Spreading confusion through JNU issue

February 19, 2016

Rohit Dhankar

Due to inaptitude and dogmatism of the government supposed to be thinking people of India—the intellectuals—have been very successful in obfuscation, spreading confusion, on certain vital issues; deliberate or otherwise. The government acted ham-handedly under the influence of its own narrow, biased, dogmatic and sectarian definition of the nation and nationalism; and perhaps also with intentions of discrediting JNU to be able to better control it. The spontaneous or manufactured attack by Patiala House Court lawyers made the matters worst and gave a potent issue to the group of people who wanted to divert public gaze away from the 9th February events in JNU. Certainly there is a possibility that the JNU teachers may be feeling that attack on autonomy of JNU, curbing dissent through arrest of Kanhaiya and dubbing JNU as anti-national are much more important threats to the democracy and the nation than shouting of a few anti-India slogans by a group of students. Therefore, they are going full steam in attacking the government on these issues nationally and internationally.

It seems to me that hallmark of an intellectual is to see the whole picture, remain unbiased, and the ability to see consequences of ideas and action, beyond one’s immediate concerns. Their resistance to the excessive use of force by the government, not allowing JNU internal processes to take their own course, maddening media campaign by some channels to dub entire university anti-national and condemnation of the Patiala house hooligans is entirely justified. And in that they are actually rendering a service to the democracy in the country and to the nation; because this nation exists only because of democracy and democratic values.

And yet, they are guilty of spreading confusion—though may not be entirely deliberate—that may come back to haunt us in future in very menacing ways. By their actions, writings and behaviour they are making light of the slogan-shouting incident and making it almost acceptable in young people’s minds as an exercise of freedom of speech. And, thereby, making the country a softer target. This needs a closer examination.

At present the entire debate is focussed on the sedition charges. I must make it clear there that I am not discussing whether Kanhaiya Kumar attracts charges of sedition or not. As far as I can understand, so far there is no evidence in public domain that established that he shouted anti-India slogans. Some TV channels are making a spacious argument that since Umar Khalid is standing next to Kanhaiya when the latter is shouting “azadi” slogans, where azadi is demanded from samant-vad, sangh-vad etc.; therefore, he should be deemed to be shouting azadi for Kashmir. This is completely illogical and unacceptable; actually deliberately malicious.

The issue I am discussing here is whether slogans like “Bharat ki barbadi tak jang rahegi” fall under sedition or not. The Article 124-A is about “the Government established by law in India”. It states: “Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Government established by law in India, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.” Then it adds clarifications to the effect that disapprobation of the measures of the government with intention to bring about their alteration or disapprobation of administrative acts of the government without exiting hatred and through lawful means does not constitute an offence under this act.

The act read in itself certainly covers the slogan that were shouted, and deems them offence punishable under this law; as those slogans did excite hatred, contempt and disaffection towards the “the government established by law in India”. However, through reading recent articles by constitutional experts it seems that the Supreme Court has interpreted it more liberally. Fali Nariman in The Indian Express (17th February) states: “sedition in India is not unconstitutional, it remains an offence only if the words, spoken or written, are accompanied by disorder and violence and/ or incitement to disorder and violence.”

I personally fail to understand why declaration of “Bharat ki barbaadi tak, jang rahegi” is not “incitement to disorder and violence”? It seems to me that “sedition” as defined here, even by Nariman, remains a punishable offence by his own words.  If one raises a technical point that “sedition” in its dictionary meaning is not punishable, I can call it only obfuscation, as law defines terms for specific purposes. If one argues that the term “sedition” is not used in Article 124A, then it means nothing; call it what you like, it is not a quibble about naming. But I am not a legal expert, therefore, will wait to be enlightened through further reading etc. and suspend my judgment on this issue till then.

The point I want to raise is much more important for our future as a nation. The three slogans (Kashmir ki azadi tak, Bharat ki bardadi tak jang rahegi; and “Bharat tere tukade honge, insha Allah, insha Allah) are not, repeat not against the government alone. They are against the idea of and fact of India, Bharat. They express hatred, contempt, disaffection, abetment and intent to destroy India. The governments come and go, we may oppose and resist governments, may dislike them, may want to change them and actually do change them every five years. India remains, India gives us the space in which we create lawful governments. And these slogans are against that idea of governing ourselves democratically. Reducing this issue to technicality of disaffection with the government is obfuscation, creating confusion. It is a failure to make a distinction between the government of the time and the nation.

So what is this Bharat/India they want to destroy? It is people living in a certain demarcate geographical region who have decided to live together and govern themselves through a self-created constitution. And that includes the landmass and its territorial integrity. Because without the territorial integrity the values enshrined in the constitution cannot be realised, can be practices. It includes a multiple cultural traditions which interact with each other and constantly modify and recreate themselves. In this interaction they cooperate with each other, oppose and fight with each other, confront each other, change each other and are changed by each other. This India is aspirations of people who possess multiple identities and varied imagination of the nation and life in it. This involves confrontation of aspirations, groupings for struggle for power and control, struggle against oppression and injustice and compromises. It involves a shifting cauldron of love-hate relationships. It involves a huge turmoil and constant search for harmony and justice for all. And all this goes on within a framework of values we call constitution; and kept within limits by various structures, including the government.

