By Aamir Qayoom
Protests and charged politics are not new to JNU. But this time, protests in this campus became the centre of electrified political debate in the country. The recent JNU controversy in relation to the Afzal Guru incident is the focus of public discourse. The issue became the idea of ‘anti-national’ elements and ‘patriotism’. The dispute has already created a political divide between the teachers and the vice chancellor of the university. However, the matter became grim when the home ministry intervened into the matter.
What are the arguments that form the basis of this ‘political tsunami’? On the one side is the issue of freedom of speech, freedom of alternative perspectives, which is used as a shield to justify the event and on the other hand is the idea of ‘anti-national’ content. The other perspective which emerges is the apolitical group in JNU which is concerned with the prestige of the JNU campus. This group questions the branding of JNU as ‘anti national’. They aim to highlight the nationalists this campus has produced.
Is JNU a place where one finds the intellectual sympathisers of the Kashmir issue? Has JNU become a political platform where one can expect serious engagement on the Kashmir issue? Has JNU ceased to be place of dissent in relation to Kashmir; given the intensity of the Afzal Guru event?
With the police given permission to raid the campus and search for the people associated with this event, does it not mean ? Is the meddling of the police in a university issue not a signal for students to “relearn” lessons on dissent and freedom of speech? How does one understand the arrest of the JNUSU president? Was it meant to show the powerlessness of JNU in relation to the state?
It also opens up the debate about the political space which JNU had reserved for protests. Because this was not first time dissent has emerged from JNU. It has raised a question on whether such an event will be used as an instrument to curtail the freedom of expression in JNU. Or has it stretched the boundaries of the space for dissent in JNU?
One could also argue that the controversy has made the event (organised by the DSU) in question a successful one, given the hype that it generated. Equally, someone could say that the ABVP has secured some political points by raising the ‘national issue’ of “anti-national elements” in JNU. Of course, the issue is a sensitive one, since it is also related to Kashmir, and perhaps one could say that the ghosts of the ‘unfinished tale of partition’ have taken over the JNU campus!
How JNU maintains and handles its national image as one of the premier institutes of India, which has produced so many noteworthy people, is a big question. It also brings into question what JNU as an institute lost with this controversy; when ‘ultra patriotic’ people demand the removal of ‘anti national’ elements from the campus. How does one understand being a ‘nationalist’ when a strong nationalist JNUSU president has been arrested? It almost seems as if JNU is a political state in itself!
—The writer is a student at Delhi University