JNU issue again: A response to a friend

March 27, 2016

Rohit Dhankar

[It seems people have lost interest in the JNU debate, and have moved on. But a friend commented on one of my blogs on this issue. This is a response to that comment. You may find it repetitive, old issue and uninteresting.]

Thanks Anjali, for reading and commenting on my blog post “Welcoming Umar Khalid”.

I have written many blogs on this issue and have answered all these questions in them. Some of these blogs are:

1.   Common Indian: between the devil and the deep sea

2.   Spreading confusion through JNU issue

3.   The point and the counter point: JNU slogans

  1. Kashmir: Illegal occupation by India?

5.   Indoctrination in JNU?

6.   Freedom of speech and slogan shouting: A rejoinder to Professor Partha Chatterjee

All are available on the same site in the months of February and March. However, rather than referring you to this material I am responding briefly to the issues you have raised in your comment.

You have raised several questions, some of them are numbered separately some are not, so the numbering below does not match exactly with numbering in your comment.

  1. Glossed over facts: according to you Umar says that they (JNU) stopped Indira Gandhi but protested against others, and they had the right to protest. My question is why protest freedom of speech? Protest the content if you like, through your own statements. How can one champion as well as protest against the same thing? If their protest was right why are they so angry about others protesting their kind of freedom of speech? My point remains valid with taking pride in one instance of ‘stopping’ and several others protested by disruption and hackling. What I am saying is that JNU (Umar Khalid included) brand of freedom of speech is ‘freedom of speech when I use it’ and ‘victimisation and canard when others use it against me’. This is double standard.
  2. He did not shout Kashmir ki azadi tak jang rahegi: I have videos where he is seen shouting many slogans, and ‘jang rahegi’ comes without disruption in the flow and in the same voice. The JNU lobby says that 2 of 7 videos are doctored; but no one ever told which two and what portions in them are doctored. This is deliberate obfuscation. He shouted this slogan.
  3. What is the problem in saying kitne Afzal maroge?: you have raised several issues to support this line of argument.

(a) Yes, many people says that Afzal trial had problems. But the problems they cite are connected with Afzal not getting a good defence in the trial court. I have not heard/read any of the lawyers etc. who says that he was not involved. If you have any argument of this nature please enlighten me.

(b) “The judgement itself said that there was no incontrovertible proof” you claim: I have read the judgment, and would like to know where it says that? What the judgment says is: “Short of participating in the actual attack, he did everything to set in motion the diabolic mission. As is the case with most of the conspiracies, there is and could be no direct evidence of the agreement amounting to criminal conspiracy. However, the circumstances cumulatively considered and weighed, could unerringly point to the collaboration of the accused Afzal with the slain ‘Fidayeen’ terrorists. The circumstances, if considered together, as it ought to be, establish beyond reasonable doubt that Afzal was a party to the conspiracy and had played an active part in various acts done in furtherance of the conspiracy. These circumstances cannot be viewed in isolation and by no standards of common sense, be regarded as innocuous acts.” You may agree or disagree with the Supreme Court’s view, but can hardly make it say what you want.

(c) The “hanging was given as a punishment to assuage the collective consciousness”: This is a canard spread against the Supreme Court for many years now, and gullible Indians are swallowing it. The judgment writes on page 77: “The net result of the above discussion is that the conspiracy to commit terrorist acts attracts punishment under sub-Section (3) of Section 3. The accused Afzal who is found to be a party to the conspiracy is therefore liable to be punished under that provision. Having regard to the nature, potential and magnitude of the conspiracy with all the attendant consequences and the disastrous events that followed, the maximum sentence of life imprisonment is the appropriate punishment to be given to Mohd. Afzal under Section 3(3) of POTA for conspiring to commit the terrorist act. Accordingly, we convict and sentence him.” This conviction comes under Section 3(3) of POTA. In the lengthy discussion, and before this there is no mention of “collective conscience”.

Then the court goes on to consider Sections 3(2) and 3(5) of POTA, sets aside the conviction under them.  Then it goes on to consider Section 120(B) read with section 302 of IPC. And the mention of “collective conscience” occurs in this discussion when the gravity of the crime and rarest of rare nature of the crime is under consideration.

Thinking people who consider themselves the custodians and guardians of the truth and justice in the country should read the judgment carefully and should not take their comrades and politicians pronouncements at their face value.

(d) “[S]o if there is a slogan with the purpose that if injustice is done more and more people will rise against it, what is wrong with it?”: Afzal’s involvement in terrorist acts and the parliament attack conspiracy is not doubted, not even by his supporters. Whether he got good defence at the trial court is doubted. Whether capital punishment could be given on the basis of circumstantial evidence is debated. Challenging the nation by a pledge (slogan shouted in public is a pledge, not a discussion) to create more and more terrorists because of these doubts and debates is not justified to my mind. Making a martyr out of him on this basis is not justified. I might be wrong. I am not advocating any punishment for such acts, I am advocating only condemnation from thinking people and asking for clarification from the sloganeers. Please allow me at the least that much. If you want to support these acts this is your choice, go ahead.

  1. “It is now clear that the Bharat ki Barbadi slogans were morphed onto the original videos”: No, this is a wrong statement. I have videos that clearly show people shouting these slogans. Umar Khalid and co. are not shouting these slogans, but slogans were shouted. And Umar Khalid is on record says that the “only problem” he has with these slogans is that the ‘population of India’ with which they want to interact gets agitated by these. Other than that he has no problem; he does not say this last phrase, but it is very clear from the context. And his explanation (I did not know of this before writing the blog you are commenting on) is not satisfactory.
  2. My reminding of security forces dying “is quite similar to the Sangh propaganda”: I am not a card carrying party person; therefore, have the freedom to accept or deny various ideas based on my own reason. Some thing said by Sangh parivar does not become anathema to me if stands reason independently. And I don’t care about name calling at all. It seems to me that upholding the territorial integrity of the country is important for its secularism, democracy and caring for justice to all. If you let it go, all this will collapse. The security personal are dying in this process; they are rendering a useful service to the country. And deserve sympathy from all who enjoy the fruits of this security; in spite of this being their ‘naukari’ and they being paid for it.

That however does not justify the excesses committed by the security forces, and such excesses should be investigated and punished. Umar Khalid in one of a video mentions that “three Kashmiri youths are killed”. This is a reference to the terrorists who were holed up in Pampore. His sympathies are with the three terrorists and not with the security forces in that incident.

Yes, we need to study Kashmir; but not after 90s as you say. Rather after Shekh Abdulla started the people’s self-determination movement before freedom. And if you study carefully you will find that the Indian state in spite of having committed mistakes is justified in keeping Kashmir as an integral part of itself and fighting the terrorism. I cannot go into details of this; but you can read part of it in one of my blogs titled “Kashmir: Illegal occupation by India?”. Khalid thinks, he is on record saying this, that it is illegal occupation by India at par with Pakistan; he is wrong in this; misguided by his professors who mistakenly take the same line disregarding or being ignorant of facts.

  1. “Bogey of border nationalism”: I do not know what you mean by it. I have argued in one of the blogs that territorial integrity is a necessity at this moment from constitutional, moral, and pragmatic reasons. Humans have not evolved to keep themselves organised and maintain social life without some organisational principle which necessarily involves regional arrangements; and therefore, territorial integrity. May be some have evolved; but they have to wait till the majority reaches their level of evolution.
  2. Azadi slogans were for azadi from casteism, poverty, etc.: There were two groups even in the JNU-lobby-supported larger group. There was a more than 2 minute chant where the azadi was azadi for Kashmir and “banduk ke dam par”. Other group was chanting what you say, azadi from poverty, sanghvad, for women, etc. This again an obfuscation to deceive the public.
  3. All these students have sworn by the constitution”: I am not sure whom do you include in all these students. It is good if they have realised it and sworn by the constitution. Umar Khalid, on whom this blog was written, is on record saying that Kashmir’s occupation by India is at par with Pakistan. This is not constitution. More importantly, in one of the videos he addresses his comrades and clearly rejects the Indian state (not present day government, the state), says he does not believe in any nationality, including Indian. And wants to communicate directly to the ‘Indian population’, disregarding the state. This is a different matter that later on he seeks protection from the same rejected state against a section of that very same Indian population he wants to directly communicate with. That only shows duplicity in propounding such theories.

