The final frontier: What the govt and media aren’t telling you about the JNU controversy
By Saib Bilaval
In the light of recent controversies, JNU currently occupies centre stage in media coverage and the public gaze. Most of the media, especially Zee News, NewsX, IndiaTV and Times Now, is portraying the government as justifiably taking action on students who insult the country. Needless to say, public opinion mirrors that.
What the government is really doing is attacking social science, and democratic socialism, in the name of coming after 15 ultra-Left students. That they arrested Kanhaiya Kumar, the JNUSU president who was not shouting slogans, makes it clear that the government just needed an excuse to ‘crack down’ on JNU.
It is attacking the centres of the most systematic and sharp critiques of state policy in the country. This objective is tied to their notions of repainting history in saffron. The Indian Council for Historical Research has been taken over, as has the University Grants Commission, the Indian History Congress is being starved and discredited.
Hyderabad Central University has been hijacked, Delhi University courses professionalized, and Mamata Banerjee has already done to the institutions in West Bengal in her reign what the Modi government is just starting to do in the rest of the country. JNU is indeed the final frontier of political and policy dissent.
If Kanhaiya Kumar was to be released in a few days, then brutal BJP-supporting lawyers and goons would not have attacked teachers and journalists twice in the Patiala House court complex. With FTII, the establishment wants to extend the conflict indefinitely. It did not come to power to with 280 seats in the Lok Sabha to back down in the face of public pressure, and behave like the UPA-II.When it cannot prove its argument, it attempts to add to it – ‘anti-national’ and ‘sedition’ having failed, it is considering the ‘narcotics’, ‘terror’ and ‘corruption’ angles.
There is nobody who can prove that those accused of shouting slogans didn’t want azaadi through a Constitutional amendment. After all, 66 percent of the Constitution was lifted straight out of the Government of India Act 1935. Reservations were imposed that way, as were Right to Education and Right to Information. Disagreeing with the Constitution in its current form should not be a crime, because the ‘Hindu Rashtra’ that the saffron forces want would also require a Constitutional amendment, as would the uniform civil code that they have long held as a cherished dream. Both these proposals challenge the Constitution in its current form. Would someone then call the BJP and RSS anti-Constitution and anti-India, or those proposals seditious?
I would like to remind the public that Dr BR Ambedkar was a democratic socialist, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Jawaharlal Nehru, Jayaprakash Narayan were too, as were EMS Namboothiripad, Hasrat Mohani, Premchand, Subhash Chandra Bose, Bhagat Singh, P Sundarayya, EV Ramasamy Naicker, as was Ramanohar Lohia. A history of the freedom struggle without the democratic socialists would have been a history of the slow decline of sati. Swaraj would have been demanded but not universal adult franchise. The right to property would have been guaranteed, but so would have been the right to starve, and the right to discriminate based on caste, gender and religion. There would have been no land reforms, and minimal public education. Workers would not have been unionized in a fair manner. In fact, the democratic socialists were the only consistently secular brand of Indian politician, across party lines. A lot of the people listed above were not in agreement with the Nehru government in 1947 over issues such as federalism, Pakistan (Ambedkar on Pakistan is a good example), land reforms, public sector, unionization, reservation, rights, and state and religion. Branding democratic socialism as anti-national is branding Dr BR Ambedkar anti-national, even as the current administration attempts to appropriate him.Regarding the myth of leftists having ‘hatred for our troops’: most leftists know that the army and police are not imperialistic or fascist – they are simply professional – especially under a civilian government. Our troops are ordinary people for whose welfare, working conditions and safety, any student would have great compassion.
Speaking of insulting our troops, did minister Gen (retd.) VK Singh not insult the Dalits in the army, when he made the horrendous ‘throw stones at a dog, blame the govt’ comment? Or are there no Dalits in the army? Either way, there’s a problem.
In addition, another discourse doing the rounds is about how taxes are subsidizing the education of “anti-nationals”. Firstly, every student of JNU, no matter what party or if any at all, is using their brain and getting educated. This is the reason they’re political in the first place. Taxpayer money goes into every university of this country, each of which also has a financial corpus gathering interest in deposits. So is a good education anti-national, and a not-so-good one in maybe some state-level university ultra-patriotic?
Secondly, did people think fake encounters don’t cost money? Or a certain man’s countless foreign trips? Or the fact that tax breaks to mega-crorepatis is what ensures that many, many children don’t get educated, people go to sleep hungry, die before being able to afford a hospital, or commit suicide when saddled with debt? Unlike most professional universities (including the IITs and IIMs and NLUs) where people look for cushy placements in the corporate sector, students of JNU actually agitate for expansion of education to all. And here is a media-tainted public who wants education withdrawn from ‘anti-national’ students.
