This is a very quick assessment of the situation created and continuously developing in the JNU-BJP row. Quick assessments always have a serious problem of being somewhat under analyzed and may suffer from lack of information. And therefore, they may be wrong. However, in the day-to-day action when one has to make a judgment it is the quick assessment which becomes basis of such judgment and action. Therefore, one who wants to keep independence of one’s mind always takes an epistemic risk which has a significant potential for a moral risk. In short, a quick assessment is a necessary tool which is also necessarily imperfect. And that is the predicament of being human. This quick assessment is not free of all these defects; but it is also necessary, if one does not want to be a mute spectator, or a bind follower.
The title of this little piece is deliberately reductionist. The opinions on the events in JNU on 9th February and their aftermath is not neatly dividable into two camps. There is a range; but both sides are making all out efforts to make it completely two-sided. Both have their allies which might have somewhat different opinions from those held by the central antagonists. This is a limitation of a quick assessment that it has to make things simple; therefore, by BJP is meant all the Sangh Parivar outfits and their stable supporters. And by JNU I am indicating various left outfits and intellectuals who have expressly come out to support its cause in the current row. There might—hopefully there are—be intellectuals who support the JNU’s resistance to the BJP attack on the universities but do not share their views on the slogan shouting and making it a version of freedom of speech in the universities. I know that no group is homogenous in such maters; but I am talking of an aggregate general impression they create.
I will state my assessment in the form of simple, as simple as I can make them, statements. Will try to make them as unambiguous as possible. I believe that I have enough evidence and arguments to justify each one of these statements; but all said and done, they are part of a quick assessment, and therefore may be challenged. Stating my justification of each of these statements will make it a book. If I come across counter evidence or argument, would be open to reconsider. (It is interesting that those who want a daily plebiscite on the existence of nation are least open to subject their own rigid positions to scrutiny!)
Of BJP and its allies:
- BJP is communal at the core. But its communalism stems out of perceived injustice to Hindus and Hinduism.
- They want to force the Muslims (particularly) and other minorities to take a particular attitude to the Indian culture and Indian nation. If the Muslims and other minorities accept that attitude they will come out of communalism but will always remain sectarian. That of course is no reason for Muslims and others to fit their demand.
- I am making a distinction between being communal and sectarian in this piece. I am using “sectarian” in a milder sense here where it indicates “favoring one’s own sect (religion) without antagonism and animosity to other sects”. Communalism is “sectarianism armed with antagonism and animosity:”.
- BJP’s politics (if one discounts corruption and power struggle within the formation itself; which are necessary characteristics of all political formations) flows out of the premise that India can become stable, strong, just and economically strong only if it’s politics is dominated by Hindu ethos, as they understand the term ‘Hindu’.
- They are deliberately creating situations where their support base can become strong and can take on the counter view of India and its politics. So are doing other political parties; so they are not unique in this.
- The attempts to capture universities is part of this plan. But they also believe that the universities in India have been under the stifling influence of certain ways of thinking and scholarship which is anti-Hindu, lacks the vigor of patriotism, and unfairly maintained through favoritism and patronage. (Which has more than a grain of truth.)
- BJP’s current attempts in the universities are part of their scheme of installing their own academics in the place of the left leaning intelligentsia with, in their view, right attitude to the country’s past, culture and ethos.
- In the society as well as in the universities the BJP is encouraging a mob mentality and rubble rousers who can counter what they consider anti-Hindu and anti-nation voices when they become loud and stringent. The Patiala house lawyers and other incidents like that are certainly sympathized by BJP and its allies; even if not directly instigated. The biased BCI report (if one goes by The Hindu news report on this) is both an expression of support to such goondaism as well as of their large base in the Indian middle class.
- The government has proved itself incompetent in creating a dialogue with dissent and various kinds of unrest in the society, which might stem from their policies.
- Some of the incidents like Delhi police’s handling of the JNU slogan shouting is designed to fail; it is not for the consumption of the intelligentsia but for the masses which have a certain attitude to the nation and see this failure as a result of power and villainy of the intellectuals.
- This whole politics and mindset is harmful to the Indian nation.
- The current appeal to Rohan Murthy from some ‘intellectuals’ is part of the larger scheme of challenging the left-leaning intelligentsia.
Of JNU and its supporters
- The majority teachers in JNU (it seems) and the dominant intelligentsia in India have a certain attitude to Hinduism, Indian culture and ethos that is largely indifferent (some even antagonistic) to their achievements and positive aspects and over emphasize their shortcomings. They are generally fair in explaining (and explaining way) the achievements as outcomes of socio-historical processes without attaching any moral angle; but always attach a moral angle to the short-comings, and do not explain them as outcomes of the same socio-historical processes. Therefore, they are tilted.
