We are meeting at a time when there is much student unrest at universities, from Hyderabad to JNU.
Manoj CG: We are meeting at a time when there is much student unrest at universities, from Hyderabad to JNU.
De: It was written in the Panchjanya much before February 9 (the day the Afzal Guru event was held at JNU), the idea was floated that JNU is an anti-national university… The script was enacted by the RSS machinery… and the script was written because of two-three facts. On campuses, students are talking about real issues that concern them. JNU was at the forefront of the struggle for UGC fellowship, the infringement of autonomy of the FTII. After Rohith Vemula’s ‘institutional murder’, JNU students gave their solidarity… Why this idea that JNU is an anti-national space?… One is that JNU office-bearers and student leaders defend the rights of students, including Dalits. At the same time, JNU is one of the rarest of rare places in the country where at 4 o’ clock in the night, a woman can go out, a woman can debate, a woman is free and safe, and that is fundamentally antithetical to the world view of the RSS, to the idea of a Hindu Rashtra that the RSS upholds. JNU is one of the places where you get to study for R175 per semester, JNU is one of the places where you have affirmative action like deprivation points, it is the only university that gives deprivation point for transgenders now, it has been giving OBC reservation since much before it was implemented for OBCs… This is not an imaginary place, this is a real place that has challenged the world view of the RSS, the world of Manusmriti, that only people who are born in a particular class, particular category and caste are deemed to be free and have the right to study… That article of Panchjanya also mentions why JNU is anti-national, because there are studies like women studies in JNU, it mentions centres like dissemination and exclusion… We believe in the idea of Ambedkar and Bhagat Singh, of an inclusive nation.
Bidre: The whole country is seeing why there is unrest. There are protests due to the anti-national slogans raised at JNU. The ABVP respects diversity of different ideologies. There should be space in a university, its academic atmosphere for different ideologies, but not for anti-nationalism. What is the point of raising things like women studies and Manusmriti, etc, and linking them to the Sangh? I’m 33 years old, I have never seen Manusmriti, I have never read it. The Sangh’s thinking is linked to the thinking of this country. (Karl) Marx, Macaulay, Mao… it’s not a thinking such as that imported from outside. That is why when they raise slogans against Bharat Mata, we protest as per our democratic rights. For the ABVP or Sangh, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkarji is not a thing to raise slogans about, but one who shows us the way of life… We don’t use his name as a shield after doing something wrong.
John: It is very clear that whoever is asking questions of this government, criticising this government, the government has found two ways to target them: either call them anti-national, or describe them as terrorists or Naxalites… Whoever raised anti-national slogans on the JNU campus, that is highly condemnable and we should have a fair inquiry. But this is not a way to target an institution like JNU. Overall, this government wants to make education a tool for employment and business. Education is not only a tool for business. Education in India is a tool for social change, it is also meant to empower students, it is meant to empower communities, backward sections. But this government does not want that to happen. So institutions that are trying to teach students that kind of empowerment, bring about social change are being targeted… This is also a means to promote privatisation of education… Only the rich will be able to afford education.
Liz Mathew: Roji, both you and Sucheta have said that if anti-national slogans were raised at JNU, this should be punished. But you also oppose the sedition charge. How do you differentiate between the two?
John: I was also a student of JNU. I have seen such programmes happening. Nobody bothers. JNU has more than 8,000 students and some 10-15 organise a programme—I saw for the first time students from outside; for the first time we saw certain TV channels there which otherwise would have never gone to JNU. I see a clear conspiracy. We should thoroughly investigate who the people who raised slogans were, why they have not been identified… But branding the institution anti-national, terrorist is unacceptable. It shows a clear agenda… This is not only happening at JNU, it has already started at Aligarh Muslim University, tomorrow it can happen to any university… It is like saying some BJP MLAs have said nonsense in Rajasthan and it is a view of the entire BJP.
De: There are two-three points. Firstly, the so-called slogans. Now it has been proved that the JNU student leaders framed under sedition never raised those slogans. Any divisive talk, about the country and its people, is not a part of the politics that JNU upholds. Now let’s come to whether sloganeering can be criminalised or not. Let me mention some of the slogans the ABVP regularly raises, and not only raises, later gets into physical violence. So there is not only incitement but actual violence. One of the slogans is, ‘Jo Afzal ki baat karega, woh Afzal ki maut marega (The one who talks about Afzal will die a death like Afzal)’. After saying this, they actually attack you. Another slogan, generally targeted at women leaders, is ‘Khoon se tilak karo, goliyon se aarti’… I don’t think these are quite Gandhigiri, nationalist slogans… So, can sloganeering be criminalised, can it be seditious? What are we leading to?…
Then let’s talk about the content of democracy. The ABVP talks about slogans against Bharat Mata. Let us define Bharat Mata in concrete terms… What is Indian nationalism? It is not, I emphasise, it is not western nationalism. Indian nationalism is based on anti-colonial struggle, and people of different languages, regions and religions came together to form a nation vis-a-vis the British rule. As it is necessarily anti-imperialist, the emphasis is on sovereignty. We get to decide what our future would be, and if we are a free nation, our government gets to decide what our policies would be… For Indian nationalism, I think the most essential part is diversity, diversity, diversity. Nothing else can define Indian nationalism… Why doesn’t Smriti Irani get emotional about India’s sovereignty being breached? Why didn’t the BJP think of Bharat Mata when Indian higher education was sold out as a tradable service to the World Trade Organization? Then there is the patent Act, the nuclear Act…
Let us not talk symbolism, let us talk about what is India, its people, its sovereignty. National flags at Indian universities are not going to solve problems. At Delhi University, right here in the national capital of Bharat Mata, more than 50% posts are ad-hoc. Will a gigantic national flag hide the fact that the country’s top-most university doesn’t have regular appointment of teachers?
