Asatyameva Jayate: Long Live Joseph Goebbels
By Anand Teltumbde
02 March, 2016
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” -Joseph Goebbels
Prime Minister Narendra Modi reportedly twitted ‘Satyameva Jayate’ on the stunning performance of his poster girl, Smriti Irani, the union Human Resources Development Minister, in the Lok Sabha defending herself and his government in the matters of attack on Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) in Hyderabad Central University (HCU) and radical students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) Students Union. The entire BJP establishment was visibly pleased over what it thought was pulping the opposition. Many political ignoramuses from the middle class also were vocally impressed by what they saw as her powerful refutation of the opposition’s case with ‘hard facts and figures’. It is this lot that has pushed the country to this abysmal state. What Irani did was no better than one of her television performances as a Hindu bahu. It was more of a drama than confronting the serious issues she herself created. It characteristically reflected insensitivity of the regime to the tragedy it unleashed on people and disdain to India’s democratic institutions including the Parliament itself. Most importantly, all that she said was either irrelevant or pure lies.
The Core Issues
It will be interesting to see whether Smriti Irani touched any of the core issues involved in either Rohith Vemula’s suicide in the HCU or the Kanhaiya Kumar and other students’ arrests in the JNU in her nearly 50 minutes speech.
Rohith’s case begins with the derogatory comments made by the ABVP-HCU Unit president Nandanam Susheel Kumar on his face book calling the ASA members goons. It was in reaction to the demonstrations of the ASA condemning ABVP’s attack on the screening of ‘Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hain’, in Delhi University’s Kirorimal College associated with arrogant statements like, “main Hindu hoon, main tujhe thappad maarunga.” (I’m a Hindu, I’ll slap you). The ABVP had even grudged the ASA’s protest against the hanging of Yakub Memon earlier, along with many others across the country who were not sold to pop patriotism of the Hindutva camp. Taking offence, the ASA members had mobbed Susheel Kumar and demanded a written apology, which he gave in presence of security personnel of the HCU. However, the next morning he admitted himself into a private hospital, got him photographed and filed a police complaint that the ASA members had beaten him. This has been proved false by the statement of the security personnel who were the eye witness to the incident; doctors of the Archana Hospital in Madinaguda, where he was admitted on August 4; the affidavit of the Registrar of the HCU; and even the affidavit of the Cyberabad police commissioner C V Anand to the High Court. Even the proctorial board of the HCU, that investigated the matter, did not find any ‘hard evidence’ for beating.
It is this false complaint of the ABVP leader, whipped up by the BJP leaders that culminated to Rohith’s death. It is said that the BJP MLC, Ramachandra Rao had met with the then vice-chancellor Prof. R.P. Sharma asking him to take action against the ASA members. The BJP MP and union Minister of State for Labour, Bandaru Dattatreya, subsequently wrote to Smriti Irani. The letter from Dattatreya, an RSS member of 50 years vintage, pracharak for two decades, a veteran BJP leader to be a minister of state in the Vajpayee as well as in the current Modi government, to Smriti Irani, who has been infamously promoting saffron agenda in her ministry has eventually precipitated the abominable punishment to the five Dalit research scholars. Dattatreya’s letter irresponsibly complained against the HCU for having become a mute spectator of the ‘casteist, extremist and anti-national’ activities of the ASA. Irani, not only suggestively wrote to the VC to take action as she had done earlier in the case of an anonymous complaint against the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle (APSC) in IIT, Madras, but also ensured that action was taken with persistent follow up from her office.
It was under this political pressure that the HCU administration had suspended the five ASA members for a semester in August last year. It sparked off massive protest which forced the Vice Chancellor (VC) to revoke the order pending investigation by a new committee. Meanwhile, the new VC, Prof Appa Rao Poddile had taken the charge. With a two-decade long history of rusticating Dalit students, and with accusations from his own staff for being casteist (The News Minute, January 22, 2016), he crawled into action by appointing a new committee and eventually issuing the punishment to the five Dalit students. The punishment comprised their expulsion from hostels and banning them from accessing library, hostel and administrative building in groups. It amounted to social boycott of the students, reminding one of the reign of Manusmriti vis-a-vis the outcaste Dalits. These students--four of them being sons of agricultural labourers and one without both parents-- who had crossed countless obstacles to reach the University were pushed back right into their ostracized existence as the “untouchables”. Was it not a casteist action on the part of the VC and Irani herself as she has been defending it?
