I had wrapped up my planned interview sessions at IIT Delhi by the afternoon and had few hours to spare. Since I did not know how long the interview sessions would go on, I had booked late night return ticket. I was wondering about the best way to kill few hours in Delhi, certainly waiting at the airport was not one among them. I thought of advancing the ticket but that had its own logistics.
“How far is the JNU campus from here?” I asked my cab driver. The incidents at JNU were making headlines those days. I was curious to visit the place as it was being shown on all TV news channels.
“It is quite close, may be 10-15 minutes,” responded the driver.
“Ok, let us go there,” I thought I would at once see how this most talked institute looks like. I have been to many of the premier institutes like IITs and IIMs but for some reason I was more curious to visit this unique place that was known more for its political protest than research, at least in the last few years.
“Sir, who do you want to meet there?” the driver asked again.
“No one, I just want to go around the campus, spend some time there before heading back to the airport.”
“But they don’t allow visitors these days, there is very strict checking. You will have to tell the name and hostel of the person before entering the campus. One student of the university is missing since few days and there are lot of protest happening. The security guards are quite vigilant,” replied the cabbie.
We reached the JNU gate. The driver was right. The security guard conducted thorough checking of the car and later turned to me – “where do you want to go?”
I had thought of an answer already. “Ganga Dhaba,” I replied. This was the only place I had picked up from various protests happening in the campus. The security guard did not ask anymore question and allowed us to go in after making an entry in the register.
The campus was vast and expansive, with lot of open space. I remember someone telling me on a good day you can sight peacocks on the road. The hostels could have been maintained better possibly. There were lot of Dhaaba kind shops where students were busy in the small chit chats. I could not believe that these could be the same students who were shouting ‘break India Azadi’ slogans. I stopped at one of the canteens and walked around. The notice board is a good place to sense the student atmosphere. There were several pamphlets, caricatures and hand written notes.
One of the notices I read was about some student condolence march for death of Fidel Castro. Really, I thought? Of all the issues and talk of revolution these students had interest in someone who died in Cuba, something that most of the newspapers skipped or mentioned that as a side note. Then I looked at the other notices and pamphlets, almost all of them had similar messages – protests and more protests. For a moment, I recalled the notice board I had just seen at IIT Delhi, it spoke about an aeronautics summit, forthcoming exams and other details related to academics.
Even with my few hours of stay at JNU, I realized that this was a different world altogether. Everyone probably believed in some imaginary revolution and that is why ‘Azadi’ song was so popular. Among many anti-national activities, it was alleged that some students had celebrated the killing of CRPF Jawans by naxals and breaking up of the country.
I was surprised – the illiterate villagers living in some remote region can possibly be brainwashed with revolutionary communist ideas, but how was that possible in the heart of the capital, just a few kilometers from the Indian Parliament?
This is where ‘Urban Naxal’ – the book by Vivek Agnihotri is so insightful. Some of the universities being the hotbed of radical leftist idea is not surprising, but what Mr. Agnihotri does in his book is to explain the modus operandi of the same. He calls them ‘intellectual mafia’ – an over ground cadre of the dangerous Naxalite movement. They are the soft power of Naxals in intellectual garb.
The book is well researched and presents facts with an alternative narrative – something that makes the mainstream coverage of these incidents look motivated. The intellectuals from many walks of life be film industry, literature, NGOs, activists or media join hands to present a sympathetic view of the Naxal movement, more as a victim of state oppression. Naxals, Mr. Agnihotri claims are not interested in the emancipation of the poor or their well-being. Their only objective is to take control of the Indian state by force. It is an ideological war that has changed its character from the first struggle of Naxalbari.
What I liked most about, is the story of the book itself than the story in the film. I have a feeling that if the film directors write about making of their film it could be at times more interesting than the film itself. The book starts with very innovate out-of-the-box approach on ideation, funding, casting, shooting, distribution and marketing. The director starts with a shoe-string budget and solves each and every problem one by one. The author faces several setbacks at each stage only to overcome it later. It is a story that if one has the right conviction things can fall in place by design. It the end it is a story of hope, of resurgence and success.
One of the sad learnings is how the same Bollywood industry that Mr. Agnihotri was integral part of, turns its back once they know that the narrative does not suit their agenda. They, in fact block him at each and every stage. They use their influence to sabotage the film, since it does not fit their ideologies. “I have mentally resigned from Bollywood,” says Mr. Agnihotri. This also tells us why our movies are so unidirectional, why all of them repeat the same stories ad nauseum, why certain type of people are cast as stereotypes, where does the raw creativity dissipate, why we call our movies as “entertainment, entertainment, entertainment”? Our Bollywood movies are escapist, they only let us forget ourselves for few hours and they are not about real people or incidents around us.
The writing style is fact based, plain and simple. The good thing is Mr. Agnihotri does not hold his punches and goes all out wherever necessary. In the today’s world of political correctness and pseudo liberalism, this is a welcome change. The author is prepared to call a spade a spade without blinking. He is not embarrassed of his right wing inclinations and carries it with pride.
In spite of numerous struggles, it is a story of hope in a very positive subtext. The author does not run away from the situation but fights back to eventually succeed. It is not a rant about everything that is wrong with this country and how nothing can be done about it or that we need a grand revolution to solve it all. It talks about many good things and solutions that people have provided.
Finally, the book is about the courage and conviction to tell one’s own story – ‘everyone has to find his own sun.’ It does not matter if some of the people don’t support the idea as it does not suit their narrative, there is always a world out there that is waiting to hear the genuine stories. The stories must be told without fear and favor.
Incidentally, the book is fore-worded by Prof Makarand Paranjape, a professor at JNU. I remember meeting him last year at Bangalore literary festival. I spoke about my recently published book. He briefly discussed about left radicalism in JNU. He was part of a panel discussion with Kanhaiya Kumar, his student.
“I think today’s session will be explosive,” I said.
“Let the fire come out, I am looking forward to it,” he replied.
Later in the day the session was really explosive. It was not even first few sentences in the panel discussion when Kanhaiya kumar stood up from his seat, raised his fist and repeated few ‘Azadi’ slogans. The crowed loved the antics with huge applause and cheers. For a moment I wondered how Prof Paranjape was managing hundreds of these students daily in his class. But he was calm, he responded with equal grit and some good humor to counter Kanhaiya Kumar. Some among the audience appreciated that as well.
I thought, may be Prof. Paranjape was right – let the fire come out. If the discussion is held in open like this – for every destructive idea scores of constructive ideas will gain momentum, bit by bit.
Only good ideas can kill bad ideas.