To my mind the original issue was shouting objectionable slogans. Whether that attracted sedition or not is not my point. But many of those slogans attract some legal action and many more condemnation from thinking Indian citizens. The JNU-lobby turned the issue into a freedom of speech issue, and obfuscated on the slogans shouting versus debate on issues. In the process they twisted and fabricated truth just like the BJP and its cohorts. There was no substantial difference as far as regard for truth and reason goes; both used lies, fabrications and disregard for logic. No democracy can survive and progress if the public thinking and reason is deliberately obscured; whether your immediate purpose be justified or unjustified. The nation pays for dimmed rational capability of the people. JNU-lobby at this moment is attacking the public capability of clear thinking with more force than the BJP-RSS lobby. Simply because the JNU-lobby is still thought to be better at thinking through and fairer on the issues of justice and equality. But they have not acted responsibly and have damaged the democracy.


A lesson in hidden agendas

March 26, 2016

Published in The Hindu, 26th Match 2016

Rohit Dhankar

The public education system (PES) has for long been under fire. It is being painted as non-functioning, wasteful and un-improvable. The Right to Education Act (RTE) was designed to improve this system. Therefore, it is natural that the RTE will also come under fire from the same quarters that have been attacking the PES. The PES and RTE do have problems, and they need to be fixed; we need to find a way to make the system deliver in terms of better learning outcomes.

However, all the attacks which arise from private schools, their supporters and the privatisation lobby are unjustified; and the solutions that are being aggressively pushed will lead us further into the morass.

The original fiction

A lie is being perpetrated through sheer force of repetition that learning is better in so-called low-cost private schools. There are some studies that claim that private schools outperform public schools; while others claim that after adjusting for family and socio-economic background of the children, the difference is not statistically significant. Amita Chudgar and Elizabeth Quin claim that they “find insufficient evidence to claim that children in private schools outperform those in public schools in India… better data are needed” (“Relationship between Private Schooling and Achievement: Results from Rural and Urban India”, Economics of Education Review, 2012). In spite of many studies conducted more or less with the express purpose of establishing that low-fee private schools do better, there is no reliable evidence to support that claim. However, there is evidence that students in private “schools are less likely to belong to low caste groups” (Sangeeta Goyal and Priyanka Pandey, “How do Government and Private Schools Differ”, EPW, 2012), which means that they are less inclusive. Therefore, the repeated claims of better learning in private schools are unfounded.

When it became difficult to empirically prove that children learn better in private schools, the attack invented a new weapon: per unit cost of learning outcomes. Most of the learning outcome researches almost always fail to understand the entire purport of education in any depth and reduce it to learning of so-called 3Rs for economic purposes. The new claim that emerged out of misplaced confidence that all that is in education can be quantified is that the ‘per unit cost of outcome’ is lower in private schools. Meaning that even if the learning outcomes of private schools are not better than the public schools, the cost of running private schools is much lower.

This argument is completely spurious and shows very little understanding of education. The costs quoted for private schools, one, have no reliable source of data and, two, they discount two kinds of hidden costs — to the family and to the nation. Often the cost of education in private schools is equated with the fee per child. This is obviously wrong as the cost of school uniform, books and stationery, and transport, which all are under the monopoly of the school, are not included. Occasionally private schools want additional money for special occasions like festivals, picnics, excursions and projects. And they often recommend tuition for the children. None of this is counted in this cost calculation. However, the family bears this burden and these items add significantly to the revenue of private schools.

Teacher status

Second, the low-cost private schools often run in grossly inadequate infrastructure. The teachers are paid less than minimum unskilled labour wages legislated by various State governments. This has a devastating effect on teacher status in the society, on teacher knowledge in the education system and schools become dens of exploitation. The children see all this and imbibe attitudes that are self-centred, competition-oriented, and start thinking that ethics is a hindrance in the success of a business. Therefore, the nation pays in terms of lowered teacher status and professional knowledge, abandoning a section of its citizens to exploitation, and possibly unhealthy attitudes in its future citizens.

Of course, one can argue that the PES is no better in transmitting attitudes to the children. But PES conceptually can be better if managed well; while the private system has it in its DNA as it has to make profit on fees. For low-end private schools to do better on this count is impossible even in theory. Therefore, lower comparative cost of learning is also a bogus claim.

Associated fiction: school closure

To add to the force of two spurious argument mentioned above a new falsehood is being spread: that the low-cost private schools are closing due to implementation of the RTE. The RTE norms of infrastructure, children per teacher, teacher qualifications and teacher remunerations, all are just minimum to run a decent school. Stipulation of a room for every class, toilets and a boundary wall for safety can hardly be called unnecessary demands. Nor can stipulation of trained teachers and minimum salary stipulated by the state be called unreasonable. If schools which do not have classroom, do not have trained teachers, do not have toilets and drinking water and do not pay even the minimum wages to their teachers close down, why should it be blamed on the RTE? Actually, they have no right to run. Would we justify closure of primary health centres for inefficient functioning and allow quack doctors? If no, why should we accept these schools? Further, the claim that private schools are being closed down due to RTE is false. Recently the Azim Premji Foundation conducted a study in 69 districts across seven States and one Union Territory and found that across these districts only five schools were closed due to non-compliance of the RTE and notices for compliance had been served to 7,156 schools. It seems the data being used to propagate this canard of closure are unreliable, or worse.

Pushing false remedies

The remedy suggested for the low learning levels in the PES is to encourage the private sector. Simply put, that means provide public money to the private profiteer either though the vouchers or by facilitating their compliance with the RTE norms. The vouchers are seen as the ticket to quality education as the parents can decide to take their children to any private school they like. There is no evidence the world over of vouchers improving learning of children. In reality it is a demand for letting the market regulate schools. The market is not a just god, it favours big money; and competition raising quality is a myth. Teacher education in our country is almost entirely in the hands of the private colleges. And we all know that it has completely ruined teacher education and all attempts to improve it so far have failed.

The proponents of the voucher system forget that freedom of choice requires informed decision-making. And that is possible only when the system is fair and provides space for it. The system is not fair. Poor parents do not have adequate information about schools, and that information cannot be reliably and systematically provided. Their judgment can be easily swayed by false propaganda, as is being done right now across the country.

The strength of these canards is not their truth, but the underperformance of and resultant dissatisfaction with the system. The RTE is not being implemented either efficiently or fairly, efforts are half-hearted at best. Governments have diluted it and are uninterested in making the private schools comply with it. It was constructed to provide better schools to the poor. But they have made provisions to spare themselves. Similar treatment is meted out to almost every legislation in our country. The laws against dowry, domestic violence and atrocities on Dalits are also not being implemented efficiently and fairly. That does not constitute an argument either to repeal or to dilute those laws. The issue of quality of education can be easily fixed in the RTE. It was assumed that since the States are responsible for curriculum details beyond the National Curriculum Framework, and administration and financing of education is under their purview, they would be better placed to make guidelines on these issues. They failed to meet the challenge. Therefore, perhaps there is a case to introduce some clauses on ensuring learning standards.

