Monday, 30th October 2017

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A rash of fascisms

The different poisons thrown up by the situation in JNU

By The Thin Edge - Ruchir Joshi
  • Published 21.02.16

There is one fairly straightforward arc to be drawn after the grotesque misuse of government power in tandem with plain old street thuggery at the Jawaharlal Nehru University and the Patiala House Court. Narendra Modi comes from a background of extreme street 'action', starting initially as an RSS foot soldier, and then leaving behind the sweat and blood of the streets to become a very important backroom boy, a strategist who was supposed to do the Hindutvites' forward-thinking. Now that the mask of 'Vibrant India' and an all-inclusive, 'Sabka Vikas' Bharat has slipped, Modi and his team are back to doing what they know best, bullying and trampling people by whatever means they can find, all law and ethics be damned.

As if the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar wasn't bad enough, the assaults on JNU people and then on Kumar himself, even in the face of the Supreme Court's specific orders to protect law and order in Patiala House Court, took the gravity of the issue to another level. There again, another conclusion can be directly drawn: if the police in India go through cycles of lesser and greater servitude to whoever is in power, then, at the moment, many police forces across India are going through one of their worst and most cowardly phases. Otherwise how do you explain the cops standing by watching an under-trial prisoner getting beaten up not two inches from their own noses, and that too in the premises of one of the most prominent trial courts in the country? The nakedly deliberate apathy of the Delhi Police was highlighted by an odd contrast: here in Calcutta, knowing as we do Calcutta Police's terrible recent record of jumping to the CPI(M)'s or TMC's finger-snapping, we suddenly witnessed the excellent handling by police of the BJP's provocative march on Jadavpur University. The conclusion is unavoidable: when Indian policemen want to maintain law and order, they are actually quite good at it; when they are worried about transfers, promotions and pensions, when they are scared of their political masters, neither their uniforms nor the IPC prevents them from stooping to criminality themselves.

The fascist crackdown at JNU may have been a planned one, or it could have been an instance of someone in the elected section of the Orange Brigade smelling an opportunity and going berserk; it may be the case that the Hindutvites have lost control and over-reached themselves without foreseeing the consequences. Whatever be the truth, the fact is the sangh parivar isn't operating in isolation. This whole ugly mess in Delhi has brought many different kinds of jingoists out of the woodwork, pushed to the surface different overlapping fascisms, if you will.

One classic proclamation goes: 'I don't care about religion, beef-eating or sexual orientation! But I draw the line at anti-national sloganeering!' Another beauty that's been oft-repeated goes: 'How dare these students shout anti-Indian slogans while receiving an education on my tax-money! They shouldn't have been arrested but they certainly should have been expelled by the university!' A third champion shout makes this connection: 'How can they shout anti-India slogans while my brother/father/nephew/husband is in the army, standing at the border, willing to sacrifice his life?'

Let me attempt to answer from the third statement and work my way to the first: Your brother/husband/nephew in the Indian army is not just protecting a territory but also an idea of India, an idea that says India is fundamentally different from Pakistan or Iran, China or North Korea. That idea means we are big enough, secure enough, flexible enough to let people shout about their particular notions of what India should or shouldn't be, of what region should or shouldn't belong within the Indian borders. If, tomorrow, I want to argue that Calcutta would be better off seceding from India and forming its own city-republic then, according to the Indian law and Constitution, I am within my rights. On the other hand, if I urge people to take up arms and slaughter this or that section of society then I would be in breach of the law. (And no, ' Hindustan ke tukde-tukde kar dengey' is an abstract concept, whereas ' iskey, ya uske santaan ke tukdey-tukdey kar doh' is a criminal incitement.) The law against sedition is an archaic, rotten, British Indian law and needs to go. The idea of someone being 'anti-national' belongs in the garbage heap along with the ideas of sati, caste-hierarchies and the notion that only a man and a woman can love each other. If you live peaceably in society without urging people to hate one another, you can dream and speak of any country (or any country-less world) you want.

Next, let's talk about your taxes and your beautiful tax-paying. A friend put it pithily on Facebook and I can only paraphrase it here: Your ability to earn what you do and to pay taxes rest upon the labour of millions who will never earn enough to pay taxes in their lives. They are as Indian as you are and their children deserve an education as much as your children, their youngsters need to go to college as much as yours do. And their idea of India and of a 'Mother Country' might be radically different from yours. These are ideas they (and any other student, whether underprivileged or not) have a right to express and yes, they have the right to express them in the centre of the campuses which are supported only partly and very indirectly by your great and glorious tax contributions. So do spare us the shallow self-righteousness.

The other rash that has enlarged and spread because of this JNU crackdown is one that comes from our media, specifically of some of our national news channels. Once this government's war against the country's students is over, once this despicable regime is gone, or even before, once the fog has cleared, what we should examine is the role played by certain TV anchors and channels that claim to be broadcasting news. It's one thing to use your shouting circuses, your evening's political WWF to gain TRPs, it's quite something else to declare young, defenceless people guilty of serious crimes without any evidence or before legal trial and set off a lynch-mob after them.

One of the most shameful acts was that of the channel which put out the 'wanted' posters with JNU students' faces on them. In these, innocent people were declared traitors, atheist-communists were declared to be jihadi terrorists, in these, based on no evidence and a hell of a lot of fakery (false tweets, doctored videos and so on), a whole campaign of media-lynching was set rolling. Then, having crowned themselves with the triple role of judge, jury and hangman, these anchors and channels are now conducting a classic U-turn, braying in outrage that the lawyer-thugs at the Patiala House Court had dared to do exactly the same thing except physically and not on the TV screen.

Whatever damage Narendra Modi and Rajnath Singh sustain from their gross campaign - and damage there will be - they will also take sustenance from the fact that there are enough people in this country, not necessarily classic BJP voters, who also share bits of their own twisted jingoism, bits of their poisonous construction of India and our society. As for the rest of us, the ones who can see the obscenity of 35kg tiranga flags on 207-foot poles dotting a country where a large proportion of the population doesn't have proper clothing, we have to be aware that the battles we need to fight to save our ideas of nation or society are going to be neither simple nor always against easily identifiable opponents such as this particular regime.