Idealism’s first cousin is rebellion. The tragedy of rebellion is that it doesn’t accept the limitations of reality, and narrows down the rebel’s word view into a simplified version of morality and ethics. None are more idealistic than the young, but less realistic. Both Rohith Vemula and Kanhaiya Kumar are victims of their sense of reality. Such is how seeds of rebellion are sown, in the fertile imagination of young minds, only to wither later in the fiery summer of reality.
Except for Wikipedia, neither student will be an eternal icon of freedom of speech. Like vultures, political parties pick the flesh off their victimhood, leaving bare bones of disillusionment behind. It’s only a matter of time before the TV cameras swing their focus to another gangrape or truant buffaloes.
How many of us remember Rajeev Goswami? He was a Delhi University student who set himself on fire and became the fiery symbol of the anti-Mandal student protests against job reservations for backward castes. The photograph of the blazing dissident, the flames licking his face and blue shirt like a ravenous seduction of martyrdom, was printed and reprinted ad nauseam in the media. But as time passed, Goswami went on to become a footnote in the pamphlets of protest. He died a few years later from the effects of the burns, unmourned except for his widow, and a fatherless child.
What a tragic asterisk in the narrative of rebellion!
So will Vemula be. Kanhaiya may get a ticket from the CPI(M) or Congress in 2019. And the career liberals who cry intolerance and apartheid will find another cadaver. This is the grimness of realism and the pathos of idealism.
Student activism has been a springboard for many young activists to dive into the national politics. Revolution devours its children. Violence has always been a hallmark of Left student activism. The idealistic pioneering Naxalites of the 70s were mostly students who wanted to clean India with a tsunami of blood. Many were shot like dogs in forests and ravines. Some, like former student-Naxalite Philip M Prasad, turned to spirituality and Sanskrit.
The Indian student has once again become a symbol of the nationalist argument. Earlier, the symbols of vote-catching were Muslims, Dalits, tribals and women. In today’s churning, all these have come together in the form of the student, as a polarising factor. Dangerously, they have become victims of political and anti-national agendas. The divide between the Congress-Left forces and BJP is so sharply defined as never before. The former are on the backfoot. The government, hitherto fumbling in its responses to loony fringe speeches, the Ayodhya issue and Pakistan, discovered its own Durga moment in Smriti Irani’s speech. Rahul Gandhi, the unthinking Don Quixote who rushed to play suicide politics, is silent. The Left is desperate to end the parliamentary debate on the issue, with elections due in Kerala and West Bengal.
Now is the chance for the Modi government to marry nationalism and education with development. Encourage students, their politics apart, to work together to make Mother India proud of its young as a reward for the nourishment it gives them. Decades of reservation politics and neglect of career-oriented education have disempowered them. History has given the BJP a chance to convert idealism into reality, and punish those who seek the destruction of the nation in the name of Kashmir or Communism. India will not accept any apology if the moment passes unseized.