-Dev Ankur Wadhawan, Jaipur
‘Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel’. So mentioned Samuel Johnson. Critics of the BJP have claimed that the saying could not have been more apt than in the context of the handling in the aftermath of the recent JNU controversy. Some critics have mentioned that no doubt some of the slogans that were allegedly chanted at the JNU campus on the fateful night of 9th of February were in bad taste, but that in its wake, the BJP led Government has been trying to trample dissent against the Government and reasonable free speech in Campuses across India.
At the centre of the controversy has been the Human Resource Development (HRD) ministry. Led by Smriti Zubin Irani, the ministry has courted one controversy after another after the swearing-in of the BJP-led Government. Whether it was the recent suicide case of Rohith Vemula, a student of Hyderabad University or the controversy surrounding the Jawaharlal Nehru University, critics have claimed that the handling of the situation in both cases has left a bad taste in the mouth. Some of the staunchest critics of the BJP, including from those politically aligned to the Left, have raised their brows claiming that there have been attempts to interfere in the functioning of Central Universities. The key ministry led by Smriti Irani has been accused of working overtime in trying to fill in key positions with people considered close to the RSS ideology. Insiders within the BJP framework have, however, claimed that they are only trying to undo years of ideological indoctrination, political tilt, misgovernance and politicization of the teaching bodies at some of the key Central institutes. However, at the ground level, so far, it has clearly resulted in a lot of friction within the various student bodies and polarization along ideological lines. And, some have claimed that there has been a clear pattern to it. In the case of Hyderabad Central University, the ABVP had allegedly been involved in a turf war with the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA). Rohith had been expelled from the University hostel along with five other students and fellowship was allegedly stopped by the University. Rohith, the ASA students have claimed, was so distressed by the decision and the ensuing circumstances, that he committed suicide and left behind an extremely poignant suicide note. Critics of the HRD ministry have lambasted Smriti Irani’s handling of the issue, claiming that the ministry had been pressurizing the University administration to take undue action against the students, which drove Rohith to take the extreme step. Some other politicians, like the AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal and Rahul Gandhi of the Congress had also jumped into the political fray, claiming that there has been a clear attempt to muzzle dissent in the University.
The controversy in the JNU has brought out the simmering passions in a starker manner. On the 9th of February, eye witnesses had claimed that the matter went out of hand only as both the ABVP and the Left backed students organizations like the AISA, came face to face and there had been a lot of sloganeering from both ends. The anti – BJP has staunchly maintained that the police should not have been allowed on the campus, that the matter should have been handled by the university administration and that some of the students including Anirban, Ashutosh apart from Kanhaiya Kumar, were targeted because of their ideologies and that they did not chant anti – India slogans. Conspiracy theories have also been flying thick and fast including the one which claims that there was a clear design to the events that followed the alleged anti – India slogan chanting, including the arrest of JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar and the ugly scenes that were witnessed inside and outside the Patiala House Court where some goons wearing black coats allegedly roughed up Kanhaiya Kumar and even some journalists were not spared.
Controversy is something which has not been new to Smriti Zubin Irani. The 41 year old firebrand BJP leader has left behind several of the more illustrious women leaders in the BJP, including the likes of Sushma Swaraj and Uma Bharti. Wikipedia mentions the association that she and some of her family members have had with the RSS and the Jan Sangh. In 2004, Irani had famously claimed that she will fast unto death unless Narendra Modi was removed as the Gujarat Chief Minister. She, however, had to later on retract from her stance. Smriti had also was on a defensive pertaining to the controversy surrounding her qualifications, with the Congress claiming that she had lied on Affidavit about her qualification. However, she is also credited for taking the fight into the Gandhi bastion by fighting the Lok Sabha elections from Amethi against Rahul Gandhi. She lost but was still inducted into the Cabinet in one of the most important ministries. Smriti Irani, who at 38 was the youngest member to be sworn-in in as a minister in the Modi Government, clearly has her hands full. Her fiery oratory skills and past acting skills have clearly helped her to an extent. But her tenure so far has been known for the controversies that it has been embroiled in. Clearly, some amount of course – correction will do no harm for her as she has been recently in the news for mostly wrong reasons.