Other States

NDA then and now

Almost 16 years ago, in April 2000, Jawaharlal Nehru University woke up to a question of “nationalism” — much like today. But the way the Vajpayee government handled the crisis, which had all the trappings of jingoistic nationalism, was very mature, recalls a former Left activist while remembering Mr. Vajpayee and L.K. Advani, who was then Home Minister, with a reluctant fondness.

A poem recited by Pakistani poet Fahmida Riaz at a grand mushaira (Urdu poetry event) organised on the campus led two Army officers — who had driven into the university to attend the event — to whip out a gun. They were enraged at her poem ‘ Tum bhi hum jaise nikle’ (You are like us too) and interpreted as a criticism of India what many students saw as a condemnation of communalism.

They were overpowered by security personnel after a few minutes of panic and then thrashed by the students. Later, they were whisked away, allegedly bleeding.

Back then, Kargil was a recent memory and the RSS student-affiliate ABVP reacted sharply, attacking the Left in its pamphlets.

Complaints were made before BJP leaders and the issue was raised in the Parliament. There were police complaints and the university instituted an enquiry.

“We were tense for 10-15 days. We were called to the police station and our statements were taken, but the police were cordial and professional. An enquiry was set-up that talked to people and submitted a report after some time,” a Left activist recalls. “But that was it. There was no further harassment and the matter died down,” he added.

“The ABVP was also different. I had a discussion with an ABVP office-bearer at the Ganga Dhaba and he admonished me for giving the university a bad name abroad. I made it clear that the mushaira was for peace, not war. There was some pamphlet-level posturing, but that was all,” he said.

The backdrop was that of the Kargil war, when students of the university had donated liberally for soldiers’ relief and were keenly tracking each peak captured. A campus known for its newspaper-reading habits would hear collective applause from hostel TV rooms with every peak the Indian Army captured.

The grand event, which Left activists say even saw legendary Pakistani poet Ahmed Faraz participate was disrupted, but the university weathered the storm easily without any crackdown.

“I read Mani Shankar Aiyer today recalling the legacy of Mr. Vajpayee, whom we criticized as a right-winger. But he has a point. Even Mr. Advani did not wade into the crisis and we came out unscathed,” the former student says.

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Printable version | Feb 23, 2020 5:17:38 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/nda-then-and-now/article8265647.ece

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