Agreed, Kanhaiya Lal is not, repeat, not an anti-national. And did not deserve to be slapped with the sedition charge. Still, the question is why did he have to convene a meeting on 9 February, which happens to be the anniversary of the hanging of Afzal Guru, the man convicted, after a lengthy trial which had the imprimatur of the country’s highest court, for the attack on the sanctum sanctorum of Indian democracy? If the intention was not to pay tribute to Afzal “Guruji”, as the Congress spokesperson addressed the terrorist the other day—just like Digvijaya Singh had called Osama bin Laden Osamaji—why was a meeting of students convened on 9 February? Clearly, Kanhaiya was not devoid of ulterior motive, though he is certainly not an anti-national.
If despite their insistence that Guru’s hanging was a “judicial murder”, we are still not ready to believe that Kanhaiya is an anti-national, it is because it is necessary to give a lot of slack to students. Youthful insouciance is often reflected in open questioning of what others might consider accepted national cause. Challenging the authority, any authority, is the calling card of student-activists. And when it is the JNU Students’ Union, you have to make bucketfuls of allowance for the fact that the successors of Prakash Karats and Sitaram Yechurys need to burnish their ultra left credentials by embracing negation and negativism as core philosophy. Hopefully, neither Karat nor Yechury will deny that slogans raised at the meeting convened by Kanhaiya, who heads the Students’ Union, were in no way in advancement of the national cause.
Having said that, the government cannot escape blame for scoring yet another self-goal, for needlessly elevating what was essentially a hyper-local brouhaha into an all-India standoff. Apparently, on every anniversary of Afzal’s hanging, such meetings are held in JNU, where the same slogans heard this time are shouted. But those horrible slogans at the meeting convened by Kanhaiya receded into the background due to the folly of the Ministry of Home Affairs. The entire non-NDA bloc is now training its guns at the government. National and international academics and student bodies have weighed in on the side of the government’s critics. No doubt that Rajnath Singh grossly mishandled the issue. Political immaturity was written all over the warrants issued against Kanhaiya. If the good Thakur had as much faith in tact and tactics as he seems to put in thanedar’s danda, he would have given the JNU hotheads, who chanted “death to India”, a long rope. Slapping the sedition charges first and thinking of the consequences later was typical of a government which has been most amateurish in its dealing with such crises. Whether it was Rohith Vemula’s suicide at the Hyderabad University a few weeks ago, or it is Kanhaiya’s detention under the archaic Section 124A of IPC now, the ruling party has courted unpopularity on university campuses due to its ham-handedness on issues concerning students.
In HRD Minister Smriti Irani you have someone who is constantly at pains to prove that she is better than anyone who might hold a proper degree. Her unpleasantness, nay, aggression comes across every time she interacts with the bureaucracy, vice-chancellors, even the media. May be someone will arrange to get her a degree. For, otherwise, she is clever and has a command over the language and a grasp of the issues on which she holds forth. Her problem is psychological—she believes her interlocutors are sceptical about her intellectual abilities and, therefore, she must put them down to show she is in command. Even her over-the-top intervention in the JNU imbroglio reflected an anxiety to please her superiors in the Sangh Parivar, whereas the right thing as HRD Minister would have been to ascertain facts before publicly commenting. Wrapping oneself up in the flag is easy; transforming a rotten and rote-reliant educational system, however, will be a true patriotic act.
Meanwhile, Rahul Gandhi made the same mistake of acting in haste—and in hate of the Modi government—as made by the Home Minister. If Rajnath Sihgh ordered “tough” action against the JNU boys for raising anti-India slogans, the Gandhi scion rushed to the JNU campus to identify himself with the slogan-shouters. As it is, a section of Rahul’s party had always been ambivalent on the issue of Afzal Guru, with the party’s MLAs in J&K even signing a memorandum seeking the remains of the terrorist for his family. In any case, Gandhi needs to remember that Afzal Guru was hanged by the UPA government after the rejection of his plea for mercy. He can hardly expect to draw support of those who cry from housetops that Afzal Guru’s was a judicial murder.
Of patriotism and JNU student -tenants
Patriotism is a potent weapon in the hands of nationalists. How potent we came to know firsthand in the Emergency in the Tihar Central Jail. A senior officer of the Press Information Bureau of Government of India was doing time in jail after his conviction in a case of spying for a western nation. We were aghast to see the rough and rude treatment every prisoner, including those charged with such heinous crimes as murder, rape, etc., meted out to him. Every inmate, and, of course, the jail wardens, had nothing but contempt for him. Worse, they went out of their way to show it. Asked why they gave him such a rough time, a hardened criminal answered without batting an eyelid, “Because he is a gaddar.”
So, politicians and commentators criticising the government for making a mess of the JNU imbroglio ought to be careful not to conflate the issue of rabidly anti-India slogans shouted at the meeting convened by him with the arrest of Kanhiya Kumar on sedition charges. For, outside the antiseptic confines of Lutyens’ city, a large mass of people seem to have bought into the theory that his arrest was justified because of those anti-India slogans.
For proof, you do not have to go far. It seems after the JNU crisis hit headlines, landlords in the villages around the university campus have begun to pressure student-tenants to vacate their houses, telling them that they do not want to harbour anti-national, pro-Pakistani elements. Period.
Eighth wonder in Kejriwal’s Delhi
If you live in Delhi, you cannot escape the constant cacophony on radio, and very often on TV as well, about the great feats of the Arvind Kejriwal government. If you were to believe all those advertisements paid for by the taxpayers, Kejriwal is God’s gift to Delhi. The main reason why the media seems to buy the tall claims hook, line and sinker is that its own coffers get filled up, what with multi-page insertions by the Delhi government almost every other day.
But the reason why we mention all this is slightly different. It is to report a near miracle last week when while driving from point A to point B in the national capital, at least for one kilometre, on our FM channel there was no ad in praise of the Most Wonderful Arvind Kejriwal. No, not even by his ministers. One has to be thankful for small mercies! It is a different matter that even drivers and domestic servants, supposed to be hard-core AAP voters, are beginning to show annoyance at the profusion of Kejriwal ads on every FM channel you tune to. You cannot really blame them. They switch channels to avoid the ads and much to their irritation the new channel too is blaring out the same Kejriwal ads. Meanwhile, if the Modi government were to follow the lead of the Kejriwal sarkar, it will have to earmark, at a modest estimate, over Rs 50,000 crore for self-promotion and publicity, given that the allocation in Delhi is Rs 526 crore. It was Rs 26 crore till the advent of the Aam Aadmi Party in the Delhi Secretariat.