This discourse over taxpayer money in a country where barely 3 percent of people (including all government employees) pay taxes is rather telling of how the regime is attempting to harness Hindu nationalist fervor to the cause of fiscal conservatism and budgetary austerity in key welfare sectors. It is also their way of playing divide-and-rule. By never universalizing public school and public college education, the administrations of this country have stood witness to social strife in a race to the top over school and college seats, as well as reservations. They have learned much from the British indeed.
The JNU controversy also exposes what the media and government don’t want to talk about. It is evident that the current administration is keen on a low-key Union Budget affair this year. That there has been no paradigm shift in economic since the Modi government took power is a media myth. Whether at the behest of the WTO or private interests in India, there have been massive cuts in the budgets in education, healthcare and NREGA. Further, taxation policy was distorted – with corporates now paying lesser (25 percent) than employees, teachers and other middle-class professions (around 30 percent). The only significant thing cheaper, according to the last budget, was footwear valued over Rs.1000.
Having sold off significant coal blocks, and inching toward disinvestment of the “underperforming” public sector banks, the government has nothing left to expand welfare in a country of widespread poverty where 77 percent of the population lives under Rs. 20 a day (according to the Arjun Sengupta report). While governments and agencies over the world have shifted to median income indicators, the Modi government remains keen on showing poverty and inequality figures based on mean averages. The Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook shows that the richest 1 percent of the Indian population owns 53 percent of India’s wealth, up from 36 percent in 2000. Of all the wealth generated between 2000 and 2015, 61 percent of it went to the top 1%.The administration has nothing to offer the people but empty promises. ‘Development’ features solely private profits.
The Rs. 1.14 lakh crore of loans written off by public sector banks as bad debt, is largely due to irresponsible lending to private corporations that wanted to milk the government cash cow. The RBI claims that the required information on the individual and business beneficiaries of the write-off is not available with them, according to a report. It thus turns out that more public sector banks are ‘underperforming’, and the likelihood of some of them being disinvested, is greater than earlier assumed. Further, the selling of public assets to bail out corporations whose greed, recklessness and speculation bankrupted them in the first place is tantamount to crony capitalism and a betrayal of the general public.
The truth is – and no one else will tell you this – that the Modi government has no concrete economic vision, and has no immediate agenda to alleviate poverty, hunger and lack of education in this country. Even the policy they follow now will be in tatters by November 2016. By then, the USA would have a new President-elect. Two of the frontrunners (one Republican and the other Democrat) Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have promised to reverse American trade deals, having realized that such deals are no longer beneficial to the American people (lower wages, outsourcing of jobs) or the American state (shrinking revenues and stashing of black money in tax havens).Our government is for the WTO and IMF in ways that the next President of the US (whether Bernie or Trump) clearly won’t be. There is no point implementing policy under American pressure when America will change its mind in November.
These policies include education and healthcare cuts, privatization of pension, provident funds and insurance, risky financial trading in derivatives. Education and healthcare is not guaranteed. All the expansion in the past 30 years has been in the expensive private sector. Drunk on Reaganistic measures of ‘economic development’, just without any outsourcing or strong manufacturing sector, the governments since 1991 have been shaping India’s education and labour market to American needs: less/no education (low-wage blue collar jobs) and computer science/engineering. When the foreign demand withdraws, with a more protectionist USA, a large chunk of tertiary/service sector earnings in India (concentrated in a few sectors like IT) will vanish.
The great patriots, the Indian tycoons, the ‘job-creators’ are busy investing abroad while an empty slogan for local production echoes in non-existent factories. There is no salvation waiting for us.
After the electoral rout of the Congress in 2014, opposition to the NDA regime is fragmented and weak in Parliament. Outside, public pressure through movements, petitions, and writings is quickly misreported by the media, then lathicharged or dismissed by the administration. In order to avoid criticism on its policy or lack of policy, while the country is burning on issues of communalism, caste discrimination and deprivation – the administration seeks to paint its main critics as an ideological East Germany. Other universities are aware that if JNU isn’t safe, no university that doesn’t toe the government line is. The bastion of ideas, the frontier of freedom of expression, is under siege.
The public is informed to watch out for the demise of the ideological Berlin wall, and cheer when the time is right. Meanwhile, the students of JNU expect a Reichstag fire to be in the works.
The author is a research scholar in Modern and Contemporary History at Centre For Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.