CPI-ML (Liberation) general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya is a stake-holder in the JNU ‘sedition’ controversy, considering four out of eight students the Delhi police have a lookout notice on, belong to the CPI-ML(L) - affiliated all India students’ association (AISA). Counted among the country’s top left ideologues, Bhattacharya, 55, has already served 17 years as head of the party, which has risen from its extreme left moorings to emerge as a mainstream communist party in the country. In a chat with Rai Atul Krishna, he spoke of what is at stake in the arrest of JNU students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar on the charge of ‘sedition’. Excerpts
What is at stake in the controversy that has enveloped JNU, India’s premier university?
At stake is the democratic, participative environment that is an idiom of the JNU and serves as a guiding force valued by institutions of higher learning across the country. As the JNU has shown a preference for the left, as validated by students’ union election after election, it has become a target of the RSS for quite some time. The immediate trigger is the lead taken by JNU students in protesting over the suicide of Hyderabad student Rohit Vemula, ‘occupy UGC’ movement and on GATT. The government and RSS targeted JNU to escape the heat generated by the Hyderabad incident but this has left them in more trouble.
What, in your view, is the root cause of the JNU crisis?
The JNU crackdown is meant to serve as a warning to students of other universities and to silence any and every voice of dissent. It started with the HRD ministry persuading IIT-Madras to ban a dalit studies group, then happened the controversy over appointment of FTII head, then the university of Hyderabad targeting Vemula at the centre’s behest and now, the JNU crackdown. The government wants to place curbs on thinking young minds. All this is part of the BJP’s obscurantist, regressive agenda to determine what should be written in the name of history and what should be taught in universities. But if dissent is killed, democracy dies. So, the left is a committed defender of dissent.
Does raising slogans favouring separation of Kashmir, backing terror convicts, fall within acceptable limits of free speech?
I cannot see why not. You cannot call it sedition. Although the ruling PDP has opposed the hanging of Afzal Guru, the BJP doesn’t mind being in a coalition government with it. How can the same view be a big ‘no, no’ in JNU? This is hypocrisy at its worst. In any case, the VC had given permission for the Guru event, which was later withdrawn under ABVP pressure. The JNUSU leaders were there in support of the democratic rights of students. When things started going out of hand, they stopped it. In a mature democracy, fringe view gets filtered out on its own. You cannot undertake an exercise in regimentation. Free thought, freedom of speech ought to be protected or else democracy will be in grave danger.
There is a view that political activism is undermining the academic atmosphere on JNU.
This is not true. JNU students have found place in policy making, academia and in bureaucracy, showing its academic atmosphere has not declined. It is most peaceful and its elections are unaffected by money or muscle power. Rather, the power of intellect is to the fore.
Shouldn’t a university funded from tax-payers’ money be more into academics than politics?
In JNU, public money is being put to best use – by encouraging free thought. Misuse is in corporate loan defaults and other scams running into lakhs of crores of rupees.
Doesn’t the JNU stir marks the coming together of forces opposed to PM Modi?
We have no allergy to PM Modi. He was given a mandate to usher in ‘good days’, not all this. The opposition is taking a stand on the disturbing developments in the country. It is the pressure of public opinion that is forcing parties to back the JNU stir.
Where does the stir go from here?
(Arrested JNUSU chief) Kanhaiya Kumar must be freed and the witch-hunt against all the accused students must stop. Now that the JNU happenings have served as a trigger, the larger battle for democracy and free speech will continue.
How do you see the HRD ministry’s decision to making tricolor hoisting compulsory in central varsities?
I don’t see anything wrong with it. But the government would be better served concentrating on the larger concern of students, like increased funding of universities.