However, this is the fault of implementation and not of the Act. Dr. Ambedkar made a telling comment at the time of adopting the Constitution that “however good a Constitution may be, it is sure to turn out bad because those who are called to work it, happen to be a bad lot.” What applies to a Constitution applies to laws made under it. Changing the law will not improve the bad lot that is implementing it. It requires a proactive civil society to take them to court and get public support to implement it properly — not to, as advised, junk it.

The tirade against the PES and RTE is a classic case of giving the dog a bad name with intention to kill it, so that a wolf of their choice could replace it in the name of guarding the house.


Freedom of speech and slogan shouting: A rejoinder to Professor Partha Chatterjee

March 19, 2016

Rohit Dhankar

Professor Partha Chatterjee makes a strong case for protecting freedom of speech in universities in his well-written article[1] published in EPW March12, 2016,  vol L1 no 11. His argument for the freedom of speech in general and in the universities in particular is sound and one should have no problem in accepting that. However, it seem to me that the article makes several claims that may not be sustainable in a rigorous scrutiny. While agreeing on the general issue of freedom of speech I would like to refute a few claims he makes either explicitly or by implication.

Professor Chatterjee begins his article by quoting Tagore and states that “[w]ere Rabindranath Tagore to utter those words on a university campus in India today, he would be called “anti-national” and arrested for sedition.” This claim I would like to refute. What he quotes from Tagore is as follows:

“Even though from childhood I had been taught that the idolatry of Nation is almost better than reverence for God and humanity, I believe I have outgrown that teaching, and it is my conviction that my countrymen will truly gain their India by fighting against that education which teaches them that a country is greater than the ideals of humanity.… Nationalism is a great menace. It is the particular thing which for years has been at the bottom of India’s troubles.”

Professor Chatterjee’s claim is plainly wrong as much is routinely said about the nationalism and Indian state which actually might be stronger than this statement of Tagore and none of those people are arrested. Being called “anti-national” by some people in the society is as much an exercise of free speech, albeit crude and unjustified, as making statements is. The state authority cannot be directly blamed for that, even if the party in power is instigating that. Just to take one example Professor Nivedita Menon claimed that whole world believes that India has illegally occupied Kashmir, and that 30-40% of the country is under emergency. A parliamentarian stated in the house itself that by nationalism he understands the sentiment that was popular in Italy under Mussolini and Germany under Hitler; and he does not agree with that kind of sentiment. There are many more statements floating freely in the media which condemn nationalism and even India and none of the people who made such statements are arrested. It seems Professor Chatterjee is opening up his article by an unsustainable polemical statement; which does not help bring any clarity to the debate about freedom of speech.

Then he goes on to claims that “[w]e are now being told that it is a criminal act to question within the premises of a university the integrity of the nation or the provisions of the Constitution or even a Supreme Court judgment.” Further he claims that “a fundamental confusion” is being “caused by lazy thinking or deliberate obfuscation, about the actual limits to freedom of speech in the university and the appropriate authorities who can enforce them.” He goes on “[a]re we to accept that the present boundaries of the Indian nation state cannot be critically examined in the classroom or seminar?” Further still he questions “since when are judgments of the Supreme Court exempt from public discussion in India? Can students of law and the Constitution not be expected to answer questions about the Afzal Guru judgment?” I would like to argue that there is nothing in the JNU case (which is the context in which Professor Chatterjee is writing his article) and related government action which justifies his suspicion that freedom of a university is being threatened in the kinds of cases he mentions here. All these claims are patently false. What is actually happening is that BJP wants to capture the universities, and for that purpose is promoting ABVP. In this process it is also bringing in the ‘academics’ of its own kind. But that does not mean that the classroom or seminar discourse is attacked more than it always has been.

However, before I go further it must be stated that the government action on sloganeering students without waiting for the university processes was unjustified and condemnable. (I would also like to state in the present climate that refuting Professor Chatterjee’s claims does not mean supporting the BJP and the government position. All it does is to caution that a just fight cannot be sustained on false charges and polemics alone.)

Actually it seem to me that these charges draw attention away from the real issue which Professor Chatterjee doesn’t even mention in his article. The real issue for which the police entered JNU, sedition charges (rightly or wrongly) slapped on students, arrest of JNUSU president and later two more students; all happened because of the slogans shouted in public gathering and not for scholarly discussions in seminars or classrooms.

It seems to me that Professor Chatterjee thinks that there is no difference in questioning of the integrity of India in a seminar/classroom and shouting slogans in a public gathering. And that is the crux of the matter. The whole JNU discourse constantly talks of freedom of examining integrity, constitution and court judgment in the seminars and classrooms; while the general public sees the matter as that of slogan shouting. Since my understanding of politics, political thought and history is at a level much lower than that of Professor Chatterjee, and therefore, I might be wrong, but I do think that discussion in a seminar is not the same thing as slogan shouting in public gathering.

To make my point through an example I am taking three slogans which were undisputedly shouted by the arrested JNU students. Columns one and two in the following table (headings “Statement-1” and “Statement-2”) represent the kinds of statements that might be given in a seminar. Column three contains the slogans.


SN Statement-1 Statement-2 Slogan
1 We as Indians should be ashamed that our highest judiciary failed to do justice in the case of Afzal Guru. He did not deserve capital punishment. We are ashamed that the judges and the prosecuting agency personnel who managed to hand Afzal are still alive. अफज़ल हम शर्मिंदा हैं, तेरे कातिल जिन्दा है. (Afzal, we are ashamed that your killer are still alive.)
2 If the judicial system works in this unjust manner it will produce Afzalz in every home. How many Afzals will the judicial state will kill? We will make sure that every household produces a Afzal. कितने अफज़ल मरोगे? घर-घर से अफज़ल निकले गा.
3 It is clear on the available evidence that the violent struggle in Kashmir will not end till the Kashmiries get the azadi which they want. We will make sure that the violent attacks on the Indian state will continue till the Kashmir gets its freedom. कश्मीर की आजादी तक, जंग रहेगी. (There shall be war till Kashmir gets freedom.)


Suppose someone states in a seminar or in a classroom that We as Indians should be ashamed that our highest judiciary failed to do justice in the case of Afzal Guru. He did not deserve capital punishment.”  This person is sharing his/her analysis and understanding of the judgment. Allowing others to counter this statement with alternative analysis. All that is happening is at the level of ideas and exploration as to what would be the most rationally justified opinion on this issue. The academics are maintained by the society to do this job, and I don’t think they can be attacked if they do that.

The same person making the second statement is saying something very different. “We are ashamed that the judges and the prosecuting agency personnel who managed to hang Afzal are still alive.” Here the debate is not at all about whether Afzal hanging was justified or not; that question is already supposed to have been settled. Now it is expression of shame that those who perpetrated that injustice are alive; by implication they should have been dead. This also expresses the speaker’s advocacy to kill those people. This may fall short of instigating any particular person to kill them; but attempts to provide a moral justification to kill them, which will be available to whosoever wants to make such an attempt. Therefore, it is an open ideological justification for a violent reprisal. I am not a legal expert and am not sure if the state should ignore preaching theories that justify violent reprisals.

Now let us see the slogan shouted in a public gathering: Afzal, we are ashamed that your killer are still alive.” Like the second statement here the issue of whether the Supreme Court judgment and hanging of Afzal was justifiable or not is already deemed settled. It is assumed to be wrong, no debate. The sloganeers here are expressing self-shame on failure to fulfil a just pledge they have already taken or should have taken. And this public shouting of that shame is renewal of that pledge as well as seeking public support to such an act.

In spite of a feeling of belabouring the point let’s do a similar analysis of the third set of statements and slogan. We have to keep in mind that at this very moment there is violent terrorist movement going on in Kashmir. Whether we like it or not it is powered by religious bigotry as well as political discontent. People are dying on both sides and a foreign power is providing moral as well as all kinds of material support. These are not irrelevant facts. I am saying nothing here about whether this violent terrorist movement is for a just cause or not. (I have my opinion but that is not relevant for the analysis of the third set of statements I am offering here.) All I am saying is that the statements and slogans are happening in this context.

