Nationalism gone berserk

Ravi Shanker Kapoor |

An activist from Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a Hindu hardline group, shouts slogans during an election awareness campaign in the northern Indian city of Allahabad April 17, 2009. The activists urged people to vote Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party to power which has promised to construct a temple that has been a flashpoint of tension between Hindus and Muslims for years. REUTERS/Jitendra Prakash (INDIA POLITICS ELECTIONS RELIGION CONFLICT) - RTXE30S

Rightists, or a large section of them, seem to have lost all sense of proportion. The recent bounties announced by saffronites on Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union president Kanhaiya Kumar signify their intellectual and moral bankruptcy.

Kuldeep Varshney, Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha’s (BJYM’s) Badaun district chief, is incensed that Kanhaiya spoke against the Bharatiya Janata Party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi after his release from jail on bail Thursday. “He shouted anti-national slogans in support of a terrorist like Afzal Guru. I will award Rs 5 lakh to the person who cut off Kanhaiya’s tongue,” Varshney said.

The BJYM is the BJP’s youth wing.

Then there is something called Purvanchal Sena, a body claiming to champion the cause of the people of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. It pasted posters in the national Capital, saying, “Whoever shoots JNUSU president and traitor Kanhaiya Kumar will be rewarded Rs 11 lakh from the Purvanchal Sena.”

The ruling dispensation’s response to the outrageous acts has been underwhelming. The BJP found six-year expulsion for Varshney an appropriate penalty. In the case of Purvanchal Sena, too, the ruling dispensation erred. Delhi Police interrogated the organization’s chief Adarsh Sharma, but did not arrest him. The case registered against him is that of the defacement of public property. This is ridiculous.

Kanhaiya Kumar does hold views that are reprehensible; indeed the ideology he is wedded to, communism, has been thoroughly discredited all over the world. It is also true that it is a violent belief system. But it is equally true that he has only been expressing his opinions on a variety of subjects (except Afzal Guru, about whom the JNU student leader disingenuously avoids any comment, but that is another story). As for his role in the February 9 event, the court will determine whether or not it was seditious or treasonable; and, if found guilty, he will be duly punished.

However, the punishment, if the charges against him are proved, will come after the due process, for this is how civilized nations deal with felony and treason; one individual, or a group of individuals, cannot try and sentence another individual or group. If they do that, or are allowed to do that, then a main pillar of liberal democracy, the rule of law, gets blown to smithereens.

In fact, there is an interesting irony that political commentators have missed. It is not just many opponents of Kanhaiya Kumar who disregard the principle of the rule of law; many of his supporters and ideological brethren, the Maoists, also do not have faith such bourgeois niceties. Remember the kangaroo courts, inoffensively called ‘jan adalats,’ in the killing fields of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh where ‘class enemies’ are pronounced guilty and often executed? And remember the slogan, ‘Afzal hum sharminda hain, tere qatil zinda hain,’ that was raised on February 9?

Therefore, in a way, the fight between Kanhaiya and his admirers, on the one hand, and his opponents and attackers, on the other, is not one between good and evil; it is a brawl between two intolerant groups, each keen to liquidate the other.

It is time Hindu groups realized that the folly of indulging in violence against Kanhaiya and his ilk; physical attacks on him have already made a giant out of a pygmy. Come to think of it: he belongs to the All India Student Federation, the student wing of the Communist Party of India which has just one seat each in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. The guy comes from nowhere and belongs to a party that is nowhere, and yet he takes on the mightiest of the land. He is punching much above his weight. And saffron hotheads are letting him do that.

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