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Mainstream, VOL LV No 34 New Delhi August 12, 2017

Tanking Critical Thinking

Saturday 12 August 2017, by Badri Raina


You might know that India’s Jawaharlal Nehru University—consistently placed at the top of the list of India’s best institutions of higher learning—has been much in the disapproving eye of the political forces that now govern the country.

The chief charge against the University over the last three years or so has been that her scholars insist on doing their own thinking even on such an issue as “nationalism”.

At a time when educational institutions are expected—and increasingly by official fiat—to follow and imbibe a given, monochromatic definition of nationalism, this University has tended to remain a recalcitrant outsider.

Teachers and students at JNU have long held the view that nationalism ought to have as much to do with the living conditions of the most deprived as about territorial chauvinism. Sharing the inclusive social and political vision of the forces that shaped India’s anti-colonial struggle for freedom, JNU has fearlessly contested the now dominant insistence that Indian democracy and her citizenship rights must, at bottom, be conditioned by a majoritarian religious view of India’s culture and history. Not that those in government say so, but satraps aligned to it make no bones of this ideological agenda.

That the moorings of this ideological agenda has had roots in the writings of Savarkar and Golwalker is perhaps too well known to need iteration. Savarkar was the first modern Indian ideologue to stipulate in writing that “India is two nations, Hindus and Muslms.” This, incidentally, was a decade-and-a-half before the Muslim League came to the same conclusion.

Savarkar was also to say that only those in the territory of India who were both born here and had their places of worship here could count as legitimate citizens of India. (Hindutva, Who Is a Hindu? 1923)

It is this variety of “nationalism” which owed a good deal to the Italian Fascists and which praised the Nazis for having raised “race pride” to its highest pitch (see Golwalker, We or Our Nationhood Defined, 1938) which the JNU community, along with millions who endorse the secular-pluralist “idea of India”, deriving from the freedom movement, oppose and which the political forces, now dominant in India’s governance, have been lauding. For example, the RSS was not to endorse the new national tricolour until two years after independence.

On one or two occasions, such opposition has, it must be admitted, been marred by radical sloganeering of a kind that no Indian would support, although there is still no clear proof of what elements have been responsible for this as cases remain sub-judice and evidence seems ever so distorted.

Now, hold your breath. The current Vice-Chancellor of the University has come up with a sterling idea of how to quell unlikely thoughts on campus and inculcate more sanguine reflections on Nationalism and national pride. He is reportedly recommending that an artillery tank be parked on the JNU campus so that each time the JNU students and alumni pass it by their thoughts are drawn to the sacrifices India’s military men make to keep Indians safe.

Long years ago, Savarkar had another seminal idea; his recommendation to the Indian rulers post-Independence was to “Hinduise the Military and Militarise Hindudom”. This prescription seems now operative, not just in the many troublesome parts of the nation-state but on university campuses as well.

Who knows what lies in India’s future.

(Courtesy: Z Net)

The author, who taught English literature at the University of Delhi for over four decades and is now retired, is a prominent writer and poet. A well-known commentator on politics, culture and society, he wrote the much acclaimed Dickens and the Dialectic of Growth. His book, The Underside of Things—India and the World: A Citizen’s Miscellany, 2006-2011, came out in August 2012. Thereafter he wrote two more books, Idea of India Hard to Beat: Republic Resilient and Kashmir: A Noble Tryst in Tatters.

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