Chilling and brutal, the visuals of the rampage of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi on Sunday night by a mob of masked criminals will torment the country’s conscience for a long time to come. The mob ransacked hostels and grievously wounded students, professors and staff, going about it all in methodical madness for several hours. Not a single attacker was detained by the Delhi police, deployed in large numbers outside the campus. The street lights were turned off and the police personnel appeared to have given cover for the mob that leisurely walked away with abusive slogans. This evil will outlive its perpetrators and facilitators; and the night will continue to haunt India’s dreams to mature itself as a democracy and as a society that treasures its institutions. The masks notwithstanding, it is not difficult to see the faces behind this outrageous assault on one of India’s premier institutions where access is not limited by pedigree or purse. The Hindutva dispensation’s extreme intolerance towards intellectualism in general, and institutions in particular, has been on naked display since 2014. JNU has been a special target, and that itself is telling. JNU recruits from India’s vast diversity, and offers its students the best opportunity to develop critical thinking and excel in their chosen paths of life.
This liberating potential and the questioning spirit of JNU has long been reviled by a political project that seeks to erase the distinction between myth and history; faith and fanaticism; and criticism and subversion. The charge that the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student outfit of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), led this violence is credible, unless the serious injuries suffered by the students and teachers were self-inflicted. The list is long of those who stood behind the masks, and some of the faces are recognisable. The JNU’s administration and its Vice Chancellor M. Jagadesh Kumar have not merely failed in their duty as teachers and guardians; they have come across as desecrators of a place whose sanctity they were ordained to protect. The Delhi police, under its current Commissioner Amulya Patnaik, which had shown such alacrity in enforcing order recently that they stormed the library of Jamia Millia Islamia, stood by not as bystanders but as collaborators. Though they did not wear masks, they had their identities concealed by not wearing name badges. The Delhi administration apparently concluded that they had no responsibility whatsoever. There is little credence to the vague words of protest coming from some BJP functionaries and Ministers. The only way the Centre and Prime Minister Narendra Modi can prove that this mayhem was not sanctioned is to come down heavily on the police inaction and bring the mobsters to exemplary justice.