When varsities became laboratories of nationalism

When varsities became laboratories of nationalism

When varsities became laboratories of nationalism

It is not really shocking to see boiling university campuses across India from the very  first day after the BJP came to power. It has been very much in anticipation when the BJP-led NDA government failed to address various pertinent questions, ranging from price hikes to farmers’ suicides. However, what makes the new situation volatile is the kind of an open declaration of purging unlike the Vajpayee-led NDA which reconfigured educational and academic institutions through comparatively discreet strategies.

Expecting political mileage when the slogans of development plunged into disarray, university campuses have turned into laboratories for nationalism, patriotism and loyalty.
New issues have also related to the dismal appeal in north India of the Mandir-based communal politics which catapulted the waves of Hindutva through a crystallised presentation of Lord Ram in the early 1990s. However, the present day Hindutva is trying to beef up its presence through the abstractness of nationalism which in its present form serves the same purpose of polarisation. That the first was executed through the religion-based polarisation, while the present has been carried out through the nationalism based binaries. Experienced today is an aptly choreographed and blatantly executed experimentation that intended to create a sense of nationalism through the invention of multiple binaries such as students and soldiers, pro-Bharat Mata and anti-Bharat Mata, good universities and bad universities, meritorious and categories, and so on.

These are part of a wanting which can silence counter-narratives not only when the promised heavens of development remain utopia, but also the possibilities of dismal performance in some of the forthcoming state elections. Why universities have become the locus of new tactics? First coming to power through a chain of campus protests against the Mandal Resolution in the 1990s, the Hindutva always conceived the materiality of campuses in creating a sustainable popular common sense. But what is different today is a selective application of the same strategy in ingeniously chosen and targeted locations such as University of Hyderabad (UoH) and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). There have been reasons for such selection.

The UoH’s position as the strongest centre of counter assertion for taking up a pioneering role in the intellectual and political articulation of subaltern consciousness has been an eyesore for Hindutva brigade during the tumultuous 1990s. Subsequently, established as the ‘subaltern hub’ of academic India, UoH has been in the forefront in redefining the idea of ‘India’ and ‘Indians’, and created ruckus in the normative of majoritarian consciousness, though one might differ with certain recent developments in the university. Similarly, JNU has always been a ‘usual suspect’ for its being the ‘fortress of Left ideology’, a prosaic undesirability within the furniture of Hindutva nationalism.

Ethno-historical works that deal with north Indian caste violence show that the assertion of new social groups has always disrupted the settled consciousness of cultural nationalism. In the early 1990s, particularly in Gujarat, Hindutva counterpoised with the binary of ‘impure meat eaters’ and ‘pure meat haters’, the newly found political, social and intellectual consciousness of the hitherto invisible communities in the wake of Mandal Commission resolution. Thus, one could easily relate how Hindutva continues to apply their bovine-based nationalism and ‘meat eating’ rhetoric in order to polarise the nation and also campuses. Many such emblematic reflections are discernable from ongoing issues at Indian campuses. It is this context one would remember a BJP leader who infamously counted condoms also the left over ‘bones’ in JNU. Though forgotten completely, first major divide at UoH, followed by rusticating 10 students in 2001, was born out of a false accusation in which the dalit mess secretary of research scholars hostel was accused of serving beef, masquerading as mutton.

Polarising designs

Additionally, like any other protagonist of cultural nationalism, its Indian variety also immerses itself in bringing about the potentialities of other symbols and signs. Successful application of such rhetoric at campuses show a design of polarisation which intend to perpetuate the aggressive cultural logic of the Indian Right. For example, one would recollect that an emotional premise was already created in JNU by inventing anger around the hawan in a hostel by accusing a non-Hindu teacher of abusing the sacred fire in one of the JNU hostels.

Such signs are intended to seize the possibilities of discursive interaction in campuses where marginal communities have started defying cultural nationalism in which caste violence and graded hierarchy are two torturous realities. A deeper analysis of campus issues shows that new symbols are part of Hindutva’s meta-design in creating new meaning of nationalist and the same process is also applied to disenfranchise certain communities. Therefore, it can be said that the current attempts to discipline and make docile the body and voices of the most marginalised sections who are building progressive counter assertions and reconfigured ideas have been an extension of Hindutva’s politics of polarisation. However, it is equally important to notice the counter-perceptive of the subaltern students, both within the Ambedkarite intellectual frameworks and rechristened Left consciousness which is increasingly educating itself about the realities of caste in India, and is successful in withstanding such brahmanical archaic of the Right.

Thus, one would find that protest corners like ‘Velivada’ (dalit ghetto) in UoH and ‘Azadi Square’ in JNU are not specific to their locations but definitely symptomatic of a growing counterfactual against the idea of cultural nationalism of today. Moreover, the visible determination of students and teachers who are not willing to be blackholed and massive support they draw from all over the world show a possible conversion of a fully-fledged lynch mob nationalism in coming days.

(The writer is assistant professor, Department of History, University of Delhi)

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