Institutions

For a world in its own image

Print edition : June 24, 2016

Asgari Begum showing the blood-stained clothes of her son, Mohammad Akhlaq, who was lynched in Dadri in September 2015 on the suspicion of storing beef. Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma

Modi’s rule is marked by intolerance towards divergent views, a deafening silence on attacks on people who oppose it, and the wresting of control of institutions to ingrain a uniform set of values in society.

“It is an atmosphere of fear that is all pervading. Why have we come to such a stage when we are scared of eating what we want to?” asked a young graduate who is just into his professional career.

Fear is the key in India today where if you do not chant “Bharat Mata ki jai”, you are dubbed a traitor. If you happen to be a beef-eating individual, you run the risk of being lynched. If you are on friendly terms with a Pakistani national, you may have your face smeared with black paint. Sympathy for the Kashmiri cause can land you behind bars for treason. And if you happen to be the head of an autonomous institution but dare to disagree with the government, you can be humiliated, insulted and summarily removed from your post. It could be a bullet that awaits you if you dare to oppose idol worship. You can be trolled on social media and have the ugliest of abuses heaped on you if you voice an opinion that is supposedly different from usual.

All through his campaigning, Prime Minister Narendra Modi never even once mentioned Hindu/Hindutva, Ramjanmabhoomi or Muslims. His thrust was on development and a corruption-free India. Two years into office, however, the real agenda behind what is now seen as a smokescreen is emerging in the form of lynch mobs looking for beef-eaters, “love jehadis” and anti-nationals.

The rising level of intolerance in society ever since the Modi government took over is disturbing. A Mohammad Akhlaq gets killed by a lynch mob in Dadri in the neighbourhood of Delhi on the mere suspicion of having stored beef at home. The predetermined nature of the crime becomes manifest when it is learnt that the mob assembled together after announcements were made from a loudspeaker in a temple. In a situation that brooks no difference of opinion, you have a bunch of hoodlums smearing Sudheendra Kulkarni, the head of the Observer Research Foundation, with black paint as he appeared on a public platform with the former Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri for the launch of Kasuri’s book. Criticism is taboo, so you have former Minister and editor Arun Shourie being trolled on social media for being critical of the Modi regime.

The killing of the scholar M.M. Kalburgi, who opposed idol worship, was a visible sign of the rising level of aggression towards dissenters. The K word evokes a definite no-no, as Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, who were arrested on charges of sedition, would know; indeed, the entire university was dubbed a den of anti-national activities in the whole episode. It is worse if you happen to be a Dalit who gets into a tiff with an Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad activist on campus; Rohith Vemula was suspended from Hyderabad Central University, banished from the hostel and denied a fellowship, all of which led him to end his life.

Is India being headed towards an ideologically regimented society where each individual is uniformed and marching in the same direction to the drumbeats of the Sangh Parivar? It would not have been so scary if these were isolated incidents involving loony elements and the law enforcement agencies were seen to be acting against them. On the contrary, the so-called fringe elements associated with the Sangh Parivar are seen to be getting away with it, with the Prime Minister and other top BJP leaders looking the other way. How else does one justify Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti getting away with her derogatory statement about Muslims in a public meeting in Bihar? Or, how could Shiv Sainiks walk away after throwing black paint on Sudheendra Kulkarni without some visible action being taken against them? If it was not part of a larger game plan, how could Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s remark that if one wanted to live in India one would have to stop eating beef be tolerated?

Control of thought

The senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal said: “Intolerance is everywhere. It is working at two levels. At one level, there is intolerance in public life which manifests itself in verbal violence or creates a situation which naturally results in violence. Intolerance is also active at a subterranean level where it is seeking to take control of the mind and the thought process and this is much more damaging because the process here is not visible. You don’t even know what you are dealing with. While violence on the ground can be tackled, as there can be FIRs [first information reports], cases, police, judiciary, intolerance at the subterranean level cannot be tackled and does long-term harm to the polity.”

Talking about the covert form of intolerance, he cited the example of how the government was taking control of various institutions and putting ideologically regimented men and women in charge so that future generations could be indoctrinated in their ideology. The most glaring example of such an attempt was the appointment of Prof. Y. Sudarshan Rao as Chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research. Known for his association with the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), Rao was the head of the department of history at Kakatiya University in Telangana. His claim to fame is his writings praising the Indian caste system. His vision for rewriting history for the future generations is to prove the historicity of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

Similarly, a known Modi loyalist, Lokesh Chandra, was appointed head of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR). He is known for his fawning praise of Modi during the election campaigns as God incarnate, a leader bigger than Mahatma Gandhi. His vision for the CCR: to have research projects in colleges and universities dedicated to Vivekananda and Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, the leader of the Jana Sangh.

