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  Opinion   Oped  24 Jan 2020  CAA: Why is there so much mistrust?

CAA: Why is there so much mistrust?

The writer is a former ambassador
Published : Jan 24, 2020, 1:58 am IST
Updated : Jan 24, 2020, 1:58 am IST

The police’s entry in JMI without permission and using tear gas shells inside students’ rooms was inexcusable.

Protestors during a rally against CAA. (Photo: PTI)
 Protestors during a rally against CAA. (Photo: PTI)

For more than a month now, India has witnessed massive demonstrations, dharnas and clashes between the demonstrators and the police in different parts of the country. They have often turned violent and resulted in serious injuries and loss of life and property. These agitators don’t belong to any particular region or religion or caste or age group nor do they speak the same language. Most of them claim to be opposed to the CAA and are concerned about the actual implementation and interconnection of the CAA, NPR and NRC. Interestingly, a large number of women have been sitting on dharna for weeks at Shaheen Bagh in Delhi and Clock Tower in Lucknow defying the shivering cold.

Turbulence on the campuses of JMI and JNU has sharply divided public opinion thanks to the mishandling by the university authorities, the questionable role of the police and the dubious agenda of their bosses. The fact that students of other universities who normally don’t see eye to eye with JNU, on account of the political overtones of the statements of its students, have come out openly in its support, and suggests a degree of solidarity among the students’ community at large and widespread sympathy for it’s agitation in spite of differences on many issues. The authorities in power will be well advised not to disdainfully dismiss the ongoing demonstrations lest they metamorphose into a national crisis. They must be looked into dispassionately and in a non-partisan manner with a spirit of understanding, accommodation and reconciliation. What about setting up a committee of three retired vice chancellors from outside Delhi headed by a retired judge of a high court to inquire objectively and holistically into recent developments at JMI and JNU?

The entire society seems so divided, polarised and filled with deep distrust that any simple conversation, at any place, instantly gets transformed in to an “us against them” narrative. Vociferous supporters of ABVP vouch on TV channels that whatever happened in JNU was the handiwork of the leftist teachers and students who invited outsiders, vandalised the university’s server centre and beat up their supporters at a hostel. The JNUSU president’s supporters swear that the vice chancellor, allegedly close to the RSS and the BJP, along with some professors have falsely accused them of having vandalised the university’s server centre and prevented students from registering and caused violence at a hostel. They accuse the university authorities of taking no action though they were aware of the imminent invasion of the hostels by goons armed with iron rods and hockey sticks, thus allowing them to enter the hostels unhindered in the presence of police and security, unleash violence and mayhem for two hours and depart triumphantly. Why didn’t the university’s security personnel stop the goons? Why was the police on duty standing as a passive spectator when the goons arrived and left? Some ABVP activists wonder if the injuries of the JNUSU president Aishe Ghosh weren’t self inflicted. On the other hand, her supporters claim that the goons were invited by the ABVP who had identified certain students to be taught a lesson and led the goons to their rooms in the hostel. Both sides claim to be telling nothing but absolute truth and rubbishing rivals’ claims. Sadly, the university authorities and the police have become so tainted and partisan that the public isn’t prepared to accept their version.

Why have we become so cynical that even the most obvious fact is questioned? Violence is violence; why shouldn’t it be condemned squarely and perpetrators brought to justice irrespective of their political affiliations?

The police’s entry in JMI without permission and using tear gas shells inside students’ rooms was inexcusable. It can’t be condoned. Why is every incidence of violence seen as a proxy clash between the ruling party and its rivals?

Caesar’s wife must not only be chaste but also appear to be so. When we urge the public to be transparent, the authorities must first set up their own example. In numerous instances, police action in New Delhi, UP and some other places has been brazenly partisan.

Not only the politicians but even many academics, scholars, civil servants, representatives of civil society and the media tend to twist facts to favour those whom they wish to support. Every fact is presented in different shades reminiscent of Kurosawa’s Rashomon. We are living in times of post-truth. Is truth variable? Whose truth? Your’s? Mine? To tweak the Big B’s lines: Rishte mein to hamara sach aapke sach ka baap lagata hai! Sach wahi hai jo hum kahate hein, baaki sab, bakwas!

Are there any takers for Gandhiji’s seven sins?

Why do we run away from discussion or debate? Aren’t we, at heart, insecure and vulnerable? If whatever we are saying and doing is right, shouldn’t we have the courage and conviction to silence our detractors with the strength of our arguments? Historically, who muzzles and stifles dissent?

Why should “left” be such a dirty word? India is the only country in the world where leftist political parties have been taking part in the democratic process since Independence and even won elections and formed governments. Why should students in JNU or any other university be demonised just because they are fascinated by leftist thoughts? Is it unconstitutional?

Why should an outstanding university which has produced a Nobel Prize winner, two finance ministers, one EAM and several eminent academics like Professor Rajamohan be trashed just because some students might have raised anti-national slogans? Identify those who did so, prosecute them transparently as per the law of the land, permitting them to avail of every legal recourse available but don’t demonise the entire university!

Students’ agitation isn’t a new phenomenon. In1967, when the Congress lost elections in17 states including UP, universities were on the boil. In her home town, Allahabad, in the senate hall of Allahabad University (once called the Oxford of the East, contributing 25-30 per cent of the civil servants each year), PM Indira Gandhi wasn’t allowed to speak; she had to be taken away abruptly from the back door by security. Yet the university’s students’ union enjoyed such high reputation that prominent national leaders such as Atal Behari Vajpayee, Chandra Shekhar, Madhu Limaye, Minoo Masani, Ram Manohar Lohia considered it an honour to speak at its functions. Allahabad University produced two Prime Ministers, several Union Cabinet ministers, governors, chief ministers and scores of outstanding civil servants.

Why? Its teachers and students excelled in fierce discussions and debates on all contemporary issues. Let the flame of intellectual discourse burn bright. Don’t stifle dissenting voices. They are a must in a democracy. Silence them with your arguments. That’s the true Indian way.

The writer is a former ambassador

Tags: shaheen bagh, caa