Imagine someone states in a seminar or a classroom: It is clear on the available evidence that the violent struggle in Kashmir will not end till the Kashmiris get the azadi which they want.” This person is offering an assessment of a political situation. Thinks that there is evidence to support it, is leaving it open enough for others to counter through arguments. It is a genuine attempt to make sense of the situation.  I don’t think the Indian state even now is stopping or punishing anyone for such a discourse. There are people in the society who will react to such statements, there might be politicians who would like to use such statements for political gain; but the state does not seem to interfere directly in this.

Now imagine that our speaker in the seminar or classroom states that: “We will make sure that the violent attacks on the Indian state will continue till the Kashmir gets its freedom.” This is not presentation of assessment of a political situation. It is expression of a political commitment at the level of action, the commitment at the level of idea is assumed. The speaker is declaring that there is a group (we) and s/he is part of that group, and that that group will ensure that violent attacks on the innocent Indian people and Indian state continue till Kashmir gets its ‘azadi’. This is a pledge to kill innocent Indians.

I do not know what would be the legal position on such proclamation, but as an ordinary Indian citizen allowing such proclamations unchecked seems to be too dangerous to me. I will come to it later.

Now let’s consider the slogan: There shall be war till Kashmir gets freedom.” As I have stated above there is a ‘war’ going on with foreign help. This slogan is neither a discourse on justification of that war, nor an explanation of it, nor is it an academic prediction. It is a plain and simple war cry uttered in a public gathering. It expresses direct involvement in continuing the ongoing war. It is an expression of a commitment on the part of sloganeers and an abetment and instigation for those who are listening and being influenced.

I, a common Indian citizen, am completely unable to understand Professor Chatterjee’s claims that the freedom of speech is throttled for the statements like given in the first column of the table above, and completely ignoring the meaning of statements like listed in the second column and slogans listed in the third column. Of course, I might be wrong. Professor Chatterjee is a political scientist and maybe he has an argument which justifies treating the statements in the first column and slogans in the third column the same in meaning and intent. That is what his article implies. Actually his article goes further, it implies that an attempt to stop slogans in the third column is tantamount to attack on freedom to make statements in the first column. I would like to learn what could be the arguments for that conclusion, but at present I can imagine none.

Now it seems by the admission of JNU-lobby intellectuals that Maoists do not accept the legitimacy of the Indian state and elected Indian government. They want to overthrow the elected government and capture the state through violent armed revolution. It is being argued that: (1) preaching of such ideology should be accepted in the limits of freedom of speech, and (2) even instigating people to directly participate in such struggle, helping them materially, and helping in keeping their ideological commitment intact; all are part of freedom of speech.

It seems to me the point one in the paragraph above (keeping it at the level of discussion) should be considered within the bounds of freedom of speech. But that has implications that must be accepted. If one is allowed to preach an ideology of capturing the state through armed revolution; I don’t see how one can object preaching an ideology of capturing the state to form a Hindu-rashtra or capturing the state for implementing sharia? What I am saying is that if you allow preaching of Maoist ideology openly; you have to allow preaching Islamist ideology and Hindu-rasthtra ideologies openly as well.

Points 2 above clearly transgress that limit and have to be dealt with legal action. I am not saying that legal action should be sedition, do not know enough about it; but some kind of legal check is required for actions of the kind listed in point 2 above.

Even preaching such ideology in a university sounds too dangerous to me. The young students can be swayed too easily towards idealising these positions. If one listens to the open lectures in JNU and response from the students that does not give one confidence in their analytical capabilities. I am sorry to state, but the general impression the students’ response creates is a dangerous lack of balance and analytical capabilities. Professor Chatterjee through this article which obfuscates between academic discussions and slogan shouting does not help develop that analytical capability. He actually helps in a kind of dangerously woolly thinking and shifts the point of argument.

There are well respected academics whose heart goes to students who want to overthrow the elected government through armed struggle and do not accept the legitimacy of the Indian state. They even want to adopt them as their sons. Well, it is their choice of what kind of children they want. But I assume an average Indian would want to have a dialogue with the child who might have been misled into such an untenable ideological position. And please, don’t attack me for calling these revolutionary naujawaan students ‘children’, I am not doing that. All I am doing is referring to the overflow of parental love and pride in them expressed by respected academics. One wonders whether that implies considering them children though!

The JNU intellectual lobby is constantly and only engaging with the lunatic rightist fringe that abuses on the social media and attacks people in the courts. I do not claim that this fringe is not used by the ruling party, perhaps it is. Still I feel that they are insulting the Indian public by assuming that this lunatic fringe expresses the positions and worries on freedom of speech and nationalism of an average Indian. It is completely wrong. They have lost touch. I am assuming, again I might be wrong, that the kinds of questions and doubts an average Indian has in the mind are what I am expressing here. And the JNU intellectual lobby seem to have no response to these questions and doubts. Professor Chatterjee’s article is no different.


[1]Freedom of Speech in the University, EPW March12, 2016,  Vol L1 no 11.

Demand of the Nation: blind worship or critical commitment?

March 17, 2016

Rohit Dhankar

According to The Hindu (17th March 2016) Maharashtra assembly has suspended an AIMIM MLA for refusing to chant “Bharat Mata ki jai”. The assembly is said to be unanimous in this expression of pseudo-nationalism; as BJP, Shiv Sena, Congress and NCP all supported this resolution. This is deeply disturbing and shows how small minded people can misinterpret and misuse the constitutional processes.

According to The Hindu a “BJP MLA … asked both [AIMIM] MLAs to chant Bharat Mata ki Jai. Mr. Pathan stood up and. said he would not do so even at the cost of his life.” The BJP MLA demanded this chanting totally out of context; and therefore, a test of their respect for the country. It was totally uncalled for, and he had no right to slight fellow legislator by demanding proof of their nationalism in this mindless manner. Mr. Pathan was completely within his rights to refuse to chant the slogan. He later on said “I love my country. I was born here and I will die here. I can never dream of insulting my country. Don’t judge anyone’s love for the country by just one slogan. Jai Hind; Jai Bharat; Jai Maharashtra.” And still he is charged of “disrespecting the country”.

This is blatant imposition of one single imagination of the nation on all its citizens. This is an attempt to create a religion out of nationalism, and deification of the nation. “Bharat Mata” is being seen in the same way as Durga or any other Hindu goddess. This imagination if taken toofar will decrease the respect for the nation rather than increasing it. Of course there are many people who see the nation in this manner. Of course, this slogan has been historically used my many patriots who contributed to the freedom movement and shaping this nation. Many of us grew up chanting this slogan. And so it is fine if you imagine the nation as Bharat Mata and love or worship it in that form. It is your freedom as an Indian citizen.  But all this does not make it the only way of expressing our respect and commitment to the nation. And it can take dangerous interpretations if pushed too far.

A nation is a shared imagination of its citizens. It includes their visions of living and flourishing together. It includes their aspirations and frustrations. It includes their cooperation and confrontations. It includes varied imaginations of the nation itself, of values and of peoples place in the system that they themselves create to make this collective life possible. The relationship of a democratic citizen with his/her nation is not necessarily that of a worshipper, or that of love. It is not a surrender of the citizen to the god of nation. It is a relationship of continuous creation and critique; of shaping and reshaping the nation. We as citizens shape the nation, we make it as per our imagination of good human life and aspirations of all. Deification of the nation demands abject surrender to that god, which cannot be questioned, cannot be critiqued, cannot be shaped and reshaped. This is a relationship of a blind bhakta. A nation that has only an army of blind bhaktas will be a poor nation and will not be able to take care of all democratic interests and aspirations of its citizens.

