip unless it is directed against multinationals and their domestic partners. But saffron vigilante groups are not going to call it a day anytime soon. Today it is Ramjas college, tomorrow it might be some other place. In India, everybody is free to speak against the government if the speaker doesn’t criticise the persons who manage the government. For all practical purposes, they are now making a mockery of the Constitution.

Vol. 49, No.36, Mar 12 - 18, 2017