Maneesh Chhibber: Can Vinay say who is Bharat Mata according to him?
Bidre: Bharat Mata ko kaise explain kar sakte hain? Iski anubhuti kar sakte hain (How can one explain Bharat Mata? One can only feel it). I’m of this country, I’m eating its food, drinking its water, breathing its air, I feel devoted to this country. Bharat Mata is in everyone’s heart… Whoever is connected deeply to this country, the feeling they have for Bharat Mata, that is the real definition of Bharat Mata. People can say, ‘Explain Bharat Mata, it’s nothing but the RSS’s mata’. If someone asks you questions such as this, there is no need to answer. They don’t have pride in this country. Someone like me, a soldier working for this country, can ask for the definition of Bharat Mata. The Bharat Mata that lived in the heart of Hanumanthappa (who survived the avalanche at Siachen but later died) is the same Bharat Mata that lives in me.
Raj Kamal Jha: I love my mother, but at times I don’t love my mother. We fight, and sometimes a mother may make a mistake. So does a citizen have the right to say I do not like my Bharat Mata, or will he have to leave India?
Bidre: It’s not for me to say love India or leave India. That one has to decide for oneself… Yes, there are problems in the system, they have been there for years. But a child doesn’t abuse his mother. A child doesn’t talk about cutting his mother to pieces.
De: They do… they say Ramzade, haramzade (a slogan raised by BJP MP Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti).
Bidre: There will be 10 pieces of this country… who says that? Everyone gets angry with his or her mother, I do too. Do we try to kill her, saying she is dirty, illiterate, has many faults?… As for WTO, GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), we can discuss that. In fact, I talk a lot on three issues: anna, akshar, aarogya (food, education, health). These three should never become a matter of business… Foreign universities, private universities, atomic energy, these are heavily debatable issues. How can you connect these to anti-national slogans?
Sarah Hafeez: Vinay, you said, and the RSS and BJP have said, that what hurts them the most are slogans advocating breaking up of India. Does the BJP and RSS understand how complex India is? Does it understand what is happening in Manipur, Chhattisgarh, Kashmir? How am I supposed to feel if my mother or sister is raped by soldiers?
Bidre: I’ve been to Kashmir several times, I understand the situation there well… This is a very narrow view of the conflict in Kashmir. You believe in the Constitution, in Parliament, aren’t they agreed that Kashmir is an integral part of India? Yes, we must discuss Kashmir, the azaadi demand, but how we discuss it is important. Is it by saying we will destroy, break up the entire country? The alliance with the PDP is a different matter. Still, if someone who used to raise anti-national slogans joins hands with a nationalist organisation to form a nationalist government, it is a welcome step. As for atrocities by jawans, that should not happen. The one who does this is not a soldier. A soldier never has a torturer in him. One must view such a person as an animal.
Liz Mathew: The BJP has also joined hands with the Akali Dal and AGP, parties which once raised slogans against the Constitution.
De: Vinay pointed out a very interesting thing, that some symbols of the nation are not important as long as you share power with the BJP.
Bidre: There have been different opinions in our past about our symbols. However, we have all come under one framework, accepted some symbols. Now we have to respect the same.
John: So would you bring students who have Naxal leanings into the mainstream too?
Bidre: Yes, if they are ready to raise slogans in favour of India, ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’, ‘Vande Mataram’.
De: Is it written in the Constitution that one has to raise slogans like ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’, ‘Vande Mataram’?
Bidre: You can’t say things like whether it is written in the Constitution, is it in the dictionary. This is about respecting the Constitution. There is something like feeling too, not just what’s written.
John: If people are to be charged with sedition for slogans, shouldn’t the same be applied to Sakshi Maharaj, who called Nathuram Godse a patriot?… Famous writer Arundhati Roy in 2010 spoke about freedom of Kashmir… Nobody charged her with 124A.
Shalini Langer: Sakshi Maharaj also said that Godse can’t be termed anti-national though he might have made a ‘mistake’ by killing Gandhi, that it doesn’t mean he was not a patriot. So, sloganeering is a bigger mistake?
Raj Kamal Jha: In fact, we in the paper have a strong line that even if people have said wonderful things about Godse, that is not sedition. What is the ABVP’s view on that?
Bidre: The ABVP has never idolised Godse. What happened to Mahatmaji was wrong. The name of the Sangh has been time and again dragged into this but it has never been named by the prosecution.