Nowhere to go, the students erected a shed with the banners and posters in the shopcom area of the university and began living there in the biting cold of Hyderabad winter. Without any arrangement for sanitation or food, and without money (their fellowships not being paid since last July), the VC, however, did not realize the monstrosity of the punishment. Such humiliating condition created collectively by ABVP’s Sushil Kumar, BJP’s Ramachandra Rao, Bandaru Dattatreya, and Smriti Irani and precipitated by the HCU administration headed by Appa Rao Poddile drove Rohith to take his life. It was a murder executed with the institutional processes and all of these honourable people were responsible for it.
The core issue therefore is the misdemeanour of these culprits for abetting the suicide of Rohith. Smriti Irani, herself an accused, did not touch upon these issues at all. Instead, she kept on patronizingly referring to him as a child.
Likewise, the JNU is sparked off by the agitation of the ABVP against the cultural evening “The Country without Post Office”, organized by the Left progressive students. Firstly, it had influenced the Administration to withdraw the permission for the programme. The question of permission to the programme raised by Irani craves for a counter question whether the programme of ABVP’s protest had permission. The entire episode appears to have been scripted to enact the offensive strategy in face of the repeated humiliation the BJP had faced in previous confrontations with students. Earlier episodes, viz., APSC in IIT Madras and ASA in HCU involved Ambedkarite students and issues of caste and culture, which had badly boomeranged. The BJP could not afford to antagonize Dalit voters beyond a certain point. Therefore, it decided to play up an issue of antinationalism in JNU to kill several birds with one stone. JNU represents domination of radical and progressive students, and significant presence of Dalits, Adivasis and minorities, who were vocally opposed to hindutva politics. If it could take on JNU on a plank of nationalism, it would terrorize the radical students and embolden others to come under the ABVP umbrella. The manner in which the entire episode unfolded supports this speculative thesis. For instance, the crucial matter of police entering the JNU campus is attributed to a letter by JNU Chief Security Officer Navin Yadav at 4:30 pm to the duty officer of Vasant Kunj police station on 9 February. Yadav reportedly told the police that anti-national activities and anti-constitutional sloganeering might take place inside the campus. Is it plausible that a Security Officer of a University writes to the police station without the consent of the vice chancellor? How did he know that such slogans would be raised in the ‘cultural’ meet unless someone had told him?
Some outsiders infiltrating the gathering of students being provoked by the ABVP into shouting those anti-India slogans; targeting the JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar, the face of opposition to ABVP in the campus; the home minister, Rajnath Singh insinuating Pakistan hand behind the anti-national sloganeering based on the fake Hafeez Saeed’s twit; doctoring of the video showing Kanhaiya Kumar shouting those slogans; some television channels systematically whipping up mass sentiments of people against him and JNU students; police not taking cognisance of students’ FIRs but pouncing upon them on a complaint made by a BJP MP Mahesh Girri; arresting Kanhaiya and terrorising the entire student community; unleashing its storm-troopers in the garb of lawyers to beat students and journalists within the court premises and repeating it again despite nationwide condemnation in the name of nationalism; attacking Kanhaiya in defiance of the Supreme Court’s instruction to protect him and issuing open threats to kill him under the nose of the Delhi police, which had shamelessly become inert onlookers; and delaying grant of bail to Kanhaiya even though the expert legal opinion has long dismissed the applicability of the sedition law to him. Without a conscious strategy, perfect script and meticulous planning, such a perfect show would not be possible at all.
The issues here are the questionable role of the vice chancellor in allowing the police to raid hostels and hound the students; doctoring the evidence; arresting Kanhaiya without a shred of evidence against him except for the doctored video; slapping sedition itself in face of its inapplicability; defaming the DSU and other radical students as anti-nationals with connection with the Pakistani terrorists and Maoists; the blatant complicity of the Delhi police chief in allowing BJP’s storm troopers a free hand; the omission and commission of judiciary in delaying the bail to Kanhaiya. Smriti Irani simply skipped these issues.
Then what did She Say?
She said either irrelevant things or simply lies. Marshalling all her skills in acting, she converted the parliament into a stage for her melodrama. Her paternalistic references to Rohith as child, her reference to her own persona challenging the opposition to identify her caste; her dialogue delivery that if she was proved wrong she would give up politics and place her head at the feet of the opposition could be a piece from any third rate Hindi film. While she feigned motherly concern for Rohith, she defended her actions in ensuring the university punished him along with his comrades. It was not her first act anyway. She had acted similarly on an anonymous complaint against the APSC students in IIT, Madras pushing the latter to ban it. Rohith was not some innocent child; he was a mature and educated person (unlike her) opposed to her right-wing politics, for which he paid with his life. As regards caste, her disdain for Dalits, can be easily discerned from above instances. It is irrelevant what caste she belonged to when anyone in the country can unmistakably say that she is not a Dalit. While Rohith’s mother challenged brahmanical patriarchy and asserted her motherhood by lending her caste to her children, Irani invoked the latter and challenged Rohith’s caste. It is utter naiveté of her to speak about caste in such a superficial manner. The other challenge she threw up is rather more problematic because having proved wrong on everything she said, she should give up politics and spare the country impending mess in higher education; none being interested in her head as such.
