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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?