Saturday, universities and colleges across India will be celebrating 'Surgical
Strike Day', ordered to do so by the University Grants Commission, a body
tasked with promoting academic standards in institutions of higher education.
Sept 29, 2016, is the day the Indian Army says it carried out 'surgical
strikes' across the Line of Control and inflicted "significant casualties", a
claim denied by Pakistan. For the Narendra Modi government, the 'surgical
strike' marks the high point of its muscular policy towards Pakistan and
figures prominently on its list of achievements.
it serves as a reference point for pushing the BJP's favourite themes of
patriotism and valorisation of the military for political gain. So it was all
of a piece that the UGC wrote to university vice chancellors outlining ways to
mark the day. It said "students shall pledge their support for armed forces by
writing letters and cards" which are to be shared with publicity departments of
the defence forces and government.
bizarre nature of the memo - it has detailed suggestions on how the students
should be marshalled to show their support for the 'surgical strike' - is
symptomatic of the Modi regime's attitude towards universities and college
students. Central universities, the prestigious institutions run by the
government, have come under systematic attack - ideologically, socially and
financially. Funds have been slashed, research fellowships reduced drastically
and rules that promoted social mobility and economic betterment dismantled.
Students have been labelled seditious Maoists by the university administration
and pilloried as enemies of the nation by the regime's fawning media. Students
unions, unless controlled by the ruling party, are viewed as hotbeds of treason
and even innocuous seminars on social themes tend to be labelled subversive in
the current atmosphere of anti-intellectualism.
systematic attack on academia reflects the anti-intellectualism of the saffron
every central university has been in turmoil, wracked by protests against the
inept and mediocre administrations that have been foisted on them, talent and
academic excellence being scarce in the saffron ranks. Since the primary goal
of the Hindu supremacist organisation the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which
spawned the BJP and closely mentors its performance, is known to have the final
say in such appointments, the results have been unhappy. In many universities,
warlike situations have prevailed with the new crop of vice chancellors calling
in the cops at the slightest indication of unrest. The latest is Manipur
University in India's northeast where protests by students and the faculty have
forced a shutdown for several months over the appointment of a vice chancellor
whom they accuse of ineptitude and pushing a saffron agenda.
of India's institutions of higher learning have been in decline for years and
the BJP government's rush to formulate a new educational policy was expected to
usher in a turnaround. Instead, universities and their students have been
defamed and destroyed. With saffronisation as its primary goal, the BJP-RSS
combine is driving even the good universities into the ground. How else can one
explain the implacable hostility of the government to the highly regarded Jawaharlal
Nehru University (JNU)? It is consistently ranked as the top academic centre by
the HRD ministry but has been in the cross hairs of saffron organisations and
the government because of its reputation for being left leaning and liberal in
thought, attributes that are clearly anathema to the right wing.
didn't help that Modi's first choice as a minister of human resources
development (as the education ministry is known) whose unfounded claim that she
had studied at Harvard has eclipsed her earlier fame as a TV star. She was
replaced soon enough but her successor has done little to improve the
functioning of universities. These are seen only channels for instilling the
RSS-BJP brand of nationalism in students as a way of countering the influence of
the left. So the focus is on stalling tanks used in old wars, getting hyper
nationalist army officials to lecture them and to instal walls of valour on the
attack on students is two-pronged. While the storm troopers of the Akhil
Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the RSS, tries to capture
student unions, top government functionaries abetted by their media cohorts
launch campaigns to discredit the university, its faculty and alumni unless
they fall in line. The most discreditable attack was, again, on JNU after the
ABVP failed to make headway in the student body elections and it came from a
person no less than Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, herself a JNU alumnus,
who was recently described by a political analyst as "the most talented
minister in Narendra Modi's cabinet". She took time out from her endless
convolutions on the Rafale jet scandal that is roiling the government to claim
that forces within campus were "waging a war against India" and they were "also
seen with elected representatives of the institution's students' union". It was
a reiteration of old allegations of sedition that had resulted in the jailing
of JNU student leaders who were subsequently freed by the court.
has been indiscriminate in her statements of late but her charge against JNU
was disconcerting. But then, the right wing the world over - and the far left
in some corners - is known to be anti-intellectual and to harbour conspiracy
theories around institutions of higher education, primarily because academics
are viewed as elitist or liberal.
Michael A. Peters, emeritus professor in education at the University of
Illinois, US, and distinguished professor at Beijing Normal University, China,
has a theory that might explain the animus. Calling anti-intellectualism "a
virus and condition that affects the health of the body politic anywhere,
anytime", Peters believes the particular character of anti-intellectualism "in
the era of post-truth politics is associated with 'strongman politics', anti-immigration
sentiments, anti-globalisation and local protectionism, anti-women,
anti-environment and a kind of national populism that swings on emotion and
belief rather than fact, reason or argument".
this is true of the BJP, a party which appears to fear the campus more than its
political opponents. It jails students, many of them girls, for merely showing
black flags to its leaders.