In the case of JNU, the motherly minister did not hesitate to read out the names of suspended children in Parliament in utter disregard to the decency or law and wanted them perhaps to be hanged!
Falsehoods and White Lies
Let us check point by point how Irani lied in the Parliament: She said, “The committee which suspended Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula was not constituted by our government, but by the UPA regime.” While it is not relevant who constituted the committee, the action could well be influenced by the people in power. Incidentally, it is a deliberate lie. Executive Council’s Sub-Committee that decided to expel the Dalit students from hostels and other common spaces was expressly constituted by the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Appa Rao, who was appointed by the BJP government and it was in response to the close follow up by the MHRD to punish the students. Earlier (before this speech), Irani’s intervention in Rohith’s case had similarly put her foot into her mouth when she said that the committee which awarded punishment to the five Dalit scholars was headed by a Dalit professor as though that would lessen the gravity of their misdoing. It was also a white lie which provoked the entire SC/ST professors in the HCU to resign en masse from their administrative posts. They pointed out that the subcommittee was composed of all upper caste members except for one, Prof. Prakash Babu, the sole Dalit member, who was co-opted as the Dean, Students’ Welfare and not as an SC/ST representative. This fact is duly recorded in minutes of meeting of the EC sub-committee dated 24-11-2015. This two member subcommittee itself was seriously anomalous insofar as the EC and its sub-committee were the very same body that recommended and ratified the decision. That the EC sub-committee did not hear out the key stake holders or consider the counter-affidavit filed by the Commissioner of Police on 3rd October 2015 and simply concurred with the much contested Proctorial Board’s decision could be the matter for enquiry.
Then she tried to prey upon Rohith’s suicide note that he has not blamed anyone. It only showed to what depth she could descend in trivializing the tragedy. If at all, she wanted to understand whom he blamed, she could read his sarcastic letter of 18 December to Appa Rao. He had said it all there, generalizing the harassment and humiliation of Dalit students in the HCU. He had asked the VC to provide while admitting Dalit students with poison and a nice rope. Is that not clear what he meant? At least the VC should have realized the folly of awarding such idiotic punishment and reached out to students. Irani conveniently ignored this crucial alarm bell before the impending incident. As far blame, Rohith had powerfully indicted the entire university administration being anti-Dalits and that surely included the MHRD that makes it dance to its tune.
Then there came a bigger lie about the police or doctor not being allowed to touch the body until 6.30 in the following morning. Zikrullah Nisha, an economic Ph D Scholar, who called the Health Centre of the HCU immediately after she got to know about Vemula’s suicide on January 17, shouted “Liar..Liar..” for Irani on her facebook wall. By now the statement as well as the report of the CMO, Health Centre, Dr. Rajashree P. is in public domain that she had reached within minutes, examined the body of Rohith and declared him dead. This and the pictures showing the Telangana police present at the time of this examination squarely nails Irani’s lie.
Next, she showed the report of the security department of the university, dated February 11, 2016 with statements of 38 security guards. She read out, “The crowd started to swell. Umar and Anirban stood there. ‘Afzal Guru, Maqbool Bhat zindabad’, ’Kashmir ki azadi tak jung rahegi’, ‘Bharat ki barbaadi tak jung rahegi’, ‘jis Kashmir ko khoon se seencha, woh Kashmir humara hai’, ‘hum kya maange azadi, bandook se lenge azadi’, ‘go India, go back’, ‘Indian Army murdabad’. There were a few people present there with their faces hidden with cloth.” What does the report say? That Umar and Anirban were standing and all those slogans were shouted by the crowd that had a few people with their faces hidden. Firstly, if these slogans, howsoever, reprehensible they may be, do not constitute any crime in law, least the crime of sedition. However, they have immense emotional value, which, as it transpired, was exploited in full by the BJP to create mass hysteria against the students and even the JNU. There is no way to expect her or for that matter any of her party to know that none of the Leftist students would shout that kind of slogans. They could go any length in condemning the government; ask for self determination for Kashmiris and for that matter, for any nationality. Moreover, they would say it from the roof top and not hide their faces. Who then were these masked people? If one looks at the construction of the superstructure, the foundational clues in the 9 February crowd in JNU must be paid due attention to. The suspicion that they were the BJP hirelings may not be farfetched in view of their crucial role in the script.
