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SAGA CORNER

Is RSS pushing its saffron agenda? Has BJP bitten off more than it can chew in JNU case?

As the ideologue of ruling the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is in pursuit of its agenda of Hindu Rashtra. Calculated attempts are being made by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the Lotus party, to whip up trouble in universities by isolating the so called anti-nationals. BJP leaders are shouting from rooftops that they will come down heavily against anti-national elements. The prestigious Central university – Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in the national Capital appears to be a test case.  

The State’s intervention is to send a strong and stern message that dissent will not be tolerated. The arrest of JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar and cracking down on political dissent has brought to center-stage once again the BJP-led NDA government’s bid to stifle free speech. Kanhaiya Kumar has since been granted interim bail by the Delhi High Court, released and welcomed by thousands of JNU students in the campus where he addressed a large gathering of his fellow students Thursday evening and asserted that he was for Azadi within India and not from India. His hour-long speech has gone viral on the social media network.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu reacted by saying that the JNUSU president “”is getting free publicity and is enjoying it.”” “”They are all studying at a Central university, where public money is involved, so they must do justice to the cause and they must study, that’s all,”” Mr. Naidu advised. However, there is marked silence about action being taken against lower court lawyers for attacking Kumar as well as roughing up reporters of the audio-visual as well as the print media.

The crackdown at JNU was instigated by the alleged chanting of anti-national slogans along with a meeting to mark the death anniversary of Afzal Guru who was convicted and hanged for his involvement in Parliament House terror attack. Kumar was arrested and the outgoing Delhi Police Commissioner B S Bassi claimed that they had evidence to charge him with sedition which has rarely been proved in the past. If convicted for sedition, he faces life imprisonment. The JNUSU president has maintained he had not said anything anti-national and has full trust and faith in the Constitution of India. Investigation agencies have found many of the videos showing Kumar shouting slogans to be doctored. The alleged complicity of the Delhi police under the leadership of Mr. Bassi been a matter of concern.

With tempers running high against the so called anti-national elements, Union Home minister Rajnath Singh and Human Resource minister Smriti Irani emphasized anti-national slogans will not be tolerated. The Centre views itself as being the torch bearers of nationalism. The use of state power is to put the defenders of liberty and critics of the state on their guard. The RSS does not want to let go this opportunity with the BJP having secured a majority on its own in the Lok Sabha since the party was formed in 1980. During NDA I when BJP’s liberal stalwart Atal Behari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister heading a disparate 26-party coalition government from 1999 to 2004, the RSS was sidelined as the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) adopted then steered clear of the three point Hindutva agenda. These pertained to building a Ram temple at Ayodhya, abrogation of Article 370 according special status to the only Muslim majority state of Jammu and Kashmir in the country and having a Uniform Civil Code. The second time around the RSS is determined in implementing its agenda. They handpicked Mr. Modi, then Gujarat Chief Minister, in September 2013 to be the BJP’s Pime Ministerial nominee. He did not disappoint. He carried the day repeatedly underlining that he is a Hindu nationalist. He stole the thunder with the people rooting for him overwhelmingly as he focussed on development and stressed upon “”Sab ka Saath, Saab ka Vikas “”along with making a multitude of promises.

Mr. Modi’s invincibility at the hustings after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections was shattered when he lost the assembly elections in Delhi last year. The BJP suffered a mind boggling defeat managing only three seats and the remaining 67 in the 70-member assembly being gobbled up by the fledgling Aam Aadmi party of chief minister Arvind Kejriwal. It was highly embarrassing for the Prime Minister. Then again later in October-November the BJP suffered a loss of face in the assembly elections in Bihar, one of the main battleground states in the Hindi Heartland. Lalu Prasad Yadav and chief minister Nitish Kumar forming the Mahagatbandhan put paid to BJP’s hopes.

Realising that the Lotus party was safe in occupying the seat of power on the Raisina Hill till the 2019 general elections, Mr. Modi and the RSS appear working to a game plan. It will be naive to assume that the RSS pressure is not getting to the Prime Minister. The meeting of Vice-Chancellors of central universities under the aegis of Smriti Irani recently adopted a resolution that central universities should install the national flag on their campus to instil patriotic fervour among the students. What it means is that students of JNU are not nationalist enough barring a handful belonging to the ABVP. Other universities are also not sufficiently nationalist.

Countering the BJP or the Sangh Parivar is not going to be easy. The courts will no doubt have their say but the incident in JNU is a warning to the people who disagree with the BJP’s Ram Rajya. The obstacles in countering the Parivar are many. Mr. Modi’s second term as Prime Minister will depend on predelictions of his masters in Nagpur where the RSS is headquartered. His chances will primarily depend on whether he is able to deliver on his pledges. He has shown he can think out of the box and take snap decisions. On the other had UPA II had lost its vigour with then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi dabbling in dual authority. For the BJP and the Sangh Parivar JNU is a test case given the various student bodies’ Left orientation and secular character. The present challenge is a test for the country’s political democratic system as well as the opposition to strike a balance. Shutting down JNU might well be pipe dream.

T R Ramachandran is a senior journalist and a commentator. Views are personal.

By TIS Staffer
the authorBy TIS Staffer

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