Kanhaiya Kumar and Rohith Vemula: Two names, one mission
Since past many days our collective consciousness has been dominated by 2 names – Kanhaiya Kumar and Rohith Vemula. The two names, coming from two different academia, have become the new synecdoche of anti-establishmentarianism in India and have emerged as the focal point of opposition against the Right-Wing government in the centre. The two names evoke two different stories, yet they come from the same book, preaching 2 gospels: (a) the government in centre is out to muzzle any and all voices of dissension against it and (b) it is anti-Dalit. If the charges stick, the mission is over.
It’s a part of a larger mission designed through finer craftsmanship over a long period of time entailing long sequence of events with one single agenda in mind – to destroy the idea of India. This write up tries to unravel and establish the conspiracy theory, which is playing itself out through the active involvement of few disturbed minds spread across the intelligentsia, academia, mass media, art, cinema, literature and politics. Through a systematic, subtle and sustained efforts these minds have tried to foment, create and brand such an image for India where it is seen out of synch with progressive, democratic and liberal values. Let’s see how. The question leads us to understand and analyze these two names that have become the new anti-establishment posterboys.
Rohith Vemula-whose suicide has been called “institutional murder” by Sitaram Yechuri and on whose death 129 academicians from around the world wrote an open letter to the VC of the Hyderabad Central University (HCU) to express their “shock and agony” over what they called “the most recent case of caste discrimination in Indian higher education” – is a classical case of obfuscation of facts and orchestration of malicious intentions. Till the time Rohith chose to commit suicide, he was just another student leader trying to make his ambitious mark in the arena of student politics at the HCU campus where he was enrolled for his Ph.D course. The marquee act of this aggressive student leader, who had switched allegiance from the Marxist Students’ Federation of India (SFI) to the Ambedkar Students’ Association (ASA), was to hold a demonstration in August 2015 in the HCU campus with 4 other students to protest against the hanging of Yaqub Memon, where they offered a namaz-e-janaza followed by the chant “Yaqub tere khoon se inquilab ayega”.
This act, alongwith a series of other ones, led to rising tension between the ABVP and the ASA culminating into an assault, though denied by the ASA, on the ABVP president Susheel Kumar in his hostel room by a group of ASA men led by Rohith which led to the alleged hospitalization of the former. The university expelled the 5 ASA students from their hostel rooms including Rohith, whose monthly stipend of Rupees 25000 was stopped since July due to some obscure reasons. All these 5 students were suspended in September. The ASA alleged that the University had acted upon the complaint of the local BJP MP and central minister, Bandaru Dattatrey, who had written to the Union HRD minister against the activities of the ASA which was, in turn, forwarded by the HRD minister Smriti Irani to the V-C of the HCU.
These students, whose suspension was re-confirmed on 3rd January, 2016 through proctorial enquiry, had set up a tent in the campus and started relay-hunger protest during which Rohith Vemula committed suicide on the night of 17th January, 2016 in mysterious circumstances leaving behind a philosophical suicide note. His death sparked huge protest in the campus which grew rapidly and spread all across India with the protesters accusing the ABVP, Bandaru Dattatreya and HRD minister Smriti Irani of driving Rohith Vemula to suicide. However, the larger issue raised was that the central government led by the PM Modi was anti-Dalit. Under tremendous pressure of the protesters, a FIR was filed under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act against Bandaru Dattatreya, the central minister and BJP MP from Secunderabad; Ramachandra Rao (BJP MLC); and Appa Rao Podile (University of Hyderabad Vice-Chancellor).
Kanhaiya Kumar, the first to become the president of JNUSU from the AISF in Sept 2015, had been just another face in the crowd of student politics till 9th February, when the diminutive Begusarai boy alongwith few other students, such as Umar khalid, allegedly raised slogans against India and demanded Azadi for Kashmir at a campus event meant to oppose what they called, “The judicial murder of Afzal Guru”. The sequence of events that followed left such bruised psyches across the nation that the government was forced to raid the campus and arrest Kanhaiya Kumar, who had, till then, gained recognition in JNU circles with his cutting oratorial skills. Further, the sentiments grew stronger and a clamour rose in the nation to close the very institution of JNU itself, with the hashtag #ShutDownJNU trending on the Twitter madly across the country prompted by the impression that the University, subsidized heavily through the tax-payer’s money, had become the den of seditious and secessionist activists. However, the JNU, long being the bastion of the left, rose in support of Kumar with the left-leaning groups of students and faculty rallying heavily behind him against his arrest that was regarded, in the words of the JNU professor Surajit Sarkar, an attempt to “terrorize the students into submission”.