In this sense this imagination of the Indian nation as Bharat Mata makes it possible to love that non-existent imaginary goddess without respecting and caring for its citizens. Calling all of us Bharat Mata’s children in a sense infantilizes us. This is an example of a useful metaphor taken too far, too literally. It creates a false imagination that Bharat Mata is some kind of mysterious being that will take care of its perpetually infant offsprings. Or that it stands in need of these children to safe guard its honor. This is poetic imagination that might have its beauty, but the undeveloped minds who start taking this imagination as some kind of mysterious existence do a lot of harm to the very idea of a nation.

Remember the starting words of the preamble of Indian constitution: “WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC …”. It is we who create this nation, it is we who want justice, equality, freedom, fraternity and dignity for all. Once you create an imaginary goddess called Bharat Mata it becomes possible to worship that imagination and forget autonomy if its citizens. It becomes possible to profess false love to that imaginary goddess and support injustice and perpetuate inequality in the sections of its population. Making chanting of “Bharat Mata ki jai” mandatory for all citizens is an attempt to change the relationship between the nation and its creator citizens.

A critical citizen cannot be demanded to love and to worship the nation. All that can be demanded from her/him is respect for the constitution, respect and care for all its citizens and their rights, and commitment to its integrity and flourishing. Mr. Pathan violated none of it. Charging him of ‘disrespect for the nation’ is an expression of demanding expression of respect and commitment in a particular way that some people favour.

We as critical citizens of a democracy should avoid bind love and worship; and inculcate thoughtful respect and commitment. And st the end, let us recognise without doubt that the demand that every one chants “Bharat Mata ki jai” and that  shouting of “Bharat ki barbadi tak…” be considered ‘freedom of speech’ fuel each other. Both are unjustified and both are harmful for this nation.


Dividends of Divisive Politics: National Hysteria

March 15, 2016

Rohit Dhankar

Living and flourishing together in harmony requires acceptance of some principles and some dispositions. The first principle to my mind is to recognize all as your equals. This is to recognize that as you have a right to live in this world as per your own percepts others have the same right too. As you have the right to influence the words so that your chosen life becomes possible others have the same right too. But the differences are bound to be in perceptions, imaginations of desired lives, and therefore, proposed schemes of social organizations. The living and flourishing together necessarily requires ways of resolving these differences without making shared social life impossible and without subjugating the other; as subjugation will violate the recognition of the other as an equal. That makes it necessary to engage with the ‘other’ in a negotiation, a dialogue.

No dialogue is possible without an attempt to understand the other’s position. Therefore, the second principle has to be to make an attempt to understand the other without willful distortion. If one assumes the other to be evil even before the dialogue begins there can be no possibility of apprehending the other’s position. The third principle, then, has to be to begin with an initial position of trust. This trust is not a commitment to always consider the other as acting with good will. It only requires to keep an open mind, till it is proved otherwise. It demands a certain mental alertness to catch nefarious intentions and willful distortion of reasoning by the other and still maintaining basic trust in his/her humanity and authenticity as a person. The fourth principle I would propose is an unconditional commitment to the wellbeing of your opponent, even when in a serious battle with him/her, just because the other happens to be a human being. I know it is difficult and may be misinterpreted, but a genuine public dialogue is impossible without this. In this scheme of things the fifth principle has to be of being consistent in public reason. This demands epistemic fairness; you cannot use two different sets of reasoning, one for your friends and another for suppose o be opponents.

We as Indians now have a long history of divisive politics on the part of BJP and RSS; and of partisan politics on the part of left and Congress. That has violated all these principles. And has vitiated the atmosphere so much that the basic trust in and good will for other almost completely destroyed. The present day politics from both sides is a politics of hate, a politics to completely subjugate the other. It is not a politics of listening to the other; it is a politics of willful distortion of the others meaning to discredit. And therefore, it generates daily new cycles of stupidity.

The most recent cycle of stupidity is between Bhagwat and Owaisi. The steps of this cycle of stupidity can be roughly outlines as below.

  1. The Indian state fails to uphold the principles of justice, equality, freedom and dignity for large populations of its population. (Something could not be properly addressed after independence. Mainly due to control of a section of the society on the state.)
  2. This instigates some left-leaning students to shout slogans that indicate rejection of the state and the very idea of integrity of the nation. (The students are incapable of analyzing the complex situation. They fails to grasp the implications of rejection of the state and integrity of the nation; and to estimate the costs of such actions. They also choose wring symbols.)
  3. Bhagwat sees in this the opportunity to emphasize his narrow brand of nationalism, and declares that “Now the time has come when we have to tell the new generation to chant ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai (hail mother India)”. (He fails to recognise that there might be genuine reasons for the disaffection of the students and large sections of the population. He also fails to recognise that you have to improve the situation and get into a dialogue with the disaffected students, rather than “telling” them. He is blind to the fact that this country might have people who resepct it as much as he does but do not endorse the metaphor or imagination of the country as “Bharat Mata”.)
  4. Owaisi sees in this the opportunity to highlight his brand of divisive politics and declares “he will not chant ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ even if a knife is put to his throat” (The Hindu, 15th March 2016). (He deliberately accentuates the issue completely ignoring that Bhagwat is talking to ‘teaching’ this to the new generation and not at all of forcing people with knives at throats. Owaisi also ignores that different people come from different backgrounds and may use different metaphors and languages.)
  5. Now Shiv Sena jumps in and tell Owaisi to go to Pakistan! (As if it is a constitutional necessity to chant ‘Bharat mata ki jai’. They want to misappropriate the love of India for themselves and those who don’t agree with them should leave the country.)

Another related cycle of stupidity involves Professor Nivedita Menon. Which develops as follows, from the same starting point.

  1. The Indian state fails to uphold the principles of justice, equality, freedom and dignity for large populations of its population. (Something could not be properly addressed after independence.)
  2. This instigates some left-leaning students to shout slogans that indicate rejection of the state and the very idea of integrity of the nation. (The students are incapable of analyzing the complex situation. They fails to grasp the implications of rejection of the state and integrity of the nation; and to estimate the costs of such actions.)
  3. This gives an opportunity to the government to make an attempt to show that the JNU is a hot bed of anti-nations, and handle the issue in a highhanded manner by arresting Kanhaiya. (Without allowing the internal process of the university.)
  4. JNU in its wisdom stats a series of lectures to preach the kind of nationalism or its absence espoused by the dominant faction there. (Through this successfully converts the issue to that of freedom of speech and draws attention away from the real issue of slogans.)
  5. Professor Nivedita Menon happily declares that the whole world considers Indian occupation of Kashmir illegal. (Without defining under what parameters the accession of Kashmir is illegal. I have written a piece on this, it is here.)
  6. Some media channels start a campaign against her for this, some ABVP people also lodge an FIR (?). (They resort to vilification rather than taking on her in a debate.)
  7. The university academics and students come to her defense and call Professor Menon’s declaration of illegality of Kashmir occupation as ‘right to free speech’ but others’ rejoinder as ‘attack’, double standards. (They also eulogize her work and her teaching style but none provides answer to why the Kashmir occupation is illegal? As if a good academic and good teacher has all the right to make baseless declarations. They successfully fabricated another case of throttling freedom of speech while the government did nothing in this case. Also, completely ignore and make public forget her untenable claim.)

Now it should be clear to the common Indian citizen that the both parties (they are not homogenous) are grinding their own axes. Want public support for their espoused causes; but both are severely assailing the capability of the people to think clearly. They are fast distorting the public thinking and destroying public capability for rational thought, by being deliberately partisan. The Indian public is on its own in keeping its cool and keeping its mind clear. The BJP and RSS were always for indoctrination and brow beating their opponents. The so-called intelligentsia is more interested in perpetuating their brand of dogmatic thinking rather than clarity of reason and reflection. Both want to convert our not-so-well-functioning democracy into mobocracy of their choice.


