Why campus after campus are turning into political battlegrounds.
After Hyderabad University, JNU has turned into another battleground for ABVP to burnish its credentials as the true vanguards of ‘nationalism’ and expose all anti-state forces within Indian educational institutions. On the face of it, the protests and reflex action of the state looks spontaneous but if observed closely, the protests are being harnessed for political end.
It is not without reason that senior faces of the government have dipped into campus issues but also tied it up with the narrative that our nation is under siege and the only party that can lift it from the current morass is BJP for which cultural political rinsing of educational institutions is mandatory. The institutes like JNU and Hyderabad University which they believe instead of instilling patriotic values are giving space to students with anti-India attitude.
This issue has many dimensions.
Firstly the disproportionate response on part of the state when it came to the arrest in JNU. Secondly the interceding of senior ministers and the immediate link with nationalism. Thirdly how ABVP has emerged as a common thread in most of the campus agitations and fourth and the last being student debates being pushed inside legal police arena without any intermediary interventions by teachers.
So let us begin with disproportionate response of the state. It works like a scare tactic making errors, small crimes or even sheer stupidity or wrong understanding of facts by students look like a sin committed against the nation. It makes small agitations or provocative protests look like an act of desecration of a sacred landscape defined in the language and metaphors of nation, patriotism and loyalty. So the disproportionate response of the state rests on an imagined threat to the nation which turns into a loyalty test for the rest. And even those who have a counter view get slotted as those who lack ‘true’ patriotic values.
Then is the question of senior leaders in the government taking positions on campus politics. It is because what interests RSS the most is not high-brow ministries but only education. It is where RSS-BJP has decided to fight the ideological war. Most of the institutions now have party-vetted appointees who are lending weight to political campaigns across the country in various campuses. The decision to be part of this issue allows senior leaders to lend political credibility to the issue whereby nationalism gets appropriated by the ruling party and the rest get branded as routine dissenters or provocative agents who have no regard for the sense of nationhood.
Then comes into play the central character of the drama the ABVP, the frontal organisation of RSS. After the 2014 victory not only did ABVP pronounce its politics around nation making but also drew senior functionaries of the party into campus politics. One can argue that ABVP is trying to rightfully and simply expand and assert vigorously in various campuses. But then what explains ABVP’s run ins with small groups of students. In two specific cases, JNU and Hyderabad both the principal characters weren’t national faces. No one knew Rohith nor was Kanhaiya known to the world before his arrest under sedition. The students were provocatively protesting against the decision of the state and not against ABVP. It is ABVP’s intervention at the first stage with generous help from the parent party, that turned a local issue into a national one. Normal dissent got categorised as assault on sensibilities of the state creating a ripe situation for legal political intervention. So instead of students getting either suspended or going through the motion of strong disciplinary action, the state decided to put draconian provisions of CRPC into motion.
Many would ask as to what purpose is being served if political actions have to course through the legal corridors of Delhi. It adds legal credibility to political engagement. Narrative can acquire the halo of truth. It is this reason why student protests are being legally contested. Not only legally contested but also violently projected which became evident in the lawns of Patiala court where journalists were brutally assaulted. BJP might think that it can act as a counter lever to Hyderabad goof-up but it will only end up disturbing the Parliament more.