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Marching for Democracy

Seldom, in our independent history, have we openly debated the constitution of our nationalism.
The ongoing students’ movement in India, epitomized by the struggle undertaken by the students
and teachers of JNU, threatens the very foundation of the “nationalism” the current establishment
is trying to protect: a nationalism which focuses on the sale of publicly owned resources to
private corporations and an increased expulsion of the tribal people from their ancestral
territories. While there is no denying that the present government comprises of individuals who
have made the most preposterous claims and statements which clearly threaten the secular fabric
of the Indian society, the reason why such a politico-cultural agenda not only survives but thrives
under the watchful eyes of our Prime Minister and his colleagues, is because the insecurities and
fears which plague our current society, be it inflation or terrorism, is galvanized into a political
thought which targets straw-men and non-issues so as to misdirect the people’s anger. So that
questions are not raised against the fundamental problems of the neoliberal state. After all,
politics is about channelizing the fears of a people into something constructive. Where parties
and political projects differ is on the question: constructive for whom? And one must take notice
of the fact that these increasingly chauvinistic and fascistic notions of nationalism are taking the
world by storm as the conditions of economic and political distress are global, and are fallouts of
the current trough in the global economy.

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Now, if we specifically look at the issue in JNU, one can easily understand why the government
sees the institution as a threat to its political ambitions. JNU has, over the past five decades,
created an atmosphere of discussion and debate  where people from all across India, cutting
across communities and tribes, from diverse lingual backgrounds, people from the most
‘backward’ castes and economically deprived families, and in the recent past, people holding
alternative sexual and gender identities,  come together to develop the idea of India. JNU, hence,
epitomizes the galvanization of many oppressed (cultural, economic, political) voices of India,
and represents a culture, not only of dissent, but also of aggressive and assertive politics. In the
wake of the current attacks on higher education, as in the case of FTII(Pune), Occupy UGC
Movement and Rohith Vemula’s suicide (HCU), the larger political and cultural agenda of the
‘Sangh Parivar’ has come to the fore. The student community of JNU was far from refraining its
participation in any of the movements, and was, in fact, at the forefront of The Occupy UGC
Movement. The Parivar’s cultural adventures on the other hand ensured that the partisan
crackdown on higher education was not merely mismanagement or short-sightedness, but a
larger programme to crush any opposition to its agenda. Universities are spaces where society’s
problems gain credible positions in the mainstream discourse, and a university in Delhi
magnifies the impact of these voices as they now resonate in the conscience of our political class
which believes that if JNU is silenced, others will follow.

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People within the campus have repeatedly condemned what occurred on the 9th of February.
While it is debatable as to whether even the “bharat ki barbadi” slogans could be categorized as
seditious, the essence of the struggle in JNU does not protect “seditious” slogans, but instead
opposes the demonization of an entire institution on the basis of a single unpopular incident. For
weeks, the New Campus was surrounded by right-wingers and their sympathizers who wished to
“shoot the people inside”. There is a mob frenzy which has been very successfully created by
partisan interests which aim to discredit an entire university where people hold different lines of
thought. The attack on the institution, the arrest of its Students’ Union President on baseless
charges and doctored evidences, and the sycophancy of the administration do not display any
attempt to catch the “culprits” of the Afzal Guru event, but to essentially retard the process of
politicization of the various issues this nation has been dealing with over the past couple of
years. This is not to say that the student community was sympathetic to the UPA governments.
On the other hand, it can be fairly assumed that most of our representatives in the Lok Sabha
who oppose the autocracy of the present regime would silently cheer the destruction of a
university which has often choked their own political agenda.

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The march organized on the 2nd of March was dwarfed (merely two thousand in strength) by the
magnificence of the preceding rallies (Solidarity for JNU; Rohith Vemula Solidarity March), but
it nonetheless represented continuity in the ongoing struggle against a rising fascistic tendency.
The march was delayed as a result of a scenic detour which the Delhi Police organized for the
students of JNU who were brought to Mandi House (opposite the FICCI Auditorium) via Sarai
Kale Khan and Shahadara. Rama Naga, General Secretary of the JNUSU, jokingly remarked on
this act of benevolence as something learnt from the highest positions of power (specifically
citing the infamous beating of the bush by our Prime Minister when asked about the
environmental issues in India). The procession was, obviously, not allowed to reach its
conclusion, and was instead greeted with barricades on Parliament Street. Repeated attempts
made by the police to break the back of students’ movements, be it the unnecessary use of its
repressive powers on the Occupy UGC Movement, violent crackdown on protesters outside the
RSS office in New Delhi or the unwarranted display of autocracy in JNU, have only
strengthened the movement, and made people realize in practice what they had hitherto only
learnt in theory, that is, the coming together of all state powers to crush all opposing forces.

Yesterday’s march was certainly led by the JNUSU, but the diversity of participation gives us
momentary solace that people from various institutions (members of DUTA, Ambedkar
University, Jamia Milia Islamia, IGNOU, Swaraj Abhiyan were present) and the general public
are willing to fight for the cause of the Indian Democracy. A photograph of the Indian National
Flag with the now popular ‘Azadi’ slogan in the background, in a nutshell, represents the current
movement. It is a fight over what India must be and what really defines an Indian citizen: a
violent goon masquerading himself as the true patriot merely because he holds the Tricolour or
sings Vande Mataram, or a student who attacks all establishments at their casteist and communal
core?


 

Srijan Butola is an Economics Honours passout from Kirori Mal College, DU.

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