Soon, Kanhaiya Kumar became the new figure of polarization in a highly charged society with the proponents hailing him as the new ‘Red Star’ of politics while the opponents branding him a “traitor” who needed to be “hanged”. The conditional bail after a fortnight in custody, completed the script in the emergence of the phenomenon called Kanhaiya Kumar, as he came back to his den on March 3rd to do the act he was best at – oratory. He rose to the occasion and took his oratory to the level of demagoguery by delivering a sharp upper cut to none other than Narendra Modi. He had been told that the camera lenses of the national media would be trained at him and hence he needed to calibrate his discourse to suit to a national audience. He did the same. The rest was done by the media that lapped up the gains and declared that a young star was born with promises to take the moribund Left politics to a new height. Today, Kanhaiya Kumar has become the new hate-object for the Indian nationalists and simultaneously the new messiah for the Indian Left, getting his daily shares of brickbats and accolades.
As said earlier, Kanhaiya Kumar and Rohith Vemula are two stories with one running mission underneath that binds them strongly with one another and makes them inseparable; the mission is to brand the Modi-led national government as ‘Anti-Dalit’ and ‘intolerant to any opposition in the country’. This mission not only gives their cause a bigger dimension but also connects Kumar and Vemula with all the left-leaning intellectuals, politicians, artists, journalist and mediapersons spread around the nation and beyond in fulfilling the defined mission. Even without facts being tested or investigations completed, the anti-Dalit cry and call to support Rohith Vemula and Kanhaiya Kumar became an instant movement countrywide. The left brigade had swung to action. A global scholar community comprising of 129 scholars representing various US and European Universities wrote an open letter immediately to the V-C of HCU denouncing, what they alleged, “institutionalized discrimination” leading to the death of Rohithh Vemula and even without a formal investigation, they proclaimed their judgement as follow:
“Rohith now joins a long list of victims of prejudice at premier institutions in the country, where pervasive discrimination drives so many Dalit students to depression and suicide, when not simply forcing them to quietly drop out…Measures must be implemented to ensure that such students are supported and allowed to thrive when they enter what is all too often the hostile, casteist environment of higher education in India.” (sic)
The conspiracy angle
It was interesting to find who these 129 people were. Most of them, barring a few names, are Indian-origin men and women with interest in South Asian Studies, especially those related to Dalits, castes and religious issues. A deeper analysis of these names – such as Rupa Vishwanathan, Srirupa Roy (both from the University of Goettingen, Germany), Dwipayan Sen (Amherst College, USA), David Mosse (University of London) or Raka Ray (University of California, Berkley) – done through the books, papers and articles they publish would betray their strong left orientation with Sub-altern approaches and they show a deep bias against the right wing ideologies. For example, Raka Ray in her chapter, ‘A slap from the Hindu Nation’ in a book ‘Violence in Indian democracy’ edited by Amrita Basu and Srirupa Roy (Seagull India Press) wonders on the victory of Narendra Modi in 2002 elections after the Gujrat riots “despite”, she writes, “his involvement in the orchestration of the massacre of Muslims in Gujrat”. Her blatant accusation of ‘involvement’ shows her deep bias to a person who has been absolved from any such charge from the highest court of the land. The fanaticism and anathema of these intellectuals towards targeted individuals drive them away from having any faith in the India’s judicial system even at the highest level. These academicians passed a pre-conceived judgement on the whole matter of the HCU on the basis of the one-sided story totally disregarding the ABA escapades in the campus or Vemula’s Aggressive anti-Hindu stances and also the facts and circumstances presented by the ABVP and N. Susheel Kumar, whose body bruises and subsequent surgery was conveniently overlooked. Clearly, the left-intellectuals were working as per a defined agenda.
Further, a deliberate attempt was started by a section of media, mainly by The Indian Express, The Hindu, The NDTV and the ABP News to project the case of Vemula’s suicide as “caste discrimination” which is weird and untenable as N.Susheel Kumar, with whom he was in conflict, is himself an OBC student, not a high caste one who are normally accused of inflicting oppression against the Dalits. To the contrary, the conflict between Vemula and Susheel Kumar was nothing but an ideological struggle to establish hegemony between the ASA and ABVP where the latter seriously challenged the anti-national orientations of the former on the campus.
Similarly, a concerted attempt was made to prove that Vemula committed suicide under pressure of Dattatreya etc and police was forced to file a case of abatement to suicide under SC/ST Act turning a blind eye to the contents of his suicide note where he hasn’t blamed anyone for his suicide rather he’d sounded amazingly calm and philosophical throughout the text complaining of “a growing gap between my soul and my body” and showed no acrimony towards any person or situation. He writes:
“No one is responsible for my this act of killing myself. No one has instigated me, whether by their acts or by their words to this act. This is my decision and I am the only one responsible for this. Do not trouble my friends and enemies on this after I am gone…” (sic)
Can anything be more clear? But, this was completely and conveniently ignored as it didn’t suit the politics of it’s benefactors.
