Spoiler Alert: I support the students agitations in JNU.
Rachna, my daughter is in USA on an internship and since past couple of weeks, she is agitated. She keeps asking me, “Is situation in India really bad? Is there no internet in New Delhi? Why the entire country is in turmoil?”
I keep telling her that none of the above is true but she will get to read what’s not going right in India and only that. She doesn’t have a chance to read a balanced view on anything because, well, our media to an extent and world media as a whole will project that biased view. She would get convinced when I calm her down, but that lasts for a few hours and ask me again, “Is this true that every agitating student is tortured and put in jail?”
Couple of days back, I told her I would write my thoughts to help her understand the situation. So here it is..
First let’s go a few centuries back.
First books on anthropology and ethnography about India were entirely written by visitors (later rulers) from Europe and UK. These were written with two purposes, one, to help them in administration and two, which is more important, to help to proselytization of Christian religion. R. Siva Subramanian, a researcher has produced the names of many of these authors and their quotes in his book, ‘Ethnography and Tamil Novels.’
After the independence most of our history books were written by left leaning intellectuals who controlled the media as well which continues to this present day. So any view which is contradictory to the ‘truth’ as defined by them (right leaning) is viewed in contempt and therein lies all our problems.
First a 101 on Left and Right. A quick glance on Wikipedia page will tell you and you must have guessed it correctly, that these terms originated in France during social revolution.
The terms “left” and “right” appeared during the French Revolution of 1789 when members of the National Assembly divided into supporters of the king to the president’s right and supporters of the revolution to his left. One deputy, the Baron de Gauville, explained: “We began to recognize each other: those who were loyal to religion and the king took up positions to the right of the chair so as to avoid the shouts, oaths, and indecencies that enjoyed free rein in the opposing camp”.
When the National Assembly was replaced in 1791 by a Legislative Assembly comprising entirely new members, the divisions continued. “Innovators” sat on the left, “moderates” gathered in the centre, while the “conscientious defenders of the constitution” found themselves sitting on the right, where the defenders of the Ancien Régime had previously gathered.[clarification needed] When the succeeding National Convention met in 1792, the seating arrangement continued, but following the coup d’état of 2 June 1793 and the arrest of the Girondins the right side of the assembly was deserted and any remaining members who had sat there moved to the centre. However, following the Thermidorian Reaction of 1794 the members of the far-left were excluded and the method of seating was abolished.
The terms left & right have wider connotation today to include any progressive view is called left leaning and more conservative views are called right leaning. But the problem, as I mentioned is, you can have a RLV on one issue and LLV on few others. To quote a personal example, I support Mr. Modi and oppose the present day Congress and its leaders. On the other hand, I support LGBT rights, oppose death penalty except in exceptional cases like rape and assassination of elected leaders, as a corollary, oppose pardoning of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassins. Oh yes, I have no problem with anyone eating beef though I am a vegetarian and believe Cows have a special place in our worship.
In India, we have type-casted people and thus we have this issue, ‘you are either with us or against us’ on both sides of the spectrum.
I first had a taste of this many years ago. I was sharing a room, in a guest house provided by the customer, with a senior colleague and my mentor. In the morning, after I had a shower, I prayed and started writing, ‘Sriramajayam – victory to Lord Rama). My mentor saw me wearing the sacred thread, waited for me to finish my prayer and said, “Ramesh I never imagined you are religious.” I asked him why? He replied, “You drink and smoke. You are known as a rebel in the company.” First I could not understand what my drinking or my rebellious thoughts had to do with being religious. Then I remembered my school days when one of my uncles used to say I will never do anything good in life just because I used to have long and bushy hairstyle a la Jim Kelly in Enter the Dragon.
Jim Kelly & Yours truly – Similar Hairstyles.
This is a kind of thought which is imbibed in us from the right as well as the left. So, if you are a follower of Mr. Modi or you are against eating beef or cow slaughter, you are derided for the very thoughts, by the Left Leaning Intellectuals and branded Modi Bhakts, a term coined to denote that you are morally inferior and intellectually corrupt. And some of the people who are branded this way put forward more extreme opinions and invite more wrath and the cycle goes on.
Extreme views held by a section of people is not restricted to India. These fringe elements are there in Europe (Nazi sympathizers, holocaust deniers) and in USA (white supremacists). In the USA they have their own magazines and even radio stations. But the national media would ignore them. You won’t find BBC or CNN reporting their inconsequential & idiotic statements. But not here. In India, these extreme views, even if it is uttered by someone who is not known beyond a 10 KM radius, would be reported in the national media to convey a viewpoint that everyone who has right leaning ideas or vote for BJP espouse these views. A silly minister who makes a statement that aircrafts were widely prevalent during Ramayana will be reported in the media to convey similar thoughts (that these people have no understanding of science & technology). The idea is to keep the hegemony on their way of thinking. So any opposing view is derided or ridiculed.
