Jawahar Lal Nehru University’s (JNU) descent into what some would call the murky whirlpool of inglorious controversies, continues. In fact, it reached a new paradigm on Sunday, 23 July 2017, as the Vice Chancellor, M. Jagadesh Kumar, requested Union ministers General V.K. Singh and Dharmendra Pradhan to assist him in “procuring an army tank” to be positioned at a “prominent place” within the campus. Clearly, the first Kargil Vijay Diwas celebrations to ever be held on the campus had by then deteriorated into an unfortunate display of jingoism. To add fuel to the fire, cricketer Gautam Gambhir, who was also one of the guests invited to the event, said: “Standing in JNU, it takes me back to when there was a lot of talk about freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is important, but there are certain things which are absolutely non-negotiable. One is the respect for the tricolour.” What should make your hair stand on its ends is that eerily enough, Gambhir’s remarks echo ex-President Pranab Mukherjee’s last speech, in which he reminds the citizens of the country to draw a line at some point while still exercising their right to freedom of speech. Incidentally, this is not the first time that the idea of a military tank has been proposed in the campus. It came once before too, right after the February 2016 incident when ‘anti-nationalistic’ slogans were allegedly raised. And there has never been a dearth of the overly vocal flag-bearers of xenophobia, ever since.
The event commenced with a well-intentioned Tiranga March. There could be sceptics who view this as a problematic notion. But there is, in theory, nothing wrong with it. It is meant to be an expression of one’s patriotism, which would be perfectly spontaneous under natural circumstances. Some of us, however, have been equipped with a university education in the armoury. This education teaches us the difference between ‘patriotism’ and ‘nationalism’. While one demands a genuine love for the country, the other beats its own trumpet in the name of language and culture. That education—knowing the ‘why’ and the ‘how’—is a major problem.
When an issue transcends the lives of one or two and begins to entangle one person too many into its folds, much like a spider quietly spinning a web, is it still justified to dismiss that issue as a mere controversy? Perhaps not, because what JNU symbolises at the moment is a fertile ground for seeds of all kinds of ideologies to be sown. Once sown, they will be forever embedded into impressionable, young minds. And whether you like it or not, as a university student in DU or JNU or any other campus, you do not really have the choice of non-alignment. That non-alignment is in itself an anomaly, a ‘misalignment’ if you will, should you choose to differ from the majority. You and I cannot remain apolitical. Whether you choose the Left, the Right or the Centre; be vociferous and active or secretive and mum; choose to go with the flow or against it—you have made a vital decision.
The point is should you be punished for making that choice? Whether or not a decommissioned military tank in the university campus manages to “instill nationalism,” it will have installed several disturbing questions in the minds of the students, as this event to goes down in the annals of history.
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