Student Protests

Propaganda war: Sangh Parivar takes to the streets to paint JNU as a 'den of traitors'

Many on campus fear that the government is manufacturing consent to shut down the university.

Even since Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union president Kanhaiya Kumar was detained by the police on Friday, students have continued to mass daily at the University’s Administrative block in a show of solidarity. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, which lit the spark by seeking the assistance of the police and central government to settle a campus disagreement, has been unable to rally anything like a show of support. But outside the campus, the Sangh Parivar has been working hard, assisted by prime-time TV news, to create public anger against the university and its students.

In Delhi University, where the ABVP controls the students union, they have been especially active. Last Friday, escorted by the Delhi police, the ABVP marched through Delhi University late into the night, shouting slogans like “JNU bandh karo, deshdrohi vapas jao” and “Kashmir hamara hai, hamara rahega”. “Close down JNU, traitors go back” and “Kashmir is ours and will stay ours.”

Outside the perimeter of the JNU campus, the Sangh Parivar is orchestrating protest marches dressed up to look like spontaneous community outpourings. On Monday, for the second time, there was a Sangh Parivar-organised march that started at Kamakshi Temple across from JNU’s east gate (“vice chancellor’s gate”). The national tri-colour, placards and boomboxes (calling out slogans) emerged from the boots of cars, and the police were there to stop or redirect traffic to let the marchers proceed unhampered. The procession wound its way a kilometer and a half to JNU’s main gate, where the speakers included Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader, Sadhvi Prachi. The sadhvi is a great draw for TV cameras, and she did not disappoint them when she announced that JNU (which is funded by the central government) was funded by the Pakistan-based terrorist Hafiz Saeed. She said that she had spoken to Home Minister Rajnath Singh about it.

Confused motives

Most of the marchers, who were from Ber Sarai, Kishangarh and Munirka, the urban villages surrounding JNU, could not say why they were there. One man, a rickshaw driver, said they were there for Modi. Another who just identified himself as a resident of Kishangarh, waving the tricolor, said he was there because JNU was filled with anti-nationals and should be shut down.

A young man in a Cornell University t-shirt who said he was a Cornell University graduate was the most articulate man in the march, he said: “I have been seeing all these things, all the anti-national activity in JNU is unfair… unjust, just because they are inside a campus does not mean they can do anything they want”.

These explanations are innocuous enough. However it was clear that work had been done to prime at least some of the people at the march. Egged on by a minder, who had repeatedly tried to answer questions put to other marchers, a couple of young men from Ber Sarai, said with some agitation, “You want to know why we are here, its our land, that’s why we are here." Your land? “Yes, long ago our village land was given for building a college, now they are using the land they took from us for doing anti-national activity.”

Among all the reasons proffered this was certainly the most original and perhaps the most insidious. JNU has co-existed peacefully with the urban villages around it for nearly 50 years. Raising questions about land acquisition and its uses has the portential to create conflict between the university and its neighbours – between town and gown. Such conflict would be added ammunition, as the Sangh Parivar continues its assault on the university

One organiser of the protest was an architect named Chaitanya Aggarwal. He disavowed any association with the RSS and the Sangh Parivar. He said he had been moved to act because of the terrible things happening inside JNU. How did he know what had happened? He said he had seen it all in the media, on TV and YouTube. The video footage, aired by TV channels, in his view was sufficient evidence and was being shared widely.

Another organiser, who identified himself as Arun from the RSS media cell and whose mobile number is the same as the one listed for the Janata Paper Mart in Chawri Bazar (closer to Delhi University than to JNU), said he hoped reporters would give their march “positive coverage”.

A den of traitors

Coverage is all-important. For this is, what one BJP member called a “propaganda war”. And, even after the assault on JNU faculty and journalists in court in New Delhi, the BJP and its supporters firmly believe they are winning the propaganda war. Their goal is to make JNU popularly reviled as a university harbouring “deshdrohis” and terrorists.

Building public support is not so hard, in a society where obedience to authority is hugely prized. The suggestion that a University leads young people astray causing them to “go bad” is something that resonates with many who have been to university and very many more who have not. They are not concerned with the encroachment on the autonomy of a university and the Constitutional rights of Indians to freedom of thought and expression.

Many in JNU fear that the government will use the fiction of anti-national activity and the carefully constructed public support for this fiction to shut down JNU. Among BJP members and supporters there are many who believe that assisted by television’s repeated replay of video fragments purportedly of events in JNU, they are well on their way to doing just that.

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