Another case in point is the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, where Gajendra Chauhan, who became famous for his role of Yudhishtira in the serial Mahabharat on TV, was appointed Chairman. Chauhan’s appointment made FTII students take to the streets, but their prolonged agitation achieved nothing. Chauhan’s vision for the FTII is to produce “nationalistic students”. His arrival saw many other RSS affiliates join the board of the FTII.

Yet another glaring example of the government tampering with the autonomy of institutions in order to make them its agents is the appointment of Chandrakala Padia as the Director of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, even though her name did not even figure in the list prepared by the search committee. She was appointed directly by Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani. Other than her RSS association, what qualifies her for the seat vacated by a veteran scholar like Gopalakrishma Gandhi is still a mystery.

The noted nuclear scientist Anil Kakodkar resigned as Chairman of the IIT Board of Governors, in protest against undue interference by the HRD Minister in the recruitment process of Directors for the new Indian Institutes of Technology at Ropar, Bhubaneswar and Patna. The HRD Minister trashed all the 37 names shortlisted by the search and selection panel. IIT Delhi Director Raghunath Sheogaonkar also resigned citing undue interference by the government.

With the government bent upon undermining institutions, the case of Indian Institutes of Management is still more bizarre. The government has issued an order directing that candidates for the Director’s post must face a group discussion, a move dubbed as humiliating. Not only this, the government has issued orders that every decision, including those on fee, remuneration, curriculum, etc., by the board of Governors of the IIMs has to be approved by the HRD Minister, rendering IIMs into merely instruments instead of being the renowned centres for learning that they are.

A similar treatment was meted out to the director of the National Council for Educational Research and Training immediately after the Modi government took over. Its Director, Parvin Sinclair, was forced to resign in October last year as the government slapped charges of financial irregularity against her and ordered a high-level inquiry. The Vice Chancellor of Vishwa Bharati University, Sushanta Datta Gupta, also met with the same fate as he too refused to toe the line.

In another instance, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), in an unprecedented move, vetoed the appointment of the noted theoretical scientist Sandip Trivedi as Director of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. Never before has the PMO vetoed the appointment of the director of such a reputed institution.

A similar thing happened at the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Scientific Research at Bengaluru, which was founded by the noted scientist Dr C.N.R. Rao. Although Dr Rao protested about both the incidents to the PMO, nothing happened.

The brazen attempt to have RSS men in key positions at institutions that chart the future course of learning was visible at the National Book Trust, where Baldev Sharma, former editor of the RSS magazine Panchajanya, was installed as Chairman. Yet another RSS man, A. Suryaprakash, a fellow at Vivekananda International Foundation, a pro-RSS think tank, was appointed as Prasar Bharati Chairman, giving the RSS control of dissemination of information through the government media.

The appointment of Pahlaj Nihalani, the creator of the “Har har Modi, ghar ghar Modi” slogan during the campaigning for the Lok Sabha election, as the Chairman of the Central Board of Film Certification, known as the Censor Board, was yet another move to have control of mass media platforms. Immediately after taking over, Nihalani issued a list of cuss words to be banned in films.

Banaras Hindu University also came under the control of the government with the appointment of Girish Chandra Tripathi as its Vice Chancellor. He was selected by a search panel headed by retired Justice Giridhar Malviya, the great-grandson of Madan Mohan Malviya. He had proposed Modi’s nomination for his election from Varanasi.

The government has also gone about systematically dismantling the Nehru-Gandhi legacy in its avowed mission of a “Congress mukt Bharat”. One step in this direction has been the removal of Indira Gandhi’s name from the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts. It is now called the National Centre for Arts and is due for a total overhaul as the government intends to change its context by making it more nationalistic.

This subterranean movement to capture institutions in order to control what people see, read, hear and learn is even more dangerous than open violence, said Kapil Sibal, because it would lead to a generation of individuals who would only know Hindu-Hindutva-Vedic way of life and not be aware of the pluralistic nature of India.

An extreme form of this attempt was seen during the JNU agitation in which the students’ union leader, Kanhaiya Kumar, and others were arrested on the charge of chanting anti-national slogans. The entire government machinery was busy trashing JNU as an institution that bred anti-national thoughts, ideas and individuals. The anti-JNU campaign reached such a hysterical pitch that many in the government started saying that the time had come to close down the university as it was an unnecessary drain on the exchequer.

However, not a single political party has been able to effectively offset this battle of the mind. The Congress, the only pan-India party, has so far failed to counter the government’s subversive campaign and articulate the idea of India as envisaged in the Constitution. By the time the political class wakes up to the threat posed by the majoritarian agenda, it may be too late.

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