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Please leave the academia alone 

Dr. George Jacob

Recently, two prestigious campuses of learning- Delhi’s St. Stephen’s College, and Aligarh Muslim University drew the ireful attention of rightwing lampoons. They decided to vandalize these institutions.

They were apparently attempting to provoke unrest in the campuses at the behest of their political masters remote- controlling them from their plush air-conditioned living rooms, fuelled by their intention to pit citizens against each other based on the faith they follow. This has become their religion and politics too, these days.

These prestigious and most sought-after and historical campuses of learning were converted most thoughtlessly into factories of hate and division along religious lines. Ever since the BJP-led NDA assumed power in New Delhi, their one-point agenda has been to fracture Indian citizenry using the most volatile and destructive substance known to man-religion!

This was promptly adopted to further their agenda of Hindutva, and to please their bosses like the RSS and other extreme rightwing organizations. They saw to it that the embers of their skewed version of ‘nationalism’, which bordered on blind hatred, isolation and embarrassment of religious minorities were kept burning across the length and breadth of India.

This poison of hate and division has succeeded in corrupting the very psyche of Indians. Yusuf and George are better known as a Muslim and a Christian respectively than Indians! The Hindutva agenda of the ruling dispensation and those controlling it has made sure they are known that way. They wanted it that way, for their own good. For the ‘love’ of the country (as per their definition and concept of ‘love’, and how they perceive it, that is!).

Dangerous it is indeed if embers of division and hatred along religious considerations are fanned into cauldrons in campuses where innocent, impressionable and virgin minds seek knowledge, and attempt to secure their future through education.

The historical Aligarh Muslim University made headlines for wrong reasons. Rightwing protestors entered the campus objecting to the picture of Pakistan’s founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah adorning the walls of the AMU Students Union office.

A clash was triggered as the police prevented a students’ march against an attempt by activists of the RSS affiliate Hindu Jagran Manch to storm into the campus to question the appropriateness of Jinnah’s picture adorning the wall of the Students’ Union Office in the AMU. The picture had been hanging on that wall since decades.

The AMU spokesperson Shafey Kidwai’s defense that the portrait has been hanging where it was for decades, and that Jinnah, being a founder of the university, makes him eligible for life membership of the students union, and that photographs of life members are hung on the university’s walls fell on deaf ears. It is yet to be ascertained why the rightwing organizations developed an acute and abrupt allergy towards the picture of Jinnah overnight!

This question acquires relevance because despite Jinnah’s picture hanging in the office of the Students Union in AMU, Aligarh has continued to be Aligarh, and India as India, and the AMU as AMU! The AMU has always been, and still continues to be a prestigious and one of the most sought after institutions of learning, despite Jinnah’s picture!

Probably there were lots at stake for rightwing lampoons who barged into the AMU over Jinnah’s picture and be part of a mischievous, and a larger and sinister agenda meant to fan unrest and anarchy. Tension prevailed in Aligarh as students took their protests to the national capital outside Uttar Pradesh Bhawan in a show of consolidation and support for students of AMU, who demanded action against rightwing hoodlums who entered the campus, making their weird demand to have Jinnah’s portrait removed.

The AMU Students union also alleged that the anti-socials owing allegiance to rightwing organizations who barged into their campus, apart from questioning Jinnah’s portrait also sought to target former Vice-President Hamid Ansari , who was in the campus at that time. The intruders raised slogans against the former Vice-President. Could it be because Hamid Ansari was Muslim? Why was he targeted?

Prominent politicians fished in troubled waters, as only they can. They are, after all, experts at fishing in troubled waters, for their own good!

UP’s Chief Minister Yogi Adithyanath proclaimed ‘there was no question of celebrating Jinnah in India’. Fair enough! Why should any sensible Indian celebrate a person, who was closely involved in, and probably had a significant role to play in the partition of the Indian subcontinent, which witnessed one of the most horrible genocides, known to human history that followed?

But the picture of the man had been adorning the walls of AMU for decades, and life has never been adversely affected by that. Life went on most peacefully in Aligarh and rest of India despite the picture hanging in AMU.

There were other Politicians too who made their presence felt in the unnecessary ruckus. Aligarh MP Satish Gautam questioned why Jinnah’s portrait is being hung in the AMU. There were voices of reason too to be heard over and above the ruckus drummed up in AMU. Veteran lyricist-screenwriter javed Akhtar said it was ‘shameful’ that the portrait of Mohammed Ali Jinnah was put up in the AMU, and that people protesting against it must also oppose temples made to honor a certain Nathuram Godse!’

Before dust could settle over AMU, it was Delhi’s historic St. Stephen’s College’s ‘honor’ to earn the wrathful attention of rightwing goons, for reasons best known only to them. It will not be foolhardy to conclude that the mischief mongers who vandalized St. Stephen’s might not be even aware of the reasons behind their highhandedness!

Students of St. Stephen’s College noticed the chapel inside the college premises vandalized. The Student Union President of the college, while walking past the chapel noticed, Scribbled in Hindi in Black ink across the door of the chapel “Mandir yahin Banega”, which means ‘a temple will be built here’. The cross on the founder’s tomb outside the chapel had the words ‘I’m going to hell’ and Hindu religious symbol Om written on it.