A survey on freedom of speech

March 13, 2016

I am running a survey on Freedom of Speech here https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/W7VYJ9P .

This mixes up questions on religion and nationalism; and statements and slogans. The basic purpose is not to understand legal position but to understand how some of Indians active on internet think. This survey is not about what is the legal situation in the country, but what YOU AS AN INDIAN CITIZEN THINK.

Please complete it if you find interesting and/or useful.

If you don’t think it to be of any use you are free to state here BLUNTLY.

Those who are interested in the sources of these statements and slogans can see the references below:

Freedom of speech survey


Rohit Dhankar

Statements in books, pamphlets, seminars, public meetings:

He [Ganesha] cannot “compete with his father [Shiva], a notorious womaniser, either incestuously for his mother or for any other woman for that matter”.[1]

[Sita]: “That I’m an unfaithful wife and I’ve slept with Ravan.” “You didn’t do anything of the sort,” said Luxmun. He struck his knee and winced with pain. Sita said : “I did.”[2]

“In the months that followed, the staff of The Curtain warmed to the new task. The fifteen-year-old whore “Ayesha” was the most popular with the paying public, just as her namesake was with Mahound”[3]

“As long as Islam is there in this world, terrorism will be there. Until and unless we root out Islam from this world, terrorism cannot be eradicated.”[4]

“Prophet Muhammad was a homosexual and child molester.”[5]

Kamalesh Tiwati ne hamare Nabi ke sath badtamizi kii hai, yadi Uttar Pradesh Sarkar use saja nahin detii hai to uska sar kalam karne wale ko Bijnaur ke Musalman 51 lakh rupaye ka inam denge. [Kamalesh Tiwari has insulted our Prophet, if the UP government does not punish him, the Muslims of Bijnaur announce a prize of Rs.51 lakh for anyone who beheads him.][6]

“Any person who slaps Aamir Khan will be rewarded Rs 1 lakh by the Shiv Sena. This is important because no one living in our country should dare to say anything against India… Anyone from the hotel staff or the film crew can slap him and take the reward,”[7]

Slogans in public meetings (all from JNU programme on 9th Feb 2016):

  • “कश्मीर के नौजवान संघर्ष करो, हम तुम्हारे साथ हैं” [Youth of Kashmir, struggle; we are with you.]
  • “कितने अफज़ल मरोगे? घर-घर से अफज़ल निकलेगा” [Hogmanay Afzals will you kill? An Afzal will come out of every home.]
  • “कश्मीर मांगे, आज़ादी” [Kashmir demands freedom]
  • “पाकिस्तान, जिंदाबाद, जिंदाबाद” [Long live Pakistan]
  • “Right to self-determination, long live, long live”
  • “अफज़ल कि हत्या नहीं सहेंगे, नहीं सहेंगे” [We will not tolerate Afzal’s murder]
  • “अफज़ल हम शर्मिन्दा हैं, तेरे कातिल जिन्दा हैं”. [Afzal we are ashamed, your murderers are still alive.]
  • “कश्मीर कि आज़ादी तक”, “जंग रहेगी, जंग रहेगी” [Till the freedom of Kashmir, there shall be war.]
  • “भारत की बर्बादी तक”, “जंग रहेगी, जंग रहेगी” [Till the destruction of India there shall be war.]
  • “JNU के जयचंदों को, होश में लाओ” [Bring Jayachadas of JNU to their senses]
  • “देशद्रोहियों को, निष्काषित करो” [Expel the enemies of the nation.]


[1] Scenes and characteristics of Hindostan, p. 177. Oxford University Press, New York, 1985. (As quoted by Ashok Vohra, in a paper read in Udaipur.)

[2] The Ramayana as told by Aubrey Menen, page 243 of pdf version, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1954.

[3] The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie, page 402 in the pdf version I am using. Available at https://archive.org/details/TheSatanicVerses

[4] Anantkumar Hegde, BJP MP for Uttara Kannada, The Hindu 2nd March 2016.

[5] Kamlesh Tiwari, as reported The Times of India, City-Meerut, 4th December 2015.

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1e9L6BAYc4Q (Video)

[7] Punjab Shiv Sena chief Rajeev Tandon, as reported in Hindustan Times, 26th November 2015


“As per government policy – No Muslim candidate was invited …”

March 12, 2016

Rohit Dhankar

Early morning a friend sent a link to an article titled ‘As Per Government Policy, No Muslim Candidate Was Invited, Selected or Sent Abroad’ which claims that the Ministry of AYUSH has categorically stated in reply to an RTI query that “as per government policy, no Muslim candidate was invited, selected or sent abroad” as a trainer/teacher during World Yoga Day 2015. The article also has a scanned copy of the letter from the Ministry of AYUSH which sates “As per government policy – No Muslim candidate was invited, selected or sent abroad”. The letter also states “Total 711 Muslim candidates applied for short term assignment (Trainer /Teacher) during World Yog day 2015”. This information seems to have come from “Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga”.

The admission that it was “as per government policy” that “no Muslim candidate was either invited, selected or sent abroad” is so brazen and stupid that an ordinary citizen of the “SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC” of India does not know what to make of it. Assuming that the present day government actually has such a secret policy would it be so stupid to admit it openly? Such an admission is extremely risky in political terms, and the Human Rights Commission and the Supreme Court can definitely—if I understand the legal position correctly—take the government to task for this. One hopes with crossed fingers that it is some kind of stupid clerical mistake. Not because one has any trust in the secularism of the party in power, but simply because the cost of such an admission is too high for any political party to be able to take that risk.

Therefore, one tries to look for reasonable logical possibilities why such an open admission of blatant unconstitutional religious discrimination may take place. There seem to be four reasonable possibilities:

1.   The government does have such a discriminatory policy secretly, and some inefficient official spilled the beans inadvertently.

2.   The government does have such a discriminatory policy secretly, and some unhappy official spilled the beans deliberately to warn the country.

3.   The government has no such policy but some official deliberately used such language to defame it.

4.   The government has no such policy but some official made a stupid and dangerous drafting mistake.

I am not counting the possibility of the letter being forged, as that would be too risky for the author of the article. Possibilities 3 and 4 only provide further proof of incompetence of the government and I will not consider them here anymore. Therefore, rest of my comment is only on the possibility of the government really having such a secret policy.  

One does not need to deliberate on the issue of such policy being against the constitution, that it in violation of human rights, and would be morally extremely depraved; as all this is too obvious.

If one believes in this possibility then the nation is in great danger. Secularism, justice, equality and fraternity among its citizens are being deliberately destroyed. And this should become the most grave and important concern for every democratic citizen of the country at the moment. If this be the case, then all the charges of intolerance, throttling freedom of expression, unleashing lynch mobs and victimisation of critics are automatically proved. Condemnation of a government which can even contemplate such a policy would be grossly inadequate response. This becomes an occasion for all out fight against such a government. I do not know the legalities; but such a government loses all moral right to remain in power in a secular democratic country. And the citizens who want to safeguard democracy and secularism have no more important duty than to dislodge such a government as speedily as possible.

However, as I said above, one still hopes that it is some kind of stupid mistake. I wonder if one can seek clarification from the government through the Human Rights Commission or through the Supreme Court.


Indoctrination in JNU?

March 11, 2016

Rohit Dhankar

In the social media in last about a year half the BJP supporter (derisively called ‘Bhaktas’) have proved again and again the point of intolerance made by many people. Each time someone pointed out that there are pockets of Indian people and regions where intolerance for alternative views and practices is growing; these so-called bhaktas attacked that person viciously on the social media. Many people have been pointing out that such behavior actually proves the point being made.