Sadly, any incident involving a Dalit in India is depicted through a straightjacket of stereotypes where the person looses all other traits or flaws in him and is judged by one single identity – Dalit. This straightjacketing syndrome, applicable also to the minorities, is not only unfortunate for the person who might be yearning to break free from the identity, but also dangerous for the state as it prevents the governments from taking punitive measures in an independent manner in cases of delinquent behaviors involving Dalits, as happened in the case of action taken by HCU in suspending Rohith Vemula. The proctorial enquiry leading to his suspension might have been free and fair but the decision was straightjacketed by the experts with the stereotype of caste-discrimination. I don’t know whether Rohith was guilty or whether he was a victim of discrimination or not – only the court will say that – but the stereotyping zealots wouldn’t allow me to wait till then. They’ll pronounce judgement handsdown.
However, the whole Rohith case is built up on slippery wicket as a slew of evidences, including the local intelligence report, his parents’ affidavit with Guntur Revenue department, IB report, his father’s interview and many other things prove that he was born to a Vaddera family (OBC) in Gurazala mandal in Guntur although he managed to obtain the SC certificate. However, the Left brigade would fight teeth and nail to negate this, as the whole case so diligently built by them, would collapse if the contrary is proved.
Similarly, the same Left brigade sprang to its feet to defend Kanhaiya kumar, storming the street with the allegation that the government is muzzling the freedom of speech and is out to quash all opposition. The government, just back to its feet after successfully fighting off a crippling, sustained campaign against the so called ‘growing intolerence’ in the nation, was in no mood to back down and flexed its muscle. This infuriated the Left camp and the members took to their respective battlefronts – in campuses, in streets, in newsrooms, in courtrooms, in cinemas, in literatures and in the parliament.
The battle of hegemony: A fight to finish
With the battlelines drawn, and with the government buoyed by a supportive majority opinion reflecting through the social media, the war has become a proverbial fight to finish. It’s a battle where everyone has taken sides, including the media and the journalists who have started wearing their colours on their sleeves. While Arnab Goswami, Sudheer Chaudhary and Rohit Sardana raised the battle cry of Nationalism from the TV studio, Barkha Dutt, Rajdeep Sardesai and Ravish Kumar rushed to the ground zero to train the comrades how to shoot from the mouth. The nervousness to take edge in this existential war was so obvious that Barkha Dutt had cancelled all her engagements to reach Kanhaiya Kumar, as soon he was released on 3rd March, and reportedly gave him a hour-long closed door tutorial on things to speak in his first speech after release. She had ensured to fire her own guns from the firm shoulders of Kanhaiya Kumar. The shot was indeed fired and travelled wide in splinters.
Now, the question arises why the Left is so desperate with these two names? The answer is simple: these names are their only hope in their battle for survival. After fizzling out of the carefully-orchestrated intolerance movement last year, these two names have the potential to keep the government vulnerable. Hence, the Left would employ all the means under their command to glorify these two names to carry the battle as far as they can.
In the final analysis, these two names have to play important roles in the battle of hegemony between the Leftist and the Rightist ideologies where the Rightist forces appear to have taken edge by making heavy inroads into the earstwhile Leftist bastions. Now, the University campuses across the country are the new bastions that the Rightist forces are desperate to conquer.
It is important for the Rightist ideology to flourish and prosper in the University campuses because in order to defeat the Left, they need to cut off their ‘intellectual’ supply line that goes through those prominent Universities. The Left has always remained hooked to identity politics – caste, Dalits, majdoor, Kisaan, women, minority – and, despite all theoretical talks to the contrary, has tried to preserve societies divided on the fault-lines of identities. Hence, the Left’s idea of India is structured around idea of divisions. On the contrary, the Rightist ideology has always believed in Holism where all such fault-lines of society created and preserved around such identities have to vanish.
The Right-Wing’s idea of Nationalism is built around an India where Hindus would be one monolithic community that won’t be hegemonic but brotherly, as it has historically been in the past, to accommodate different ethnicities in order to evolve – what the JNU’s Doubting Thomoses may not like to hear from them – Multi-ethnic Nationalism. That’s something Modi described about India during his victory speech in 2014 as ‘A beautiful garland of different flowers’. However, in order to achieve that the Hindus need to evolve and to re-invent themselves in multiple ways to dissolve those internal fault-lines of caste, untouchability, gender-inequality etc so that one single holistic, monolithic, ethnic identity for the community could be created. And that’s what the Right-Wing strategists are aiming at. This precisely is the reason why the Left wing is so worried and so hell-bent on de-stabilizing the Right-wingers because it knows that once that consolidation happens, it will be finished. Divide and Rule has always paid, hasn’t it?
Then, should the Right Wing ideology win in India?
Krishna Kumar@ThoughtPourri, 2016