If there is one lesson that needs be drawn from campus controversies erupting across the country, it is that politicians should know better than muddy the waters further and fish in it. They may hope to score some brownie points against political opponents from the debates or dust-ups that occasiolly roil the student community. But more often than not, they end up looking flat-footed, disconnected and out of sync. As for the government, it needs be sensitive to public opinion, but it has to govern first. That needs functiories of the government to comment with gravitas only when necessary, and restraint in general from lawmakers. Instead, netas of all hues are wading into the Ramjas College fracas over the cancelled invitation to JNU student leaders Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid for a semir. The fallout was pitched battles in the Delhi University main campus between BJP’s student wing ABVP and Left-leaning All India Students Association (AISA). In the melee, teachers and jourlists were also roughed up. With both sides indulging in shrill blame game, a female student and daughter of a Kargil martyr has complained to the Delhi Commission for Women of being threatened with rape and murder for her campaign against ABVP. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has now thought it fit to stand ‘with our students against the tyranny of fear’. This is in line with his earlier attacks on the BJP-led NDA regime over the JNU sedition and Hyderabad University anti-dalit controversies. But when the youth poured onto the streets in Delhi and elsewhere in the country after the blood-curdling December 2012 gangrape incident, the same Rahul Gandhi was hard put to accept a public petition near parliament while his party’s government hunkered down behind massive police bandobast. This is but one instance of how things look very different for political leaders in opposition! The political discourse in the country may have swung rightwards now, but it has long been in the other direction. Both sides have cried ‘intolerance’ on different occasions, so they are all in varying shades of grey.
Meanwhile, NDA ministers and BJP parliamentarians are commenting and tweeting against the Kargil martyr’s daughter, and thereby contributing to the heat. I&B Minister Venkaiah idu has poured scorn on the Congress, that a party which subverted people’s rights (during Emergency) cannot now lecture about freedom of expression. MoS for Defence Kiren Rijiju has said that freedom of expression is not a license to shout anti-tiol slogans in campuses. An incensed Pratap Simha, BJP MP from Mysore, has compared the Kargil martyr’s daughter to Dawood Ibrahim, Osama Bin laden and Hitler for her message that Pakistan did not kill her father, ‘war did’. Former cricketer Virender Sehwag then got trolled in social media when he chose to respond with ‘I didn’t score two triple centuries, my bat did’. So here we have netas, celebrities, students and netizens all slugging back and forth over yet another edition of the ‘intolerance’ debate. But is it a new spectre as is being made out to be? The ABVP goons who broke a professor’s ribs and sent him to hospital should be condemned and brought to book, as must others who rampaged near Ramjas College. Such behavior can never be condoned on grounds of ‘tiolism’, as is the bashing up of dalits by cow-vigilantes. But Leftist student activists have not covered themselves with glory either by their ‘azadi’ talk; they seek to highlight atrocities by security forces in the me of counter-insurgency operations and the injustices that breed extremism. But why are many such activists silent, if not contemptuously dismissive, of the suffering of families of security personnel who fall to terrorists’ bullets and bombs? It is all very well to seek to understand the psyches of Kashmiris (and some of us in the Northeast too), but will they also take a clear, hard-headed view of Pakistani and Chinese policies to support terror when it suits them? Intolerance, terror and human debasement on all sides in all forms need to be discussed and studied in academia so that students can one day help bring about a better world. Let political parties leave it to the young to thresh out these matters, without bringing their cynical agendas for power into it.