I have been writing that there are many kinds of bhaktas in this country; they don’t come only in the saffron hue, there are also red and green bhaktas. This point is at least partially proved in the lecture on nationalism given by Makarand Paranjape; particularly in the question-answer after lecture.

Some of the points made by Professor Paranjape

To understand the issue I am raising it is necessary to take a few points from Professor Paranjape’s lecture. I am not trying to summarize or analyze his whole lecture; but citing few examples.

He was making an attempt to explore what he calls the “diatopical hermeneutics” which means placing oneself simultaneously inside and outside of what one is critiquing, because each ideological position is incomplete. If we cut the academic jargon this means being self-critical and recognizing the problems with one’s own position; and also listening to the other.

In this attempt he talked of Tagore and Gandhi on nationalism and made a point that their ideas on nationalism, India and Indian culture were complex and cannot be reduced to simple positions. While they criticize nationalism they also see value in the Idea of nationhood. Their, particularly Tagore’s, writing against the idea of nationalism has European nationalism in mind. He seems to be looking for a less problematic form of belongingness to the nation.

Professor Pranjape made it very clear that he stands for autonomy of institutions and opposes any attempts to throttle voices in the name of nationalism or religion or culture. He also made it clear that he does not support the current doing of the government, nor does he support the kind of hooliganism that happened in Patiala House Court. He accepted that the BJP and its supporters today are trying to curtail people’s freedom of expression and he opposes that.

But then he also made several points about the behavior of the left in India, historically and the present JNU campaign; and made a plea for self-critique or reflection. Any critical person should have paid attention to the points he made. Some of those points are as below.

He pointed out that yes, fascism is anti-democratic and that the RSS did have admiration for their authoritarian methods of running the government. But Stalinism and Maoism are also anti-democratic. And the Indian left has been actually going beyond simple admiration of these two and has been using them as their political ideologies. The number of people killed and silenced by Stalin ran into millions. He established the relevance of this comment by giving instances. He also claimed that the communist line in India follows the Stalinist line that the revolution in India will be a twostep process; where in the first step bourgeoisie will capture power and then the proper communist rule will come.

He posed a question that why “different sheds of the left in India have a great difficulty in accepting the legitimacy of the elected government of India?” The most devastating question he asked of the JNU left is “when you say that we will over throw the elected government where do you derive your legitimacy from?” This is a question every Indian should be asking them. His answer is that this legitimation and authorization is derived from “ideology, it is a syllogistic authorization” and not derived from the people through any plebiscite.

To rub the salt in the wound he immediately connected it to the JNU situation today and asked: how many people in this campus support separatism in Kashmir? Did they have a debate and came to such a conclusion? According to him Kanhaiya won with only about a thousand votes in a campus with 8000+ students; his support to the Kashmiri separatism does not make it a democratic decision of the campus.

Carrying his line further he asked the JNU people to critically reflect whether JNU is really a democratic space? Could it be that it is a left hegemonic space? “Where if you disagree you are silenced, boycotted or sometimes you are brainwashed”. His plea was to not reduce politics to sloganeering and for not being self-complacent but to interrogate one’s own position.

I have summarized some of the important points he made in order to understand the audience reaction in the question-answer part of the lecture. But before we go to that lets ask two questions which Professor Paranjape does not ask of JNU people. One, both fascism and the Stalinist and Maoist communism have been antidemocratic, killed lakhs of people and silenced dissent; then why is it a virtue to toe the line of Stalinist communism and a sin to follow fascism? This is not a defense of fascism; it is a question to be asked of the admirers of Stalin and Mao. And two, when not recognizing the legitimacy of an elected government and advocating over-throw of it has no legitimacy itself; why the BJP and its supporters’ attempt to silence dissent is any more illegitimate than the Maoists attempts? These questions were not asked by Professor Pranjape. However, it would be interesting to know how JNU lobby answers them. Now let us come to the JNU students and teachers response to his lecture.

JNU students’ response

I am writing this whole piece for this section. It seems to me that the response Professor Paranjape got reveals the mind-set of the vocal section of JNU. There were at least 250+ (could be more, difficult to estimate from a video) students and teachers in the gathering. This is the lecture series that started in countering the narrow Sanghi version of nationalism. Therefore, I am assuming that it was a representative section of the JNU-left lobby; though hopefully not a representative section of the whole of JNU.

The JNUSU president Kanhaiya was chairing the lecture. The first thing which one noticed in the QA session was the sarcasm and making fun of the lecture. Kanhaiya being sarcastic and making fun may not be such a problem; but the applause he received from the audience for this attempt to dismiss the points made in the lecture reveals the way JNU students present there think. Actually they immediately proved the point Professor Paranjape was making. That they are not ready to listen, not ready to question their own stand, not ready to answer the questions raised on their position seriously. Their minds are made-up. There is no room for further thinking.

The second thing that one notices is that only one of the comments or questions actually engage with the issues raised in the lecture. Rest gave no argument, questioned no argument; instead they attacked the speaker! The worst kind of ad hominem one can get.

Since Kanhaiya was the chair and he asked the first set of questions, and his response was also the most glaring example of this ad hominem let me quote lengthy excerpts from him, please read it carefully.

“… sir, bahut bahut shukriya aapka, aap bahut aadarniiya hain aapka aadar karte hain (laughter and clapping from the audience, L&C inshort) mere gaon men ek kahawat hai aapko sunana chahate hain (louder L&C) ‘jhompadi ke charcha men mahal ke naraa, Gandhi ji ke bhajan kare Gandhi ke hattyara’ (very lound L&C and oooooooo…..)… aisa nahin hai sir, ki aap bol ke chale jaayenge jawaab to dena padega (loud L&C and Ooooo) … pahala sawaal main hii poochh letaa hun, sawal yah hai sir, ki aapane ahinsa ki baat kii hai, Gandhi ki hattya kii gaii, aur Gandhi ji ne kabhi is baat ko nahiin kaha ki main Hindu nahin hun, to aap manate hain ki Hindustan Bharat men azaad Bharat men, maaf kii jiyega, ek Hindu ne ek Hindu ki pahalii hattya kii, first assassination hua hai aur aap ahinsaa ki baat karte hain to aap usko condemn karenge? (an attempt from Paranjape to answer, stoping him) aur sawaal hai sir, doosara sawaal hai sir, ki democracy kii baat kii jaa rahii hai, Patiala House Court men coat pahan kar, kanoon ki dhajjiyan udaate hue, hamla kiyaa gayaa kya aap uskii ninda karenge? (loud clapping) teesara sawaal hai sir, ki kahate han ‘khoon se tilak karnge goliyon se aaratii’, kya yeh hnsaa hain ki ahinsaa hai? (loud L&C ans OOOooo..) chautha sawaal hai sir, ki (kahate hain) ‘Afzal ko dii azadi, maqbool ko dii azadi, Umar ko denge Afzal walii azadi’, isko karenge condemn sir? Aur swaal hai sir, sawaal hai sar, swaal yah hai kii kanoon kii, azadi kii tamaam tarah kii baat kii gaii, communist party to dhokhebaaj bataaya gaya, maan lete hain, dhokhebaaj hai communist party, lekin kya aap ye manenge ki merii party to hai, aur main apane aap ko dhokhebaaj kahalane ke liye bhii taiyar hun, aap kii kaunsi party hai? Yeh bhii aap ko batana padega. Yeh chautha swaaal kai, insawaalon ka jawaab jaisa main ek-ek line men diya hai, aagrah yahii hai ki epko jawaab bhi ek-ek line men hii dena padega. (loud L&C and ayeeeeee OOoooo).”

