Vineet Thakur, a scholar of International politics. He can be contacted at vineet1232[at]gmail.com
What does it mean to be anti-national?
In a country where one particular news anchor – you know him, the circus ringleader without a hat or a whip – takes upon himself the burden of defining the term, and delivering it to the lapping urban middle classes night after night, it is hard to be a nationalist. Unless, one is willing to remain silent on all forms of systemic injustice – patriarchy, caste discrimination, societal inequality, marginalisation of minorities, ingrained racism, state-led dispossession.
Don’t get me wrong, a democratic country we are, and allegedly, (if the Indian middle class is to be believed) the best in the world, “la Americano!”, but a democratic country that reduces the whole spectrum of acceptable criticism to more or less just one term – Corruption. That we can discuss ad nauseum, but practically everything else is a no go, unless each case is first surgically removed from its context and presented as a standalone. So Nirbhaya was a case of brutal rape and the murder, but link it to India’s ingrained patriarchy and the ‘anti-national’ red card is slapped. Rohit Vemula’s suicide was a case of suicide worthy of empathy, but link it to his struggle against casteism, and you are treading on the anti-national path. The lynching of a man on suspicion of eating beef was atrocious, but link it to the growing communal politics of the country engineered by a political party, and a visa to Pakistan is waiting.
In sum, no one will call you anti-national if you say, ‘India is a corrupt country’, but try calling it casteist, racist, communal or imperialist. That man whose only talent is brutally murdering rationality every evening will tattoo ‘anti-national’ on your forehead. It is miserable enough to be an idiot, but to be an idiot on steroids – you need to be Arnab Goswami.
But Arnab Goswami is a symptom of a larger disease, splattered across social media today: the rise of vitriolic nationalism and a simultaneous dumbing down of public discourse. For a government that has almost no public intellectuals to push its agenda credibly, the only recourse left is to elevate anti-intellectualism to a virtue. The strong anti-intellectualism of this government drips from almost every action that it takes. On 13 February, The Telegraph’s first page main story was titled ‘kyuki mantriji kabhi student nahi thi’, accompanied by Smriti Irani stomping ahead in a Khaki dress. This summed up the state of our higher education today: with the new appointees to higher education providing little in terms of academic leadership, managerial micromanaging is all they offer, often without understanding the nature of a university space.
Today, and speaking literally, the new definition of ‘anti-national’ is Jawaharlal Nehru University. The nature of abuse this university has generated across social media platforms is alarmingly revealing. I have seen so many friends ask: why should our taxes go to subsidising education at this University? Without a thought for their own hypocrisy, the same people who have had their whole education funded by government subsidies – and in the case of many, are still being subsidised enormously in their government jobs – are baying to deprive JNU students of theirs. The RBI recently disclosed that state banks have waived Rs. 1.14 lakh crore rupees of bad loans in the last three years. Two years ago, P Sainath published an article calculating that corporate karza maafi in the country in the previous nine years was a staggering 36.5 trillion rupees. Sainath spares us the calculation: it comes to 168 crore rupees per day, much more than JNU’s annual budget. I am yet to see the concerned taxpayer, commenting en masse on my Facebook feed right now, say a word on this. Let me not bore those friends with the details of how JNU students have not only protested every karza maafi scheme of the government but have repeatedly raised their voices to direct that money towards the farmers and workers of this country, how JNU students have stood resolutely with every people’s movement in the country – because that is not nationalism in their dictionary. People don’t matter, only an abstract nation does, right? Who are people anyway – just a statistic! Living, breathing, suffering – but yet, a statistic. Nation is important – non-living, abstract, great!
I am somewhat perplexed by the sheer hatred for JNU that is so infectious right now. And I wonder why this is so?
To me, what is remarkable about JNU is not that it is the best university in India, but that it remains so even after drawing most of its students from the historically backward sections and regions of the country. The JNUSU President who was arrested for sedition comes from a very poor background, which alone speaks for the equality of opportunity that JNU practices. JNU is so repulsive to the Brahminical middle classes precisely because it is dangerous to their logic of merit. JNU is a practical example that socially inclusive policies produce a society that is not only far more progressive but also far superior when it comes to chasing numbers.
In addition, JNU practices ‘politics’, that eternally dirty word of middle class India. Politics is reservations, minority rights, squabbles over religion; issues that the middle class thinks are detrimental for ‘progress’ of the country. It doesn’t matter if that progress produces more poor than rich and further entrenches the caste and religion disparities — as long as the middle classes can find ‘jobs’ all is fine. The fascination for more private universities in India, as Venkaiah Naidu’s speech betrays, is rooted in the desire to manufacture politically sanitised students. Government universities, from FTII to Hyderabad to JNU, are mired in ‘politics’, Naidu says. And politics is dangerous because it allows students to think critically and question everything that is swept under the charade of re-shining India. Politics is conscience, and this administration would rather be conscienceless.
Finally, JNU is culturally antithetical to middle class India. Despite the fact that this ‘culture’ reeks of patriarchy, casteism and racism, middle class India lives in a dreamland of ‘India is the best’. It is not only reluctant to introspection, but finds any suggestions of its medieval nature actively repulsive. JNU stands as a shining affront, and thus, must go. And, as a time tested practice, nothing kills better and more swiftly than nationalism. Call something ‘anti-national’, and it’s as good as gone.