These slogans express a contempt for this arrangement, these people, this structure of values, this way of life, this territorial entity; these slogans want to destroy it all. And under various kinds of spacious arguments young people are being made to believe that it is alright to want to destroy this idea, these people this entity; and it is alright to express this intention openly within this entity, and living within these people.

In this festival of spreading confusion one hears pronouncements like “Gandhi and Tilak were charged for sedition, it is a law that wants to punish all those who want freedom”. They do not know, or are incapable of understanding, the difference between a foreign power occupying a country and a country being governed by a constitution given to itself by its own people; between a colonised people and sovereign people. Their analytical capabilities are being destroyed by these fallacious argument based on half-understood facts.

There are supposed to be critical torch bear of equality who counter the charge of making heroes out terrorists by pronouncing that Bhagat Sigh and Khudiram Bose were also called terrorist. Thereby, proving to themselves that since we call Bhagat Singh and Khudiram Bose revolutionary freedom fighters Maqbool Bhat and Afzal Guru were also ‘freedom fighters’. They forget, or do not have enough understanding of, the difference between democratic country where alternative and peaceful means of seeking justice are available, where you can participate in government formation; and a colonised country whose government is formed by those outsiders who are not governed by it. More importantly, they forget that Indian revolutionaries rarely targeted innocent public, even innocent Britishers. They attacked government officials who were directly responsible for atrocities, of course in revolutionaries’ minds. But terror through rampant innocent killing and ‘terror’ through targeting particular perceived wrong doer are different.

Arguments are being made out to say that anti-India slogans like the ones cited above and armed struggle against a perceived unjust state are legitimate rights of the people who are oppressed.

No one can deny that the Indian democracy so far has not been just to all its citizens. There are tribles, Dalits, Nagas, Bodos, and Kashmiri people who have been wronged, even oppressed, under this regime after regime and even by the Indian state. This oppression has driven some of them to take up arms, often abated by outsiders. Having sympathy with oppressed groups and standing with them in their struggle is duty of a democratic citizen. But condoning, eulogizing, abetting and supporting armed struggle takes you to a different level.

A democratic system does have redressal systems. Theoretically it is easy to prove that unless run by angels a democracy will involve discrimination and injustice through the self-seeking of those who are in power. Practically it can be seen happening on the ground. And yet, declaration of armed struggle against it on one hand, and making the state sensitive and more just through lawful and democratic means on the other are not the same. Everyone has recourse to peaceful democratic means. And let me admit that it is possible that oppression, atrocities and injustice to a section of people may reach a level when those people come to the conclusion that the armed struggle is the only means left. (I am not going here into the many strategic used that an armed struggle can serve for those who declare it.) That is a shameful situation for a democracy, the whole nation is culprit in such a situation. And that is an unfathomable misfortune for those people. If a democracy does not take care of such situations and does not restore a just system and, thereby, the confidence of the disaffected people; it will get destroyed. In such situations there might be sympathisers of the oppressed people who want to support such armed struggles.

But they all, the oppressed as well as their supporters, should know that declaration of armed struggle is breakdown of the constitutional system and declaration of was on the nation. It is a declaration that we no more accept the constitution, that it has failed, that we are not bound by it. Once you do that, talk of ‘constitutional right for armed struggle’ is imbecile talk. Therefore, support of armed struggle and remaining within the constitutional limits is contradictory. Those who want to support armed struggle should know that they are declaring the constitution useless, they have no constitutional right to support armed struggle to break the country. And they should know that there are people who still have confidence in the democracy and the constitutions; therefore, the state has the duty to protect these citizens. Conclusion that a democracy will fight back tooth and nail does not require much brains. Declaration of war will get what it wants: a war. This situation is no good either for the people who declare armed struggle or their supports or rest of the nation. It is a bad situation, morally indefensible; and ultimately a compromise. But unfortunately humanity at this moment has no better solution. This is not a good solution; but in the current development of humanity it is the best solution. We have to live with it till we find a better one; and have to keep searching for that. We have to find a way of being sensitive to atrocities by various sections and people on other sections and people of the country; we have to fight these injustices and have to do it in a manner that the idea of India becomes stronger and not weakened.

The current debates are actually spreading these, and more, confusions; through their general tenor and kind of arguments they are building. This is an insidious way of harming the nation—as defined above, a constitutional nation—and democracy. It is preparing ground for various insurgencies, preparing an environment of false intellectualism where those who want to harm India can be respected and protected under the garb of radical ideas and seeking justice. This will haunt us, will come back to us. Confusing young students on these issues through spacious theories is dangerous and will ultimately harm all of us. Most probably this is not deliberate. But a critical citizen is called upon to be aware and responsible for unintended outcomes of his/her actions as well.