Ever since Mr. Modi came to power, these so called LLL found their dominance diminishing and became desperate when he got re-elected. But then, the BJP decided to save them first by removing the special status on Kashmir and now by introducing National Register of Citizens (NRC) and Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Both have given an opportunity to the lamenting LLL, a stick to beat the government and get a foothold on national thought process again.
As I mentioned on removing special status to Kashmir, the Government rushed the CAA and NRC bills in the same manner, without explaining why this is needed to the public. These are important acts and the processes started only after our Supreme Court asked the Government to initiate the process. But then, India is a vastly diversified country. A complex mixture of contradicting emotions always run high. People who support the move say it is needed and the one who oppose believe all their individual freedom is taken away. In many cases where the agitating students were interviewed, most of them did not know what is CAA or NRC and how is going to hurt them. So the supporters say this agitation is incited by opposition parties. My question to them is the same. If such important act is not even properly explained to the educated people in the country why did the Government rush it through both Houses of Parliament. My guess is, the Government knows their majority in Rajya Sabha will not last (if you lose Assembly election in few states the majority will come down in a couple of years). So let us pass these acts when we have majority in both houses. But can political compulsion be the only reason for Governments to take decisions on subjects where the people or poorly or not properly informed? Act in haste and repent in leisure seems to be the guiding principle here.
At last, let me get to the spoiler alert. Why do I support student agitations, not just on this subject but any agitation against the Government. Univesities have been the backyard for many social movements. Under the British Government, many students gave up their studies to participate in freedom movement. Today’s generation may not know how students agitation spread across the world in the late sixties and the changes that these agitations brought to societies across the world.
For USA, the period after WW II was so good. People were becoming prosperous and the baby boomers born after the war were in Colleges in the sixties. After a period of quiet, the first students protests were for the civil rights movement and later Tet Offensive and host of other issues. The strikes then spread across Europe, in Helsinki, it was against the invasion by Russia on Czechoslovakia and in France the agitation got out of control and some believed they will end up in overthrowing an elected Government.
In India the first University participation in protests was during Naxalbari movement in West Bengal. Many college students became active in the movement, a few dropped out of college or were expelled. V S Naipaul, in his book, ‘India: A Million Mutinies Now,’ meets up with a few of those protestors (more than twenty years later). Some have become executives in MNCs and there is a very interesting interview where someone explains to Mr. Naipaul, how a became a Jholawala.
During emergency the protests in colleges were widespread. Many students leaders who later became great mass leaders in their own right, cut their political teeth during their University days. Just look at the picture below:
They all led students movement during Emergency and went on to become some of the best known leaders in India. Just to give an idea Mr. Jaitley and Mr. Prasad represent BJP, Mr. Nitish Kumar is the Chief Minister of Bihar today, Mr. Stalin is the party leader of DMK, was a Deputy Chief Minister and Mr. Yechury is one of the best known leaders of the Communist Party – Marxist in India.
And all the agitations whether in USA or Europe or in India were dealt with an iron hand (it is not as if police force is entering a College Campus for the first time as in happened in JNU recently). If you still have doubt, just google the following lines, ‘Clive Hostel Incident,’ or ‘Rajan Kerala & Habeas Carpus.’ You will know far worse things have happened under erstwhile administrations.
But we should understand the best leaders make their first steps into public service during college days and for that reason alone I support the student struggle. Of course the agitation cannot be against the very core of the nation which then becomes sedition. I don’t support ‘Tukde India’ kind of sloganeering. But if the students don’t agree with the Government policies or a parliamentary act, they should have the freedom to agitate.
For that to happen, change has to come from both sides. The left should realize they had their time and their monopoly on Indian public opinion has come to an end and the right has to realize there is always two sides to a coin.
The right also can a took a leaf out of US Television. In a recent show, Hasan Minhaj shows a photograph of eight people, all comedians. He says out of the eight, he is the only American. All the others in the photo are in USA, probably on a work visa and conduct shows that are highly critical of Mr. Trump, day after day. They are not banished from the country, on some trumped up charges, just because they say something against Trump. But what happened to Minhaj when he aired a show critical of Mr. Modi? It is just a TV show, watched probably by a few thousand in India. I don’t agree to what Minhaj said in the show, but that should not matter. He has a right to express his opinion.
Left can’t be always right, for that matter, neither can the right. Right?