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Opinion » Comment

Posted at: Jul 29, 2017, 12:37 AM; last updated: Jul 29, 2017, 12:37 AM (IST)

Militarising students

S Nihal Singh
Phase two of Parivar’s agenda
Militarising students
Taking it too far: A tank should have no place on any campus.

S Nihal Singh

THE amazing proposal of JNU VC Jagadesh Kumar to station an Army tank on the campus is the tip of the iceberg. In reality, it represents the second phase of the Sangh Parivar’s programme to change the idea of India.

The first phase of the ruling dispensation was to “catch’em young”, as the old adage would have it. It began with the indoctrination of young schoolchildren by revising textbooks, banning foreign language instruction. For older school-goers, a drastic revision of textbooks was undertaken, with the Mughal period airbrushed, new heroes lauded and the myths of the RSS propagated. The indefatigable RSS warrior, Dina Nath Batra, is still at it, calling for editing of India’s Nobel laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore to take out words of foreign origin.

   The second phase of the BJP’s programme is the militarisation of Indian society. The Parivar has always been jingoistic in its nationalism and what the world witnessed in the 20th century through the rise of Nazism and Mussolini’s fascism comes naturally to it. Employing the venue of the JNU has a ring of triumphalism for the Parivar’s supporters because the institution has long been in its sights.

 The JNU is all that the Parivar abhors: free thinking along several shades of the Left, a fraternity of rebels, as every such institution should be, and scholarship combined with testing the limits of conventions. Like the early morning drills with staves that are the staple of the RSS, the Parivar prizes obedience also to the myths of a bygone age.

Thus the appeal of Jagdesh Kumar to the former Army chief and now a junior minister, Gen VK Singh (retd), to get him a tank for the university is a natural follow-up of the Parivar’s philosophy. Nationalism has to be clothed in the Tricolour to be effective after the examples of Hitler and Mussolini. And with the elections of 2019 looming on the horizon, few high-level decisions are taken without the electoral calendar in mind.

 The Parivar misses few occasions to conflate religion with politics. Its very ideal of a Hindu India derives from the nation being a Hindu country with Muslims and other minorities living on sufferance, as it were. Religion can be a potent force, as we have seen in the Arab world in more recent times, but it is ultimately raw nationalism that, given the right circumstances, drives peoples to frenzy.

Cow protection vigilantes, fake or genuine, and their fondness for lynching those transporting cattle often to death are one aspect of mixing religious creed and the Hindu veneration of the cow with criminal activity. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dilemma is that he cannot cross the red lines drawn by the RSS and after long delays in commenting upon brutal acts of barbarity, he has now chosen to pass on the buck to the BJP-ruled states. But the problem will not go away.

The problem of the militarisation of the country is of a different order. It is, in a sense, moulding the mind of the young into an attitude of obedience because discipline is a sine qua non of a good Army. And in the Parivar, discipline and obedience are valued above all virtues.

 The Parivar is obsessed with discovering the cause of foreign conquerors ruling India over centuries. Its simple conclusion seems to be that it was the people’s unpreparedness for war and the martial arts that let foreigners invade and rule. Thus far, its recipe is two-fold: the morning drill with staves substituting for guns and building of and conjuring up a golden ancient age in which India was a superpower.

We have it on the authority of Modi that modern planes flew in ancient India, a country then proficient in cosmetic surgery and transposing heads and reaching a very high level of knowledge. His speech at an opening ceremony of a Mumbai hospital lauding the wonders of ancient India was quickly deleted on the web, but his beliefs are a reminder that he spent his formative years in the RSS cradle.

Thus far, the JNU Vice-Chancellor’s suggestion of installing a tank on the campus has invited much derision and a riposte from the JNU Teachers Association suggesting that the university cannot be made into a “theatre of war”, and that the JNU was not a “boot camp”. But the ruling dispensation is serious about its intent to spread the message across institutions of learning that the armed forces must be an object of adulation and the discipline that keeps them alert and ready for all eventualities is the new motto of the patriotic student.

This new campaign to reboot the country’s student population is bound to fail because although the BJP’s student wings will do all they can to burrow their way into unions’ leadership posts, the young are by nature rebellious and somewhat wild. It is an acknowledged fact that every conservative in later life was once a fire-breathing Left-wing student. If the space for dissent in student politics is closed, the young can only go to extreme philosophies to express themselves.

 There is little reason to doubt the seriousness of the Parivar in militarising the student body. But it remains an open question whether it has thought through the seriousness of the consequences of its decision on the country’s future. Leaving students with no option but to espouse extremist creeds to express their rebelliousness even as the country’s security forces are already fighting Maoists and others is a bad idea.

The occasion for pronouncing Kumar’s words of wisdom was the celebration of the Kargil Vijay Diwas for the first time in the university’s history. Whether the tank will duly arrive remains to be seen but the thought processes of the Parivar and its supporters are clear. The RSS has reluctantly given up shorts for trousers for its obligatory morning drill but its thought processes have not changed.

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