Sudhakar Jagdish: Vinay, you said the ABVP talks about ‘anna, akshar and aarogya’. But why do you have to dictate what one should eat, read, and how to exercise, that yoga is the way to health.
Bidre: Since ages it is being debated as to who used to eat beef and who not in ancient times… See, I regularly visit Osmania University, I have good contacts there. Tell me, how many people eat beef there? How many people organise the beef festival? Hardly 100. And then over 200 people go to fight with them and the nation with 125 crore population watches what happens. Recently, a survey said the current population of our country is 125 crore. When we attained Independence, it was 36 crore and the population of cattle was 125 crore, which now stands at 40 crore. We also have to think about this in a scientific manner.
As for education, the ABVP believes that relationship with women and nature should be pure. Education is the manifestation of perfection already in man, said Vivekananda. There are several such slogans. The word ‘navigation’ has been derived from ‘nav gati’. The word ‘nav gati’ was used 6,000 years ago. We are in an ultra-modern era and use 10 to the power of 12 in mathematics. But do you know that Nalanda and Takshashila used 10 to the power of 53? When we talk this, what do they say? That it is saffronisation.
The country wants to establish good relations with China and a solution can be see in aarogya. There are over 200 yoga centres in China. See India is not only for its citizens, but for the whole world. If you do believe in yoga, do it, you can also do aerobics. What is wrong in doing yoga?
Sudhakar Jagdish: But why should you limit what a person wants to eat?
Bidre: I don’t see this as an important issue, to be discussed by the entire country. One has to also think scientifically. How much milk is needed today? There is whole economics behind it.
De: Has there been a scientific study done on how much milk is needed?
Monojit Majumdar: Is the ABVP ready to consider that if I am in favour of Umar Khalid, I may also be in favour of our soldiers?
Bidre: Yes, we can be and we should be. The ABVP is of the view that those who support Umar Khalid should also remember Hanumanthappa, Lance Naik Hemraj, Col Sudhakar.
Udit Misra: What in your opinion, Vinay, is the reason that Pakistan and Bangladesh find themselves where they are, and India is far ahead of them? Is it because of absence of democratic voices in those countries?
Bidre: I am very proud of the democratic set-up of our country. Pakistan’s condition is its own fault… There is a lot of freedom for media in our country, but a person waved the tricolour in Pakistan and was sent to jail without any investigation. Here in India, even 10 days after sloganeering (at JNU), no arrests have been made… I am very proud of JNU. How it was established, what was its thinking, how it provides space for all ideologies. I don’t consider JNU anti-national.
Two incidents happened in this country, the Dadri killing, the Kalburgi murder, it made you all so angry… Such things were said about the country, destroying its reputation, calling the entire country intolerant… And the JNU sloganeering didn’t bother anyone?
Abhishek Angad: Roji, you talked about sedition charges not being levelled against Arundhati Roy, but the Congress government in Maharashtra went after Aseem Trivedi. Why are you not talking about the outdated sedition law in itself?
John: I completely agree with you. That (case against Trivedi) was also a mistake. The party has made mistakes, governments have made mistakes, I have no hesitation admitting the same… We have differences of opinion (with the Congress). The NSUI as a students’ organisation has a different view — that in a university space, students have the right to freedom.
Kaunain M Sheriff: This question is for all of you. Do you think Kanhaiya will revive Left politics at a national stage, or will he be co-opted by the BSP or Congress?
De: What Kanhaiya would do is immaterial for us. Kanahiya is a JNUSU president and he represents a particular view. These are tough times for us because our comrades have been targeted, and Smriti Irani has named JNU students in Parliament… The Left is under attack now because we challenge the world view of the RSS and stand for those who have no place in the Manusmriti prepared by the RSS and Hindu Rashtra. Right now, the nation is debating different ideas of nationalism—the nationalism of Ambedkar and Bhagat Singh, the nation is trying to criticise the idea of Hindu Rashtra by Golwalkar, the nation is trying to debate the right to dissent, whether the so-called Bharat Mata is only restricted to jumlas by Amit Shah, Smriti Irani or Modi, or whether Bharat Mata lives in us, it lives in my right as a woman, it lives in my right as an atheist, it lives in Rohith’s right as a Dalit student, it lives in Akhlaq as a Muslim human being in this country, it lives in the right of Kashmiris to say that do not murder us, do not rape our women, there can be no Kunan-Pashporas in Kashmir in my name. I am an Indian and I believe I am an Indian. There can be no Irom Sharmilas, no Manorama Devis in my name. This is the Left discourse that is unfolding, and I think it is a wonderful moment for the Left.
Bidre: For the first time, we have come to know their agenda and they have been exposed. I proudly say our agenda is nationalism, we don’t have any hidden agenda. The whole country is debating patriotism and nationalism and I welcome this debate. It must be held in an intellectual and ideological way and not violently… We will take the fight to its logical end.
John: We should not make the mistake of equating criticism of the government, prime minister with criticising the country. That is the ideology of Hitler. No one is here to ruin Bharat Mata, we are here to criticise the government and we will continue doing so.
Transcribed by Rakesh Das & Jaydeep Saha