A common thread which connects the campus disturbances at the Film and Television Institute of Pune, Central Hyderabad University and Jawaharlal Nehru University of Delhi is that all these three educational institutions, along with other 40 Central Universities of India, are managed, controlled and administered directly by heads of institutions and their executive councils appointed by the Central Government. Another special feature of conflicts which have arisen in these institutions is that many important leaders of the BJP have condemned these student conflicts as “anti-national” activity. This labelling has spread like wild fire, especially in case of JNU, Delhi. Beginning with February 9, 2016 when the Home Minister, Rajnath Singh, asked the Delhi Police to arrest a "fringe" element of JNU demonstrators who were alleged to be raising anti-national slogans and slap the charge of "sedition" under the Indian Penal Code against those few who had raised slogans in support of terrorist Afzal Guru.
The story does not end here. The various affiliates of the Hindu RSS like the ABVP, BJP-affiliated lawyers, the BJP sympathisers such as ex-servicemen and widows of soldiers who had sacrificed their lives while defending the attack on Parliament in which Afzal Guru was found guilty — were all mobilised against JNU, which had been projected in the public eye by the ministers of the Government and other BJP affiliates as "a centre of anti-nationals." A demand was even made by some BJP activists that the "anti-national" JNU should be shut down.
Civil society was made to believe by BJP activists that JNU is a dangerous anti-national institution and not a single responsible leader of the BJP or the upper echelons of the RSS leadership thought it fit to make a sharp distinction between "fringe elements of demonstrators" and the larger institutions of higher learning. Unfortunately, JNU has been asked to defend its "nationalist" credentials before the RSS-led Sangh Parivar and its affiliates who claim to be the champions of Hindu Rashtravad and patriotism. The role of autonomous academic institutions of higher learning have to be examined because the BJP-led Government at the Centre, along with the RSS, has demanded that educational institutions which at present are "under the influence of foreign or external western philosophies of education" should show the "impact" of nationalist education to the Indian youth and instill values of patriotism in students.
A few facts would enable a clear understanding of the ideological belief system of the RSS because universities and the whole educational system in the country is being prepared to act as instruments for spreading the ideological message of the Hindu Sangh Parivar. Firstly, RK Sinha, the biographer of Dr KB Hedgewar, the founder of the RSS, in 1925 has noted that the "RSS is an essence of his life" and "Hedgewar's vision was focused on resurrecting the cultural identity of the nation". Second, the RSS supremo, beginning with Hedgewar to Mohan Bhagwat, is the commander-in-chief of all affiliates of the Sangh Parivar, including the BJP in Government. This is the reason that Mohan Bhagwat's observation of August 17, 2014, on Hindu nationalism needs to be referred to. He observed, "Hindutva is the identity of India and it has the capacity to swallow other identities". Hence comes the role of "education" as an extension of the nation's interest. In June 21, 2013, he said that, "True education is to develop feeling and dedication for the country". While addressing an eminent group of educationists, including VCs and the UGC Chairperson at Delhi on November 25, 2014, Bhagwat emphasised the need for nationalist education.
Not only this, the RSS asked the HRD Minister Smriti Irani to "correct" the history taught in schools to "highlight Indian heroes and the role played by Hindu culture in shaping the country" and not the version that the West wanted India to learn. The RSS felt "that Indian children were not familiar with real Indian heroes". Since the Central Government controls all educational institutions publicly funded by the public exchequer, hence all appointments of VCs, executive councils of the universities and other academic bodies are made on the basis of an affiliation or deep commitment to the RSS ideology, for education for Hindutva.
This explains the efforts made by all RSS affiliates and its BJP governments at the Centre and the states, where the BJP is in power, to control every educational institution so that Hindu Rasthravad could be promoted through education. The language policy is another tool of control and hence the emphasis on teaching of Hindi and Sanskrit in recent times, so that Hindu scriptures could be taught in these languages. The story does not end here. The whole educational system has to be controlled by the vigilant group of the Sangh Parivar, under the patronage of the BJP in Government.
Sunil Ambedkar of the RSS is in-charge of the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad, which has a direct link with the RSS and reports to the BJP ministers about the activities at the campuses. Mahendra Kapoor of the Bhartiya Shikshak Mahasangh, Shiv Kumar of Vidya Bharti are some more examples. All these functionaries of the RSS organisations, dealing with education at various levels, have carried weight with functionaries of educational institutions because the BJP is in power. The Sangh Parivar's definition of Hindu nationalism is just one of the definitions of modern nationalism and that too it is socially exclusive and it wants to use universities to propagate this "exclusivism", which is at variance with the true essence of Hinduism that promotes and supports plurality.
Plurality and not homogeneity as the essence of Hindu belief system gets substantiated if one recalls that in 2012, the Delhi University Academic Council was compelled to delete A.K.Ramanujan's, "Three Hundred Ramayans: Five examples and three thoughts on translations". The RSS has a definitive model of education that wants to wash out all historical memories of cultural diversity of India. It is trying to impose its own model by using Government machinery. Autonomy of education leads to an academic atmosphere of dissent and non-conformism among students and the teaching faculty. The Modi Government wants universities as centres of "conformism”.
The Hindutva project of education as defined and interpreted by the ideologues of the Sangh Parivar cannot be pursued under the present university system which has been nurtured on the basis of values enshrined in the Constitution of democratic, liberal, secular, Republic of India. Conflicts on the campuses are nothing new. The United States of America witnessed serious polarisation and "anti-Vietnam" war protets in the 1960s and 1970s. The Paris campus in 1968 was in a state of revolt, making philosopher Jean Paul Sartre to observe that campuses will play a transformative role. Neither the US nor the French government declared the students, "anti-national". Democracies grow only in a free atmosphere of debate and dissent but the BJP Government in power does not consider universities as centres of ideas, where a hundred different flowers bloom.
The writer is Professor Emeritus, Centre for Political Studies, JNU.
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