Not that these acts of flagrant provocation and disgusting mischief to create trouble will have St. Stephen develop some kind of a severe allergic reaction, or have the college crashing down. But the point is, does the country, in this point of time in her checkered history truly deserve such acts of wanton vandalism, meant to assert and further a skewed ideology?

India can ill afford to have such blatant nonsense and naked sullying of plurality by highhanded mechanizations of rightwing zealots, out to realize their version of ‘nationalism’, in their terms and through their modus operandi. These henchmen need to be convinced that they, and the narrow-minded end they seek to achieve will only fail in the long run. India as a nation and as a democracy have survived more sinister times, viz; the Emergency, 26/11 mayhem, and demolition of Babri Mazjid, and has emerged unscathed, though the scars remain.

Was the violation at St. Stephen’s meant to have things blown over into larger communal conflagration, or, for that matter, to foster plain hatred between religious communities? Based on these surmises, the students of St. Stephen’s demanded a thorough probe on the incident. Nothing of that sort has been initiated as of now. Even if it is, will anything truthful and tangible come out of such exercises in vain? It is extremely doubtful it will, considering the sad state of affairs in India right now.

Academia is one area where an organization of significant strength and presence like the BJP, through rightwing extremist ‘sister concerns’ would like to tamper with, if it serves to indoctrinate impressionable and young minds, and also to sow the seeds of division along religious lines, and to pit a community against another. To have them hate each other, just because they belong to different faiths. This is not the first time that the BJP-led NDA has interfered with the academia to further their agenda of hate.

• Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, had to step down as chancellor of Nalanda University in Bihar, unable to put up with ‘large-scale interference in the functioning of the university’. Sen, who will soon be replaced by George Yeo, the former Foreign Minister of Singapore, has written an essay on his exit from the Nalanda University in the August edition of the New York Review of Books. The Nobel Prize winning economist, who is also a Bharat Ratna awardee pointed out several instances of government interference in appointments to educational appointments viz;
• PMO’s rejection of Sandip Trivedi as Director of Tata Institute for Fundamental Research,
• the appointment of Baldev Sharma, a RSS ideologue, as Chairman of National Book Trust,
• the appointment of Lokesh Chandra, who believes ‘Prime Minister Modi is God!’, as head of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations.
• The Delhi IIT Director, Raghunath Shevgaonkar resigned, while
• The IIT Mumbai Board Chairman, Anil Kakodkar has expressed that ‘he could not help the government in anything in future’.

Gross and blatant tampering with textbooks is so daring and audacious, than commonplace. So suggestive of ulterior motives of the NDA-BJP governing disposition:

A new NCERT textbook meant for class II, titled ‘politics in India since Independence’,
• Terms the BJP’s win in 2014 general elections as ‘historic’
• The textbook also attempts to establish the party’s support for Muslim women’s cause by noting how it stood for them in 1989 Shah Bano case, against those in governance then.
• In the chapter titled ‘Communalism, Secularism, Democracy’, it tries to enlighten the discerning students on how the BJP after 1986 began to emphasize the Hindu nationalist element in its ideology. ‘Hindutuva’, which literally means ‘Hinduness’, as defined by its originator V D Savarkar, as the basis of Indian nationhood has been reiterated. It was projected as being the meaning of the Indian nation and nationhood. ‘Everyone must not only accept India as their fatherland but also their holy land’ reads the new content added to the text. Fatherland or motherland, nothing happens in India these days to instill such nationalistic emotions within citizens!
• For the uninitiated, the book also explains the meaning of ‘Hindutuva’. ‘Believers of Hindutva argue that a strong nation can be built only on the basis of a strong and united national culture’
• The book also dropped the phrase ‘anti-Muslim’ from a passage on 2002 Gujarat riots. The passage is now titled ‘2002 Gujarat riots’
• The word ‘Muslim’ has been deleted from the text inside as well, though it remained critical of the way the state government handled the riots
To pale all these into insignificance is a latest directive by the BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh government, that, come July 1, 2018, the students of government schools in that state, have been directed to answer the roll call as ‘Jai Hind’, and not ‘yes, sir, or “ ‘yes ma’m’ “! What a joke; how sillier can a government, and the nation it governs get?

One could argue that ‘yes Sir’ and ‘yes ma’m’ are hangover of the British scheme of things. But ‘jai Hind’, to answer the roll call by children?! Why make a laughing stock of ourselves as a nation sold on irrelevance? Why wear ‘nationalism’ on the sleeve? Why impose it on others, especially the young seeking to be educated in Indian campuses?

The writing on the wall is as clear as white chalk on the blackboards in Indian classrooms. The governing BJP-led NDA is out to take hostage innocent and impressionable minds and also the very souls of students in Indian classrooms, who are naïve to absorb anything that comes their way like sponge to water. It is most criminal to inject the poison of religious hatred and decision into the minds of these young people- the Indian citizens of tomorrow.

To sow the seeds of division based on religion among them. To alter and tamper with history to suit its twisted, shortsighted and tunnel-visioned agenda– to tear friendships and camaraderie asunder. To have Ahmed sharing the same bench as Narendra place himself at arm’s length on account of a different religion he belongs to!

Fearing the most dangerous preposition of religious hatred, compartmentalization and segmentation in tomorrow’s India, the right thinking and apolitical citizens of today’s India can only beg with folded hands to the governing BJP-led NDA, ‘please leave the academia alone’!

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