Several Left party leaders have studied in JNU and held positions as student leaders on its campus. Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury is an alumnus of JNU and a former president of its students union. Yechury told Frontline that the developments in JNU and other educational institutions across the country were neither unprecedented nor unexpected. He said it was imperative that Parliament discussed these issues in the national interest. Excerpts from the interview:
JNU has been the centre of attention of the government, the media and the political class ever since the Central government slapped sedition charges on six students in early February. Debates on nationalism and sedition have been taking place. Was the Delhi Police’s reaction a normal response to a law and order situation or was it something more?
I think this was a deliberately planned attack by this [Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance] government. It has used JNU as a launch pad to unleash an insurrection against the Constitution. I know these are strong words. I am convinced what the government is up to and JNU was chosen as it symbolises a vibrant, strong progressive culture. This was the best platform for the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh]-BJP to launch a vituperative anti-Left campaign. The RSS had for decades characterised JNU as anti-Indian. It failed miserably, since my time, that is, more than four decades ago, to make inroads into the campus. It had repeatedly lost in the battle of ideas in JNU. The RSS cannot succeed in advancing its mission of metamorphosing the Indian secular democratic republic into its version of a rabidly intolerant fascistic Hindu Rashtra by winning the battle of ideas, hence it is necessary to browbeat and isolate the Left. Hence, the use of state repression. This entire episode that happened in JNU is a part of this ideological project of transforming the republic by seeking to isolate the Left. That is why I call this a launch of an insurrection against the Indian constitutional republic.
The government says this is a law and order issue and that there is no ideological underpinning to it. But others see a pattern.
Of course, there is a pattern. For the Hindu Rashtra project to succeed, Indian history must be distorted. The need arises to erase the truth that the Indian civilization is a product of a confluence of civilisational interactions that happened down the millennia. This reality prohibits the realisation of the Hindu Rashtra project. This syncretic civilisational advance of India has to be straitjacketed into a monologue narrative to establish a so-called supremacy of the “Hindu nation”. This syncretic history has to be erased and the only history that needs to be taught is Hindu mythology. The replacement of Indian history with Indian mythology and Indian philosophy with Indian theology is a requirement for the establishment of a Hindu Rashtra. This requires the re-ordering of the education system, particularly higher education. So what we have seen with the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune, the developments in the University of Hyderabad leading to the tragic forced suicide of Rohith Vemula, the ban imposed on the Ambedkar-Periyar-Marx study circle in Indian Institute of Technology Madras or the recent events in Jadavpur University, symbolise this reordering. All these, including the attack on Aligarh Muslim University on charges that beef is allegedly served in its canteen, are pieces in the larger jigsaw puzzle. The BJP, after all, has been the political arm of the RSS; therefore, these actions are by the current government.
There is a view that fringe elements may be indulging in random acts of violence, like issuing threats to the opposition and defacing the CPI(M) headquarters, and these do not necessarily have the endorsement of the government.
No, I don’t think these are fringe elements. This is the considered methodology and is chillingly similar to the fascist ideology that they have unleashed. We have maintained that if there is any concrete evidence of any anti-Indian activity, take action under the law. Now, it is clear that all the so-called evidence they claimed to possess was fabricated and propagated through certain media organisations to create an anti-India frenzy. Labelling somebody or some institution as anti-Indian is a prerequisite for launching a jingoistic nationalism campaign. This again is chillingly reminiscent of how nationalism was used by Hitler to rouse the German masses into a jingoistic frenzy to establish fascist rule. Therefore, we have been very clear from the beginning, if there is evidence, produce it, let the law take its own course. We have enough legal provisions and laws within the country under which action can be taken. But as evidence is fabricated, and fabricated evidence is used to create a frenzy, all this fits into a pattern. And this pattern attempts to transform the character of modern India. Such a transformation is totally contrary to the guarantees of equality, liberty and fraternity contained in our Constitution apart from the declared objectives of economic self-reliance and social justice.
The Budget session is under way and, therefore, questions have risen from all sides about the timing of the swoop down on JNU.
The RSS-BJP has always whipped up communal polarisation as a weapon to divert people’s attention away from the increased miseries heaped upon them. In less than two years, it has become clear to the whole country that this government is an abject failure. The economy is in doldrums; all the slogans of Make in India are hollow. Manufacturing, agriculture, exports are all at a decline. Rupee is at its lowest. The fall in international oil prices has not resulted in any benefit to the people. Consequently, misery is growing, unemployment is growing and the demographic young India is staring into a future of economic and social insecurity. Sharpening communal polarisation through nationalistic jingoism is the time-tested weapon of all reactionary forces, particularly fascists.
The reactions of the opposition have been rather strong. Is it due to the unprecedented nature of the political environment today?
We have seen such attacks in the past, both under the Janata Party government in the 1970s and during A.B. Vajpayee’s NDA government. But the scale of the attack and the intensity of the venom are unprecedented. In a sense, one should have seen this as natural after the 2014 elections in which the BJP secured a comfortable majority with 31 per cent of the vote. It is also not unexpected because the battle of visions of what should be the character of independent India, which began nearly a century ago during our freedom struggle, continues even today. The RSS, under the Modi government, is emboldened to mount such an offensive. And the BJP also sees the prospects of using such communal polarisation for its electoral benefit. The coming round of Assembly elections, particularly in Assam, Kerala and West Bengal where the electorate has a sizable and, in some ways, decisive number of voters belonging to the Muslim minority and where, by sharpening communal polarisation, the BJP is playing the worst vote-bank politics in the country by seeking to consolidate the Hindu communal vote bank.
The Prime Minister recently said that the opposition was on a vilification campaign and negating all the achievements of his government.
The principal player that does not allow Parliament to function is the BJP and the government. I say this because if you see the last three sessions, developments are created by the BJP outside Parliament as the session approaches and these developments, given their grave nature and consequences, dominate Parliament’s proceedings leading to this disruption. Secondly, the Prime Minister or anyone else in government to date has refused to give any assurance to MPs that members of the Union Cabinet and BJP MPs, who make inflammatory speeches, will be proceeded against in accordance with the law. This refusal on issues of sharpening communal polarisation and alleged corruption, naturally, is a strong provocation for parliamentary disruption. Thirdly, the Prime Minister announces grandiosely that he and the BJP are prepared to discuss all issues on the floor of the House but this has never been followed up by allocating time for such discussion.
For instance, in the Budget session, the first half has only 16 working days. Of these, five would be taken up by issues like the President’s address, Budget presentation, and private members’ Bills, among other things. That leaves around 10 days for parliamentary business. If the motion of thanks to the President for his address, the Railway Budget and the Union Budget are taken up for preliminary discussions, then there is no time for any other matter. I asked the government pointedly that of these 10 days available, on which day will the developments that occurred in the University of Hyderabad or JNU and issues connected with higher education be taken up for discussion. There was no commitment. The Business Advisory Committee of both Houses, we hope, may decide the matter. Without making specific provisions for discussion on such important issues, the session cannot function. Therefore, the government and the Prime Minister publicly announced that they were prepared for a discussion, make no arrangements and then accuse the opposition of disruption. This is a classic tactic they seem to be perfecting. Clearly, the government seeks to escape from scrutiny and accountability. Parliamentary disruption suits it best. This is the Gujarat model of governance. For a full decade, with Modi as Chief Minister, the Gujarat Assembly never met in any calendar year for more than 30 sittings. They are seeking to reduce the Indian Parliament to this status.