The JNU Vice Chancellor, at a political event commemorating ‘Kargil Divas’, requested the two NDA Ministers present to procure a decommissioned Army tank for the campus. He claimed that such a tank was needed to “inculcate love for the Army” among the students. On the same occasion, two of the speakers (former Army officers) congratulated the regime of the day for the “capture” of JNU and spoke of capturing other Universities next.
This political event at JNU underlined the fact that the Government of the day and its political appointees and camp followers see themselves at war with India’s Universities. They recognize that Universities have, till now, robustly refused to toe the line of the Sangh Parivar and the ruling BJP. These Universities and their students and teachers – with an impressive track record of speaking truth to power to every Government of every hue – are leading India’s citizens in asking bold questions to the current regime. Unable to impress students and teachers with intellectual arguments or educational policy, the Sangh Parivar and BJP feel they need to “capture” and occupy Universities by force! This they do by unleashing their ABVP storm-troopers against ordinary students and teachers, and now by proposals to establish a tank on the campuses!
Soldiers deserve our respect. But respect for soldiers does not require silence on part of the ordinary citizen about their government, about the necessity of wars, or even about the conduct of the country’s armed forces and police towards unarmed people. In fact, the world over, ordinary citizens have shown their respect and concern for soldiers by speaking out against wars waged by Governments.
Universities are not intended to produce soldiers or obedient subjects marching and saluting on parade. Universities are tasked with producing informed, enquiring, and dissenting citizens. For a Vice Chancellor to seek to snub and silence his dissenting students by parking an Army tank on the campus is a shameful dereliction from his own duty.
The proposal for a tank on the JNU campus cannot be seen as a mere ill-advised whim of the JNU Vice Chancellor. Just days ago, the PMO advised the HRD to run all schools in the country on the Sainik School model – i.e a militarized model of ‘discipline’ and ‘patriotism.’
The current regime needs a reminder that India’s freedom struggle was not waged by an obedient, disciplined Army: it was waged by ordinary unruly, argumentative Indians, including soldiers rebelling against the colonial Army. The Sangh Parivar and Hindutva ideologues had no part in that struggle. Savarkar begged pardon of the British, Golwalkar and Hedgewar disapproved of the freedom struggle and martyrs like Bhagat Singh, and also of the tricolour flag and the Indian Constitution. Despising Indians’ united resistance to the colonial powers, they instead advocated obedience to the colonial powers and defined ‘patriotism’ as hatred for Muslims. Today, too, the Sangh Parivar and BJP want students to be schooled to disrespect democracy, dissent, and diversity. Instead they want students to imbibe a culture of obedience to power and hatred towards Muslims and other vulnerable sections of Indians.
Unsurprisingly, the current regime’s obsession with tanks, massive flags, and militarized schools comes at a time when it is attacking the right to education. Government schools in India are being systematically deprived of infrastructure and funds, creating an artificial, forced demand for expensive private schools. Research seats in the country’s top Universities like JNU are being slashed, as is funding for research fellowships. Meanwhile, the RSS is trying to replace scientific, rational, democratic content in school and university syllabi with Hindu-hegemonic myth-making. Can this assault on the basic rights of India’s young generation to the best schooling and higher education be hidden under massive tricolour flags? Can resistance to this attack on education be intimidated and bulldozed by installing tanks on campuses? History has shown otherwise.
Chandrashekhar Prasad, who studied in a Sainik School, did not become an obedient subject accepting militaristic discipline. Instead of marching in parade, he chose to march to the tune of his own conscience, becoming a student activist and a communist organizer and an inspiring role model for India’s young people.
Students in Asia and South Asia have an impressive record of courage in facing tanks to defend their rights. In 1971, Pakistan’s General Yahya Khan infamously brought tanks into Dhaka University to inaugurate Operation Searchlight and witch-hunt and massacre intellectuals. One of the most enduring and iconic images of the student movement is that of unarmed Chinese students bravely facing tanks at Tiananmen Square. JNU’s Vice Chancellor and his friends need a lesson in history – a lesson that attempts to “occupy” Universities have historically failed because it is not so easy to “occupy” the minds of young, conscientious, idealistic and courageous people!
Brecht’s immortal poem said:
General, Your Tank is a Powerful Vehicle It smashes down forests and crushes a hundred men.
But it has one defect: It needs a driver.
General, man is very useful. He can fly and he can kill. But he has one defect: He can think.
It is the University’s task to sharpen the capacities of the human mind to think and to ask questions. Any Vice Chancellor who thinks that installing a tank can intimidate the student’s thinking mind will find himself proved wrong.