Next she showed the poster displayed on 10 February 2016 by the JNUSU office bearers – Kanhaiya Kumar, Shaila Rasheed, Rama Naga as president, vice-president and general secretary respectively. She read out from the poster, “Supreme Court judge, Hindu Fascist State of India, the state was scared of Yakub Memon. Our media is a communal corporate media. We are a murderous republic and our cannibal collective conscience was satiated by hanging Yakub Memon's. We must rise against this judicial muder.” Obviously, she and her pariwar members would take it abominable anti-national statements. Unfortunately, they are not. It only questions the government for the miscarriage of justice. It is simply a viewpoint of people who do not agree with the government. In the present system of government formation with the first-past-the-post type of elections, at least 49 percent of people are bound to be indifferent or against the government. Moreover, every citizen of the country has right of free speech enshrined in the Constitution and although there might be certain limits on them, nationalism is certainly not that because there is no such word in the Constitution.
Irani jumps on thereafter to Mahishasur Martyrdom. She challenged both Sugata Bose and Saugata Roy to speak about Mahishasur or Durga on the street of Kolkata. Why Kolkata, in any city the derogatory references to a Hindu deity may not be tolerated by the hegemonic Hindus. But then does it invalidate the existence of some other people who believe otherwise? There precisely lies the crux of the Indian diversity. The tribals for instance are known to worship Mahishasura even in West Bengal. The Hindu mythology is fraught with the conflicts between the brahmanic forces and those who opposed them. Just because the later were vanquished, there cultural existence cannot be erased. India is a museum of such diverse people representing diversity of every possible kind. The respect for all of them is a precondition of her survival. In order that India becomes a nation, it needs to survive first. Irani and her Pariwar in their folly are endangering the very survival of India. By their own definition, they become thus bigger anti-nationals than anybody else.
When the BJP cannot defend its action, it invariably brings in parallels in the Congress regime. Irani also tried to take shelter under the fact that all the VCs were not appointed by her. In order to saffronize institutions, it is not necessary that all the appointees need to be changed. Indian bureaucracy is adept at changing its colours as per the ruling party. In only a rare case, someone would be so upright as to incur the displeasure of political bosses. Still, installing people of their choice has been happening whenever the governments changed. The only accusation against the BJP is that it has gone overboard in transcending the limits of decency. Her own example could be the case in point. Then there were many by her/her government which had created controversy: Girish Chandra Tripathi as Banaras Hindu University vice-chancellor, Sudershan Rao as the Chairman of the Indian council of Historical Research, Chandrakala Padia as the chairperson of IIAS-Shimla, Kavita Sharma as the vice-chancellor of South Asian University, and of course, Ganjendra Chauhan, as Chairman of the FTII society, just to name a few prominent ones.
A Sinister Strategy
In the wake of forthcoming elections in five states, viz., Assam, Kerala, Puduchery, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, which are likely in April-May, and in the UP and Punjab early next year, the BJP wants to intensify its pet stratagem of polarizing people on communal lines. During the last elections they had largely suspended it saying sabka saath, sabka vikas, and only used it sparingly. People were cheated into voting them to have clear majority in the Lok Sabha. With dismal performance on economic front, coupled with unending controversies and misdemeanours of its monkey brigade, the people have begun to realize the mistake made in the last elections. Its attempts to establish hegemony of its students’ wing, ABVP, completely boomeranged in campuses. The JNU episode is clearly to recover the lost grounds using jingoism, proving Samuel Johnson, credited with saying nationalism is the last refuge of scoundrels, prophetic.
The strategy is to use Goebbles’ methods more intensely and deploy storm troopers to execute it. Satyamev Jayate etc. are part of this Goebblesque theorem; the Hindutva camp never cared for what truth is. As its history shows, this strategy alone has worked for it. The last elections may be taken as exception in face of the listless performance of the UPA 2 and dilapidated organization of the opposition. With BJP’s non-performance, the situation has come full circle to normalcy, warranting the use of weapons in its arsenal. The year ahead is going to see some calamitous spells of this strategy in terms of communal conflagrations, the scientists of Gujarat Laboratories being at the helm!
Dr Anand Teltumbde is a writer, political analyst and General Secretary, CPDR, Mumbai.