Campus politics may have produced stellar political leaders who went on to occupy high positions in public life, but they did not emerge from violent campaigns nor were they violent protestors.
When politics not just enter but seeks to dominate the narrative in non-political regions, there can only be division, and possibly destruction. Two areas that must be most insulated from political interference are education and defence forces. But political leaders, not content with their accessibility to other arenas to play in, have not spared even these two sectors.
Political leaders couldn’t care less about the damage to the academic interests of students. Nor are they bothered about the deleterious impact that anti-India postures can have on society.
The violence unleashed recently at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and the general unrest which has troubled thousands of students of this premier educational institution for some years now are direct outcomes of dubious political play. No limits are prescribed here — everything is permissible, from beating up students with rods and sticks to damaging university property including Internet servers and hostels, raising anti-India slogans and seeking freedom of certain States from the Union of India, eulogising terrorists and Maoists, ridiculing a particular religion, and calling vile names to people who have been elected to office through an established constitutional process admired across the world. All of this is done under the available right to freedom of expression.
The trigger for such mayhem can be anything, from a localised hike in hostel fees to the National Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). There is no understanding of proportional response. When a set of students, prodded by their irresponsible leaders, take to vandalism, cracking the skulls of fellow students, keeping vice-chancellors and visiting MPs captive, and not even caring for the safety and security of Governors, there is something wrong in their response. That wrong derives from the support they receive from their political masters, whether Left, Centre or Right. Political leaders couldn’t care less about the damage to the academic interests of students. Nor are they bothered about the deleterious impact that anti-India postures can have on society. These leaders count only their political points. If violence helps in putting the government of the day on the back foot, it’s legitimate and permissible. Therefore, one kind of violence, that perpetrated by one rank, has to be condemned. But violence from within their own flank should be glossed over.
During the independence struggle, both Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru were opposed to students conducting political activities. Both believed that students must concentrate on their academics and only later enter the political arena. Things changed with Indira Gandhi at the helm. She encouraged the participation of students into active politics and especially boosted the National Students Union of India (NSUI), a Congress-affiliated student body. Of course, she had reason to do so. The Left-leaning student organisations had been creating ruckus all over the academic field in the country and they needed to be countered. Even in those days, the communist student bodies believed in physical intimidation to settle ideological scores, and the NSUI has suffered enormously as a consequence, particularly in Kerala, where it exists as the Kerala Students Union, and in West Bengal, where the Chhatra Parishad is the NSUI’s face. It is, therefore, ironical, that today the Congress seems to be sharing the Left camp when it comes to posturing on the JNU violence.
If universities have become an established ground for dangerous political play, our defence establishment too has sought to be dragged into politics, though, thankfully, not without much success. The recent comment by a senior Congress leader, questioning the integrity of the recently appointed Chief of Defence Staff, General (retired) Bipin Rawat, is a case in point. On previous occasions too, certain prominent opposition party leaders have called senior defence force officials names. One Army chief was called a street goon, while a former Air force head was dubbed a liar. Responsible statements of Army officials have been called as falsehoods. Even worse, not too long ago, one senior politician who often plays the minority card sought to highlight the role of ‘Muslim Army men’ in the Kargil conflict which India won. Another wondered about the ‘inadequate’ representation of Muslims in the Indian military force.
Kanhaiya Kumar who is alleged to have been part of a group that had chanted anti-India slogans in the JNU, contests elections — that he lost is some consolation.
But the worst case of political interference in the affairs of the Indian military, with sad consequences, was during VK Krishnan Menon’s tenure as Defence Minister. His tiff with General KS Thimayya and the manner in which he patronised two other Army officers at the cost of the force’s morale, is a matter of public record and needs no repetition. That all of this happened just before and during the 1962 war with China, had an impact on the outcome of the conflict. It has also been said that Prime Minister did not intervene sufficiently enough and allowed the politicisation of the defence forces. Eventually, things turned so precarious for Nehru that he had to seek Menon’s resignation — yet Menon was retained for a while as Minister for Defence Production.
Some issues need a full stop. Campus politics may have produced stellar political leaders who went on to occupy high positions in public life, but they did not emerge from violent campaigns nor were they violent protestors. But today, a Kanhaiya Kumar who is alleged to have been part of a group that had chanted anti-India slogans in the JNU, contests elections — that he lost is some consolation. If he has yet to be prosecuted, it is because of politics; the Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi is refusing to clear the file for his prosecution. It is entirely possible that some of the leaders who are either behind the recent violence or had actively participated in it may end up as candidates for elections on behalf of some political parties. But it is time to condemn unequivocally this version of campus politics. Also, no leeway should be allowed to politicians who drag in our Armed Forces into their dirty politics.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.