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The ongoing fight for India’s educational spaces is easy to explain. Placing the left-liberals on the back-foot is essential for the RSS combine and the ruling party. For the RSS combine it is to wrest the intellectual space and for the ruling party to silence embarrassing questions and observations on its governance. For both, subduing this constituency is a necessary step in the shaping of the battlefield for the application of Hindutva to changing India yet to come.
For readers of this journal, who shall be subject of the ‘yet to come’ Hindutva measures, the pertinent aspect of prime time news today is the wearing down of their first line of defence. India’s Muslims are safe in India owing to liberal Hindus. Their standing up to the right wing extremists is a trench line behind which India’s Muslims breath easily. Reckoning as much, the Hindutva brigade is out to wrest them from their holdouts.
Obviously, India’s Muslims cannot be bystanders, for it is their own fortifications that are being whittled. They will surely be the next targets, once the conscience of the nation in the form of left-liberal opinion has been deterred into silence. This is not to say that Indian Muslims are already not facing the brunt. The various campaigns of beef ban, love jihad and ghar wapsi are testimony. The fact is that these and plenty of Hindutva to come yet will be further emboldened.
The left-liberals through their fight back on campuses across the country, return of awards and constant red flagging of Hindutva initiatives were punching above their weight. Not only was this hurting Mr. Modi’s aura, projected abroad, but also the electoral prospects of his party within. It is not as if Rahul Gandhi’s following of his political instincts by turning up at campuses likely scares the regime. However, with both the economy and polity being more demanding than a talent-challenged cabinet could deliver on, there was a need to stifle the constant sniping by left-liberals from the educational spaces and the media.
The well-worn principle of the intelligence game - impose on one to frighten the rest - is in play. Teesta Setalvad, Arundhati Roy and now Kanhaiya Kumar are examples. It is not for the first time Mr. Modi busies himself inaugurating the likes of Make in India and Rurban initiatives even as he maintains his telling silence. To believe that there are two scripts at play in face of such consistency would be naïve.
Clearly, making sense of the happenings is easier than thinking through what to do about them. The events in Patiala House courts bring home the predicament of the Muslim youth accused of terrorism elsewhere in provincial and lower courts where there is little reach of the national media and where media is present it is of the Hindutva persuasion. There are dozens of Vikram Singh Chouhan equivalents with their ties, as those of Chouhan, extending up the political food chain of the far right. There also are OP Sharma-like legislators, waiting to exult in impunity. India is now replicating Modi’s Gujarat.
Only awaited are national level Maya Kodnani look-alikes and these would not be long in coming once the UP election comes into view. The tactics are already bare. The attempted sullying of Umar Khalid and Kanhaiya Kumar with a terrorist and Pakistani connection makes this clear. The allegation of ABVP serving as agent provocateurs in their ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ chants shows how easily a case can be manufactured for a crackdown.
There is no cause for alarm that the left-liberals will go under easily. Currently, they are on a roll in a counter attack that is seeing their ranks swell from Delhi to Jadhavpur. If the levels of fight back sustain and translate into electoral roll back of the BJP, begun in Delhi and impelled further in Bihar, into the forthcoming elections in east India, it would decisively push back the enemy at the gates. However, till then, which means till year end, there is reason for being alert.
Both the academia and media are now divided. The push back from the right wing cannot be too long in coming. The newly appointed VCs in both Hyderabad University and JNU have right wing backing. To counter the Sardesai-Dutt-Varadarajan camp, there is the one-man-army, Arnab Goswami. The manner the Delhi police over-reacted indicates the levels to which officialdom is ready to stoop. The liberal intelligentsia is only a fraction in terms of numbers and shrillness of devotees of Messiah Modi. The latter want the Gujarat model, warts and all. The Left parties are in hibernation and the Congress searching for a leading light. This brief survey of relative strength suggests that even in case the left-liberals win this round, they would stand exhausted for the multiple fights on several fronts yet to come.
What is the state of play on the Indian Muslims front? They stand divided. The Barelvis are being propped up in state-funded gatherings to rile against those perceived as Wahabis. A Modi acolyte is Chancellor of a university. The two great universities, AMU and JMI, have been outflanked by the Center’s changed stance on their minority status. Muslim electorates are being enticed by communitarian parties such as the MIM, which for its relative gains appears willing to overlook absolute gains by the right wing party at the cost of regional and national parties. While the Vice President has on occasions voiced his concerns discreetly and courageously, there is little efficacious word from the Muslim political spectrum on the latest controversy.
Finally, there is the pull of the strategy argument that staying out will keep the right wing from maligning the liberal-left spectrum as Muslim ‘appeasers’. Staying out would keep the right wing from playing the religion card. This is a battle for the soul of Hinduism as a tolerant religion much as it is of India. Therefore, the Hindus need to expose and marginalize their home-grown extremists and wrest Hinduism back to safety.
In summation, it can be said that yet another episode in the expansion of right wing’s control of India is ongoing. This time round the stakes are rather high since silencing the left-liberals would be to mute a critique itself. This for India’s Muslims could prove an existential loss, since they serve as our shield. It stands to reason then that a view needs to be taken of our involvement, levels of this and proceeding expeditiously with its rolling out.