The savage assault by scores of masked men wielding clubs, rods and hammers — probably mostly outsiders, although this needs to be ascertained through an impartial probe, if such a thing is still possible — who ran riot on the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus in New Delhi on Sunday evening is apt to attract comparison with the events that occurred during the creeping rise of fascism in 1930s’ Germany.
For reasons that are only too obvious, it will be purposeful falsification to view the shaming, brutal, episode as a clash between left-wing and right-wing students in the precincts of a university, as some have sought to suggest.
If scores of armed hoodlums were beating up students and teachers, pulling out even young women from their hostel rooms, and attacking doors, windows and parked vehicles inside the campus, their friends, colleagues and sympathizers, who had massed at the university’s main gate, were flattening tyres and breaking the windowpanes of ambulances seeking to go in bring out the injured as the police stood by meekly.
Journalists on reporting assignments were attacked and abused and had their equipment smashed, with the more independent news outfits being singled out for special mob attention. A well-known political and social activist was shoved and pushed until he fell to the ground. Instead of restraining the mob, the police first blamed this prominent figure for creating tension and then had him removed.
The police aren’t known to show such solicitousness towards leftist students. But it’s the slogans that give the hoodlums away. “Naxals”, “tukde-tukde gang”, “desh ka gaddar” were some of the milder things said. These expressions aren’t a part of the Left’s vocabulary. A woman reporter of a top television channel could be seen asking those who surrounded her why they wanted her to shout “Bharat Mata ki Jai” and what relevance that nationalist cry had to the prevailing situation.
In the past six years, leading lights of the ruling party and the government have sought to devise ways to dismantle JNU as it is today — a haven of study through seminars, sharp debates, and a consciously designed academic programme that encourages the linking of all aspects of life with the curricula in a free manner. The spirit of constant questioning, and JNU’s admissions policy that assiduously seeks students from all parts of the country and from the poorest classes, has made this university among the best in the world, but anathema to the majoritarian right-wing.
The powers-that-be appear to want to inculcate scholarship that is worshipful of the State and would pray at the altar of the putative greatness of our ancients.
The identity of those behind Sunday’s assault is yet to be established, but the suspicion is too strong to be brushed away that they might be linked, organizationally and ideologically, to those in command.
Of late, this country has begun to be viewed in negative terms internationally. The vile attack on JNU is likely to raise further questions about the health of Indian democracy.