Alliance of Subversion Indeed!

by Atul Cowshish

Arun Jaitley, finance minister and a former Delhi University Students’ Union president, told a gathering in London that India was witnessing an ‘alliance of subversion’ on the campuses. That he spoke these words on foreign soil does not look inappropriate when his boss, the prime minister, set the precedent in his first year in office by running down his political detractors in the course of his frequent jaunts.

Jaitley was clearly referring to the country-wide tide of student wrath against the government of which he is a very important part; some say he is an intellectual giant in the Modi cabinet. The remark by Jaitley drew some mild criticism, as you would expect in view of his position (finance minister) and alleged proximity to the fourth estate when most of his colleagues and the prime minister have Donald Trump-like views on the media.

Whatever the reason for the reluctance to question his views, Jaitley has to be asked what precisely he meant by the ‘alliance of subversion’. Presumably he thinks that the alleged alliance has been formed by the ‘Left and secular’ political outfits and their offshoots on the campuses. But what is the ‘subversion’ he is talking about?

Many of his party leaders, including ministers, and those who subscribe to the views held by the Sangh Parivar to which the BJP belongs, have spoken strongly—sometimes in questionable language—against the current wave of growing student unrest which is directed against both the BJP-led government. Is this the ‘subversion’ Jaitley is talking about?

Of course, he could also be worrying about the danger to country’s sovereignty and integrity that according to his government has come under serious threat because of some slogans shouted by ‘anti-national’ students who have been accused of ‘sedition’.

As a former student leader Jaitley must know that governments may find the statements and slogans raised by student leaders who are critical of the government because of ‘ideological’ reasons ‘subversive’. The finance minister is hailed as one of the ‘heroes’ of the Emergency (1975-77) when he was jailed by the Indira Gandhi government because the activities he supported or participated in were considered ‘subversive’ by the rulers of the day.

All the forces that were arrayed against the Indira Gandhi government were supposed to be part of ‘subversive’ activities. But others, many who had no political affiliations or inclinations, thought it was height of arrogance and misuse of power to talk of ‘subversion’ when it was the freedom and democratic values of the country that were under threat from the government.

Despite strict censorship it was not difficult to gauge that there was an overwhelming support for those who were opposing the government even if they were suspected ‘subversive’ elements. The public mood was so charged over the trampling of democracy and freedom that even some who were indulging in what by common definition would appear to be indulging in ‘subversive’ activities –bomb blasts on railway tracks and preparing ‘bombs’—enjoyed silent public sympathy, if not downright support.

One of the figures prominently mentioned in connection with ‘bomb’ making and sabotaging railway tracks was George Fernandes who had no hesitation in defending the violent means to dislodge the government. By Mr Jaitley’s presumed definition, Fernandes, bed-ridden and in poor health, the Indira Gandhi government was right in bestowing the title of ‘subversion’ on the maverick Socialist politician. But, of course, Fernandes has long been admired by the geriatric ‘Marg Darshaks’ of the BJP and even the ‘younger’ lot like Narendra Modi would not brook any derogatory reference to him.

Only Jaitely or his government can tell us if the present lot of ‘subversive’ elements is repeating the ‘dynamite’ tactics of the 1970s. But as far as public knowledge goes, the acts of ‘subversion’ are largely confined to raising ‘anti-national’ slogans by students.

In the opinion of the law and academia, raising slogans, even the ‘anti-national’ ones, do not amount to an act of ‘subversion’, much less ‘sedition’. It is interesting that just after Jaitley’s ‘subversion’ charge the case of ‘sedition’ against the JNU student leader Kanahiya Kumar had fallen. The prosecution could find no evidence to support the charge.

The government may pursue the case against Kumar but it has already demonstrated and proved that it does not believe in dissent. It has also warned dissenters to be ready to face its might, on the field, in courts and, above all, from its army in the social media.

A 20-year-old student of Lady Shri Ram College, Gurmehar Kaur, became the focus of the combined ire of the ABVP, BJP, RSS and hordes of ‘patriots’, ranging from cricketers, wrestlers and film stars. All because she had opposed violence reportedly let loose by the ABVP, the student wing of the RSS, on the Delhi University campus. Scores of students, teachers and even journalists were beaten and injured because they did not fall in line with the ABVP views on the undesirability of a JNU student participant at a seminar in a college on the campus.

The PhD student from JNU had done work on the tribals in Bastar which in the opinion of the Sangh academics might not have been a masterpiece but could not have been ‘subversive’—unless presenting the grievances of the tribal population is to be considered an act of ‘subversion’.

The point here is not the eligibility of the student, Omar Khalid, to attend a seminar in a college. Had it been an ‘established scholar’ there would have been a similar violent protest against his or her presence if the theme of the topic was going to be critical of the government. According to some, another factor that played against Khalid was his name. If true, that is more ‘subversive’ than anything else because discrimination based on religion if allowed unchecked will harm the country.

In speaking of ‘subversion’ or an ‘alliance’ working for it, Jaitley has in fact reinforced his reputation for taking unabashed U-turns. As a former student leader he certainly led many agitations against the government which, howsoever, justified in his view or those of neutral observers, would have certainly been seen as ‘subversive’ by the governments of the time. Would he concede that he has led ‘subversive’ movements in the past? Not at all! Why even ‘JP’ was accused of encouraging ‘subversion’ when he had given a call to the armed forces to disobey government orders. Should that charge stick to him? Hell, no!

BJP leaders like Jaitley would do well to ponder why more and more people are beginning to feel that their government is establishing itself as the most ‘intolerant’ government in the history of free-India. Comparing it with the Inira Gandhi government will not be right because the present government is much more dedicated to the idea of a one-party rule. Its ideology, as propounded by many ‘icons’ in the RSS family, has no place for dissent and divergent views.