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Tanks belong at Doklam, not JNU

Perhaps we can soon expect tanks outside Parliament and the apex court too—just to inspire more patriotic feelings, of course!

Published: 07th August 2017 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 07th August 2017 03:48 PM   |  A+A-

These past few weeks have been particularly traumatic for us seditious citizens of this great country, for we have been administered, not one, but two booster doses of nationalism.
The first was at JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University), Delhi, where a day (Kargil or Vijay Diwas) which should have belonged to our uniformed heroes was hijacked to serve a political ideology. The function, presided over by two union ministers and a supine vice chancellor, which was meant to remember those who sacrificed their lives for the country 18 years ago, was somehow distorted into a clarion call for nationalism.

This was further embodied in the menacing silhouette of a battle tank, which shall now be installed on the campus to inculcate in the students the spirit of “nationalism.”
To associate, or equate, a weapon of war with nationalism or patriotism goes far beyond the jingoism which has been the calling card of this particular vice chancellor. It boggles the mind that any person who has read history or political science can ever think that the true spirit of nationalism is the creation of the Army.

Yes, the Army protects nations and makes sacrifices for their survival—but it doesn’t create them (not democracies, at least). As Rohan D’Souza of Kyoto University explains in a brilliant article in the Hindustan Times of 26 July 2017, nation-making and the creation of national identities are the product of thinkers, lawyers, writers, teachers, poets and, most important, the common man on the street facing bullets and lathis.

Nationalism is a concept born out of intellectualism, not militarism; it is spontaneous, not coerced; it is felt in our hearts, not worn on our sleeves. We have to look no further than the history of our own independence movement to appreciate this truism. To be brutally blunt, the Indian nation was not created by Generals Thimayya or Cariappa—not even by a Subhash Bose—but by people like Gandhi, Nehru, Tagore, Ambedkar, Patel and the unnamed hordes who took part in and were beaten up in the many dharnas, satyagrahas and Dandi-type marches. We respect our armed forces, but do not assign them a role they were never designed to perform.

As far as I know there is no other university in the world which has inducted on its campus a tank as an exemplar or symbol of an intellectual idea or value. A battle tank is a symbol of the power of the state, of destruction and compulsive obedience, whereas a university is the precise antithesis of these concepts. A university is supposed to promote the power of the intellect and of non-violent didactics, to create new ideas and extend the frontiers of knowledge, to nurture freedom—of thought, speech and inquiry—and to question, not comply.

Therefore, the JNU tank is nothing but a well-crafted strategy to send a not-so-subtle message to the students and faculty of this institution which has been consistently ranked number one in the country: Behave like a military college, or else. It is no coincidence that JNU was chosen for this latest putsch by the government; this university is the one bugbear that the government would desperately like to see humbled—all other central universities, including the IIMs and IITs have more or less caved in—so as to complete its emasculation of academia in the country.

The government has tried everything so far—sedition cases against students, reducing the PhD seats by almost 800, intimidation of faculty, proscribing of certain events sought to be organised by the student unions, deregistering students who are “troublemakers”, even approaching the courts to prevent demonstrations and protests on the campus—but this pesky university is still holding out! Hence the tank. One wonders what will come next—a battalion or two of the para-commandos? Convert the campus into a military barracks? Deploy a Sukhoi bomber next to the tank? And come to think of it, a lot of our other institutions also need a dose of this right-wing idea of nationalism and patriotism, so can we expect to see tanks outside Parliament and the Supreme Court too, soon? Just to inspire more patriotic feelings, of course.

The second antibiotic dose of nationalism was administered, unfortunately, by the Madras High Court. By now adept at rushing in where angels, and even the founding fathers of our Constitution were loath to go, the court had earlier this year ordered the state government to waive off all farm loans! Fortunately, the Supreme Court has stayed this order.

Undeterred by this slight setback, the High Court has now directed that singing Vande Mataram ( the national song) shall be mandatory for all government offices, schools and even private institutions, on two days every week. I guess it’s on stronger ground here for earlier the SC had mandated the compulsory playing of the National Anthem in all movie halls. However, I am unable to comprehend why our courts, which have 40 million other cases to decide, are so intent on turning us into a nation of balladeers and minstrels.

These are empty and meaningless gestures—I daresay the courts would engender much more of the nationalist and patriotic spirit if they decided cases on time, refrained from giving bail to the likes of a Shahabuddin, stopped the Centre from chopping down 1,700 trees in the heart of Delhi to build a convention centre, or asked the government why it has been sitting on the Panama Papers revelations for the last two years (when even a much-derided Pakistan judiciary has removed a PM for similar charges).

The genuine spirit of nationalism and patriotism is created by good governance, equitable delivery of justice and responsive public institutions. Give the people something to be proud of as a country, don’t force feed them on tanks and national songs. Heed the words of wiser people, in this case Winston Churchill: “I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.”

Avay Shukla

served in the IAS for 35 years and retired as Additional Chief Secretary of Himachal Pradesh

Email: avayshukla@gmail.com

 



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