Expert Speak India Matters
Published on Feb 24, 2016
A dangerous new trend

Student unrest in campuses is leading to disquiet.  In the past too, India has seen major student upheavals resulting in rancour and bitterness. Be it the Nav Nirman Andolan in Gujarat which toppled the elected Chimanbhai Patel government or Jaiprakash Narayan's potent Total Revolution using the collective power of students in Bihar or the  Mandal movements, the might of Indian students cannot be underestimated in Indian polity. Between the mishandling and mismanagement of the Rohit Vermulu death and the botched up JNU operation, PM Modi, himself an active participant as a 24-year-old RSS worker in the anti Chimanbhai Patel Nav Nirman movement, should pay cognisance to the power of student agitations. Modi was central to the Nav Nirman agitation. Known as a tireless workaholic, he oversaw the entire logistics, management and organisation of the student movement against the then CM of Gujarat.

As a student of history, it is incumbent on PM Modi to understand that there is ferment in the campuses and the situation is deteriorating fast. The heavy and ham handedness shown by Delhi Police and the brazen lawyers cannot be condoned. And while I don't hold a brief for the students of JNU who were corralled in the anti national rants, the entire episode could have been handled much better. For the country's home minister to say that Hafiz Saeed was instigating the pro-Kashmir azadi sentiment was a huge judgmental error.

If students like Umar Khalid and Anirban Chakraborty are guilty of raising Cain that day, then they should be caught and dealt with firmly. The malaise is much larger. And it begs an answer from those overseeing India's internal security apparatus. The narrative of azadi for Kashmir is being systematically and subliminally transposed to the Indian mainstream. If this sentiment is running deep in JNU and Jadavpur and who knows other campuses as well, then there is cause for concern. As a Kashmiri myself, during my recent visits to the Valley, I have found that the understanding that Pakistan is no longer an option has seen wider dispersal courtesy the internet which shows the ugliness of fundamentalism across the border. Equally, I discovered that after 68 years and many excesses, Kashmiris have also recognised that "Hindustan Kashmir ko chode ga nahi" (will not leave out 'Hindustan Kashmir'). Between the rock (Pakistan) and the hard place (India), it is clear that they have chosen to live with India for they have no choice. That Kashmir unequivocally is a part of India should not be lost on anyone. Equally, India has fervently defended its territory with loss of man and money since independence and will continue to do so. One cannot ignore the chant of azadi for that remains an option that Kashmiris will flirt with. The emotional and military support that Pakistan continues to provide to Kashmiris is another important factor in the equation.

What I think is more dangerous is that this rant and chant of freeing what is vital part of sovereign India has spread to the Indian mainstream. This is a sinister attempt by radicals in Kashmir and perhaps their handlers in Pakistan to take to the youth in campuses across India. Anti India and pro Kashmiri freedom slogans in mainstream campuses of India means that a much wider dispersal of the fundamentalist message is being spread. Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhatt were hanged by India for plotting against the State. There is no moral justification of turning them into martyrs and heroes. These people were anti national and will remain so. Burnishing their memories through anti national and pro-Pakistan slogans cannot change the indisputable truth. In the ensuing smoke and mirrors, JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar may well be the patsy and a fall guy, but the real culprits need to be caught and booked. The traction that the JNU protest and its shocking corollary where students and media were thrashed by lumpen lawyers is serious and should not be dismissed as a one off.

Students as we know from institutional memory are always ready for the rough and tumble of politics. It is a natural process. The way student protesters were brutally manhandled in the first flush of the Nirbhaya movement on the Rajpath concourse has left an indelible imprint on our minds. Students hate being boxed in. I can tell you that from my own days in school and college, some attempt needs to be made to reach out to them.They will close ranks quickly which is what they seem to be doing once again. The ideologues and radicals who have taken a compelling story from Kashmir Valley and laminated it with half truths to the cathedral of Indian campuses need to be kept on a tight leash, for there is clearly a change in strategy. While the battle rages in the Valley using non-state actors from Pakistan, the new medium of war comes with a deep sense of foreboding. Apathy of the ruling dispensation, in the main the PM himself since he is well versed in the art of guerrilla warfare and wilful ignorance on the part of the internal security mavens will make our present and future irredeemable. Communication and messaging can do incalculable damage to our psyches.

Civilisations don't sustain themselves by adopting violent means. A surgical ferreting of the radicals and ideologues needs to be done post haste, before the malignancy careens out of control. Conscience attacks will have to pass. Sifting through right and wrong is vital at this juncture, for student unrest as we know from our own past can consume everything in its path. And while doing this, the moral compass has to be kept in the right direction. And there has to be an absolute balance between abuse of dominance and moral propriety.

The author is a senior journalist and commentator based in New Delhi.

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