- This attitude partly (in some of them) is because many of them are Brahmins and appropriate appreciation of Indianness in anything is likely to attract charge of favoring the social order which privileged them in the past. They have created this theoretical mess themselves.
- They believe that excesses committed by the minority are less condemnable than the excesses committed by the majority. This attitude of theirs stems from the belief that minorities need protection and majority is always unfair to them. This is logically flawed view. And this feeds the ‘victimhood’ mentality of the BJP and its supporters.
- Their concern for the oppressed, deprived and underprivileged is often genuine and they fight for justice to all, but only as long as their own positions are secure. But many of them (not all) play to their own gallery and see injustice where it actually might not be there.
- They have built a formidable array of theoretical arguments and international network that helps maintain their position of power. Many of their theoretical formulations might not pass the test of a strict rational scrutiny; but BJP does not have intellectuals to challenge their formulations. That is why they have made a caricature of the genuine and legitimate concerns on slogans in JNU.
- Their commitment to the national integrity and social harmony is much lower than their expressed rhetoric for justice.
- Because of their lifelong investment in networking and sharpening ‘intellectual skills’—a dexterity devoid of inconvenience of normative positions—they have been very successful in the current matter to deflect attention from the space they create for disaffection with the country and its democratic process to stupidity and excesses committed by the BJP and its supporters.
- They are just incapable of taking a robust stand in which both ‘justice to all’ and ‘integrity of the democratic nation’ become non-negotiable values. The latter in negotiable for them. They don’t think that it is theoretically possible to hold both these values as non-negotiable simultaneously, this shows poverty of their imagination. This makes them vulnerable to be used by people who actually may have intentions to harm Indian democracy and Indian nation.
- But they are always ready to appropriate the benefits of Indian democracy and Indian nationhood. In a certain sense some of them are actually free-riders.
- They are not antinational; they are imply unconcerned and disdainful to the idea of nation; at the least in the positions they take when push comes to the shove.
- But they also contribute handsomely to make Indian state and democracy more sensitive to the deprived and oppressed; in maintaining multicultural ethos, and in exposing hardliner Hindutva agenda.
- Their current fight is partly to retain their dominant position in the academia. That does not necessarily mean retaining personal benefits but only a tilted ideology. However, personal patronage and benefits cannot be completely discounted.
- The same injustice committed by some parties (say Congress) is more acceptable to them than committed by BJP. In this sense they are unfair.
- Their record of use of freedom of speech in the past is biased and one sided.
In the current fight between the BJP-group and JNU-group the win of BJP will be disastrous for the country. But the win of the JNU-group will also harm the country in the future no end. It will slowly prepare the ground for balkanization of India. Simply because they are more interested in scoring the points in more and more radical ideologies and anti-Hinduism than in actual solutions. As an example, one can see how they have made ‘nationalism’ and ‘patriotism’ dirty words in the recent debate for the current political gain. First they have equated the concerns for the nation to the acts of idiots and goons. They have created a situation in which if one raises concern for the anti-India slogans s/he is promptly equated with the Patiala house like goons. And have made it a fashion to declare “I am antinational”. They have used their intellectual skills to make nationalism disrespectful, rather than to make it a robust concept where the goons can be opposed without questioning people’s respect and genuine concern for the nation.
They either do not know or do not care that if one takes away the belongingness to the nation civic care for other citizens actually has no ground to stand on. At the present juncture of development of humanity universal humanistic concerns can work only through nations. And therefore, fight for justice and equality becomes even more difficult if you discredit the idea of nation.
A simple definition of patriotism, without too much nuance in it, can be paraphrased from Mudaliar Commission report as follows:
“True patriotism involves three things—
- a sincere appreciation of the social and cultural achievements of one’s country,
- a readiness to recognize its weaknesses frankly and to work for their eradication, and
- an earnest resolve to serve it to the best of one’s ability, harmonizing and subordinating individual interests to broader national interests.”
In understand this definition I interpret “social and cultural achievements” as past as well as present. Therefore, readiness to recognize weaknesses also apply to the present day social and political order.
If one scrutinize their pronouncements and actions both the BJP-group and the JNU-group fail on this criteria. The BJP-group does not want to recognize the injustice to many sections of the population today; and the JNU-group over emphasizes the injustices and does not recognize what might be positive in the nation. Neither have the requisite amount of love for all citizens, their love is narrow and divided. They are totally deaf to what might be a genuine concern in the others mind; even if unjustified but still a tormenting concern for the part of the nation. They do not have respect for each other to engage.
It seems to me it is time for the silent majority to wake up and let both of them know their respective places.