[A rough translation of Kanhaiya’s questions: “ … Sir, thank you very much. You are very respectable, we respect you. (laughter and clapping from the audience, L&C inshort) There is a saying in my village, I want you to listen to that. (louder L&C) ‘jhompadi ke charcha men mahal ke naraa, Gandhi ji ke bhajan kare Gandhi ke hattyara’ ‘In a conversation about a hut, slogan is raised of a place; Gandhi’s murderers sing praise of Gandhi.’(very lound L&C and oooooooo…..)… It is not sir, that you will speak and go, you have to anwer. (loud L&C and Ooooo) … let me ask the first question, Sir, you have talked about non-violence. Gandhi was musrdered. Gandhi ji never said that he was not a Hindu, so you have to accept that to the first assassination in the free India was that of a Hindu, by a Hindu, this was the first assassination and you talk about nonviolence, so would you condemn this murder? (an attempt from Paranjape to answer, stoping him) second question sir, is that you are talking of democracy. In Patiala house court people donning (lawyers’) black coat broke the law; would you condemn that? (loud clapping) The third question Sir, (BJP supporters) say that ‘we will make tilak with blood, and aaratii by bullets’ ‘khoon se tilak karnge goliyon se aaratii’, Is it nonviolence? (loud L&C ans OOOooo..) Fourth question, sir, (BJP supporters say) ‘we have given freedom to Afzan, and Maqbool; will give the same freedom to Umar’, would you condemn this? And the next question is, sir, (you have talked) a lot of the law and of freedom, and all that, (you have called) the communist party dishonest, let us suppose that communist party if dishonest, but would you accept that I at least have a party, and I am ready even to be called dishonest, but what party do you belong to? You will have to tell us this also. (loud L&C and ayeeeeee OOoooo).”]

This is not important how Professor Paranjape answered these questions. Though we will look at his answers as well. What is important is: 1. How these questions were asked? 2. What was in Professor Paranjape’s lecture which invited these questions? And 3. Whatever be his answers, how does that help in engaging with the serious issues he raised about left politics and JNU lobby?

He did not defend BJP in his lecture, he simply questioned the stance taken by the left. He did not call communist party “dhokhebaaj” (dishonest), he only cited example from their past which show their ambivalent attitude to independence at certain crucial times, their calling the freedom “jhoothi azadi” (false freedom), their expressed difficulty in accepting the legitimacy of Indian state and elected governments. Kanhaiya’s questions have nothing to do with Professor Paranjape’s points, they all were directed at his personal views and political alignments; and were designed to create a kind of disrespect and distrust in him, through polemics. Supposing he gives the worst possible answers to these questions: 1. Does not condemn Gandhi’s killing, 2. Does not condemn Patiala hiuse attack, 3. Supports “khoon se tilak karenge, goliaon se aarati” kind of stupid slogans from BJP supporters, 4. Does not condemn slogans raised to give Umar “Afzal wali azadi”, and finally, 5. Says that his party is BJP. (These are not his answers, it is just supposition for the sake of argument.)

What would it prove? Does it make the sting of his questions regarding ‘syllogistic legitimacy’ of wanting to overthrow an elected government less painful? Does it take anything away from his charge of left hegemony? Actually these questions and the style in which they are asked proves what he says. This looks like a response from a closed and indoctrinated mind or worst. (Though Kanhaiya’s speeches have more substance than that.)

More worrying is the complete failure of JNU students (250+ of them) to notice irrelevance and polemical nature of these questions, and hearty appreciation of them. This again shows that they either did not understand the lecture, or they are not ready to reflect on their own positions. Not only that, they are not even ready to counter his arguments through challenging his facts or arguments; they simply dismiss his arguments through attacking the person rather than the arguments. If this is the state of affairs in our best university then do our universities really teach clear thinking? If this is the level of thinking our research scholars have, we are in danger as a nation and as a culture.

Of course Professor Paranjape condemned all the condemnable acts and slogans to which Kanhaiya referred to and said that he belongs to no party.

Then a retired teacher of JNU came and said that you have mentioned how many people Stalin killed, “aap jara Hitler and Mussolini ki bhii baat kardete” (You should also have talked about Hitler and Mussolini) how many people they killed. This is a strange challenge in the guise of a request. It presumes that Professor Paranjape was defending Hitler and Mussolini, or he swears by their ideology. Which cannot be derived from his lecture at all. But some of the left factions in India actually admire as well as swear by Stalin’s ideology. And prefer Stalin’s and Mao’s governments to the Indian democracy. Therefore, one can legitimately ask them questions regarding Stalin and Mao.

Then a Chinese student claims that they can have protests in their country and tells how controlling the people by a party can bring economic progress, to the laud cheers from the democracy and freedom of speech loving JNU students! One simply does not know what to make of it.

Then a Salafi Muslim comes and asks two questions, after some bold claims. Verbatim: “sir ne jo bla kafi der se, ek cheej bata ke main sawaal karoonga, main khud communist nahin hun, aur Salafi Musalman hun. Jisko aaj kal kaha jaa raha hai ki bahut khatarnak hote han ye, log jaanate bhi hain. Aur men darta-varta nahin hun kisii se jis din sab log 9 tariikh ko bahar gaye the to main safaa bandh kar gaya tha ki mujhe kisii ne maraa to main jawaab men (with a lot of emphasis) maroongaa, main chup nahin rahuunga. Aap ne abhi kaha ki communism khatam ho gaya hai ya kamjor ho gaya hai, capitalism ka mukabala kaun karega? H sakata hai aap logon ne dhyaan na diya ho sir ne yah baat kahii thii. Ek cheej main, sir se sawaal poochh aha hun, dhyaan diijiyega sir, kya aapko aisa nahiin lagata hi Islam abhi maidan men khadaa hai, capitalism ka mukabala kar raha hai. Aur doosara sawaal, communism aur Islam men hosakata hai aane waale waqt men compatibility baith jaaye, ek saath dono ho jaayen? Jawaab please.”

[A rough translation: ““Sir, has been speaking for long. I will first tell one thing and then ask my question. I am not a communist, I am a Salafi Muslim. Who (Salafi Muslims) are called very dangerous these days, people know. And I am not scared of any one. On the 9th February when all went out, I went with wearing a headgear, (thinking) that if any one hits me, I will (with a lot of emphasis) hit back, I will not keep quet. You said that communism is finished or has become weak, who (what ideology) will stop capitalism?  Don’t you think that Islam is still in the battle field, and fighting capitalism? And second question, may in the future communism and Islam become compatible?  May be they will join forces? Your answer please.”]


Another person: “Sir, I would want to comment on your lecture. All through you talked about non-violence and Indian democracy, whatever, that might be true to a certain extent. And you also talked about bali, where the yagna last performance of Gadhi’s might have looked upon as bali, why do you think that somebody has to sacrifice themselves because this is very Brahamanical culture, which Buddha was against, so if you could comment on this.” This was in response to Professor Paranjape’s reference to Gandhi’s fast to stop communal riots in Delhi which Gandhi called ‘yagna’ and since it took his life, therefore, looking at it as the ‘aahuti of life’ in the yagna. You see, yagna, aahitii, etc. are Brahamanical concepts even if one uses them figuratively; and Buddha was against Brahamanism, so …?

In the whole lecture there was only one person who actually commented and countered some of the issues raised by Professor Paranjape. One may agree or disagree with her, but she at the least engaged with the lecture. Rest either talked irrelevant things or attacked the speaker.

This session raises questions in one’s mind: is there a strong culture of indoctrination in JNU? Is it possible that what they call critical thinking is actually a certain fixed kind of criticality, and therefore, indoctrination in the guise of being critical of Indian state and democracy? And a certain kind of thoughtless acceptance (bordering on reverence) of some ideological positions?