Whether you call us anti-nationals or critical patriots, JNU will continue to rage against the dying of the light, says Soumabrata Chatterjee.
This is probably the first time I am being cajoled into writing an article on a topic from which I haven’t maintained a critical distance. Not that critical distance helps—all forms of production, be it modes of individuation or any literary-philosphical-journalistic piece is irretrievably subjective. The JNU incident is different. It is different from what happened in Jadavpur University, or HCU regarding Rohith Vemula.
It is not completely “different”, though; strains of intellectual fascism on the part of the government are evident in all three cases. It’s just that I believe this fascist trend has reached its programmable end: that of self-implosion. It has exaggerated itself to such an extent that now when it implodes, it will take other socio-political elements (which were quite popular till now) down with it.
I will come back to those elements later. Let us first concentrate on the “non-logic” of anti-nationalism. I would like to ascertain this trend or accusation as being a “non-logic” because it is precisely by antagonising rationality and sound judgment that it defines itself. We should remember the crucial distinction between nation, welfare state and government. While this loosely defined Indian nation that the bhakts claim as their motherland is just an idea of sorts, an act of collaborative imagination, which starts with the rise of print capitalism and the downfall of religious-minded groups in the West, and in which we all participate, be it glorified nationals, undersigned patriots or anti-nationals, the government is a body of representatives—not rulers—who are designated by anti-nationals to govern on their behalf.
Let us first concentrate on the “non-logic” of anti-nationalism. I would like to ascertain this trend or accusation as being a “non-logic” because it is precisely by antagonising rationality and sound judgment that it defines itself.
So when we revolt against a certain rule like Article 377, or AFSPA, or Kashmir’s right to self-determination, what we are merely performing is the corrective role of a concerned citizen. There is no anti-nationalism involved, nor there can be. The government will change and our issues will change as well. The BJP is not India. Neither was the Congress. So enough with the semantics, but the bhakts really should open their tattered history books to understand the idiocy of their argument.
JNU has now become a cauldron of politically minded individuals, political party heads, political enthusiasts and political opportunists. There are these so-called “neutral” elements (myself included) who do not align with any political party but are “political” in theoretical or dramatic terms, something which has eluded the bhakts simply because they haven’t educated themselves in a while. Some say JNU is divided in its appreciation/condemnation of the recent incidents. It is and it is not.
It is divided if we consider 4,000 students coming out in solidarity with Kanhaiya Kumar as opposed to 400-450 ABVP activists, who have been extremely counterproductive in their attempt to thwart the protests. They shout “JNUTA murdabad”—referring to the JNU Teachers’ Association—“Naxali students murdabad” and whatnot in order to disrupt the public meetings held at the administrative block. They have pushed teachers who had formed a human chain in order to prevent any form of physical altercation between us and them. These teachers, some of whom are quite aged, stood like firm rocks as I looked at them with admiration, sitting in the crowd listening to the speakers. The teachers have wholeheartedly supported the strike while standing with the students at every step of this revolution. (“I actually feel that you should stop thanking teachers for standing with you,” Nivedita Menon told one gathering. “This is our joint struggle.”)
When we were not provided mic facilities, the speakers shouted at the top of their voice. When we didn’t have a place to sit, or couldn’t hear what the speakers were saying because the ABVP students were sloganeering their brand of moronic nationalism, we didn’t engage in physical confrontation or abuse.
This movement has been a trendsetter in so many different ways. When we were not provided mic facilities, the speakers shouted at the top of their voice. When we didn’t have a place to sit, or couldn’t hear what the speakers were saying because the ABVP students were sloganeering their brand of moronic nationalism, we didn’t engage in physical confrontation or abuse but chanted #StandwithJNU whenever the chance came along. The RSS lawyers later attacked teachers and journalists alike at the hearing of Kanhaiya Kumar. But we still didn’t retaliate.
The human chain that we formed this Sunday went from the gate till Chandrabhaga hostel, almost two kilometres away. It was astonishingly beautiful to see hordes of students, which includes different leftist groups come together to form a united front against such blatantly stupid attacks, which are not even worthy enough to be deemed ideological. I don’t mind right-wing politicians and rightist ideologies (it’s a free country!) but it is absolutely hilarious to witness the fumbling Wikipedia-inspired and lathi-equipped brand of muddleheaded bhakts who revel in their uninhibited display of majestic stupidity.
It is probably because of this socio-political unison among ourselves that we can boast of being both apolitical in our aversion to political parties and political in our critical intervention into all that which constitutes bhaktdom. Rahul Gandhi came and the ABVP dudes got their minuscule minds in a knot. Sitaram Yechury came and they cried wolf. We welcome everybody but we are indebted to none. Probably to Babasaheb Ambedkar, probably to leftist ideology (not the Left government), probably to other philosophies one can choose from subjectively. Perhaps this will be our undoing; perhaps it will be the undoing of BJP. Perhaps this will die; perhaps it will glitter forever as what could have been. Frankly, we don’t know and we don’t care.
As I write this, I hear that Prashant Bhushan will try the case for Kanhaiya. As I write this, I hear that RSS goons are gathering outside the main gate of JNU. I don’t know which of these is correct. My parents, relatives, friends outside JNU keep on texting/calling me about how I am, whether I am doing okay. The truth is I have never been more peaceful and happy and safe.
This is not about romanticising whatever is happening. Nothing is hunky dory as of now. I am hearing about eight students debarred from academic privileges, I am hearing about members of the Sangwari Theatre Group being detained at the Rekhta festival because they carried tambourines and looked like JNU students.
I was there at the same festival on the same day with friends, wearing a JNU hoodie. Maybe detecting the obvious is not their forte, and that’s why they have faltered so much in understanding that arresting Kanhaiya or lathi-charging students will just stoke the protest. Governments all around this country have miscalculated the political potential of such protests. This is what happens when you think culture is imposed from citadels and not produced on the streets.
Maybe democracy is not all that overrated after all. Rohith and Kanhaiya, distant brothers from two ends of this country, have been brought together in our collective imagination by a series of unfortunate incidents. But maybe it is the stuff of true politics when we see that these two simple educated folks from humble backgrounds can take on gigantic leaders in a metaphorical struggle.
Maybe democracy is not all that overrated after all. Rohith and Kanhaiya, distant brothers from two ends of this country, have been brought together in our collective imagination by a series of unfortunate incidents. But maybe it is the stuff of true politics when we see that these two simple educated folks from humble backgrounds can take on gigantic leaders in a metaphorical struggle. They have our unadulterated support, whether you call us anti-nationals or critical patriots. Maybe we will raise a storm in their favour or read in a famished notebook years later about a revolution which stirred the cup. We accept them both. Let history decide. Let the past burn in our hearts.