JNU Sedition Case – Watershed moment in Indian politics and a turnaround for Modi Govt
Politics is a dynamic thing which keeps on evolving as the situation, society, nation and people change. Politics in India changed from the Freedom hangover to poverty to caste to Hindutva to development over the last 70 years.
After the 2014 Loksabha elections, the euphoria of the big win was followed by wins in Haryana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, even J&K. But soon the honeymoon period got over and the govt. started feeling the weight of its own expectations. While it was busy fixing the basic system and solving unattractive issues, the cry started about the lack of big-bang reforms and intolerance, which led to the worst year for Modi govt. in these 5 years where BJP was defeated by a massive margin in both Delhi and Bihar elections. The only good thing PM did was to make sure the reform agenda continues without worrying about election results which proved to be crucial in the end.
Then came the watershed moment in the political history of India – JNU “Tudke Tudke” sloganeering. If I have to rate moments which impacted Indian politics, I would keep JNU issue above 2014 election result.
Nationalism, suddenly, became the focal point of the country. The whole country got polarized. Students harped on it to gain entry into politics. Politicians jumped into the foray to raise their political stocks. Ideological organizations propagated their own ideologies. JNU alumni, journalists, sportsperson, film stars, academicians, lawyers, civil society – no one was untouched by its influence. Even the defense forces could not keep themselves aloof, such was the impact of the case. Never before in Indian Independent history did a “non-military” issue evoked such Nationalistic sentiments among the people.
Suddenly thousands of questions and counter questions started flying around about Nationalism, Freedom of expression, taxpayers, 30 year old students, activists, state aggression, universities, naxalism, terrorism, and everyone had their own opinion about the issues being discussed. It was not a surprise as India has seen many students led movements in the past. But the biggest differentiating factor in the previous movements and this incident (not a movement in any sense) was this time the popular public opinion was against the students and in favor of the govt.
This was significant because just few months back, the govt. was loosing the “Free Speech” debate with issues like AwardWapsi, Love Jehad, GharWapsi, Beef ban, lynchings, etc. Even the manufactured case like Rohit Vemula was able to portray govt. in bad light. But JNU changed all that. Because it was not about brahaminism, casteism or Hindu-Muslim; this time it was all about “Nationalism”.
The whole episode gave the ruling party an opportunity to highlight the kind of content that was being taught or made available to the students in many universities including JNU, sometimes with the active support of the faculty. The slogans were derogatory enough for the general public to get a shock that how can university students say things like “Bharat tere tukde honge”, “Afzal hum sharminda hai, tere katil zinda hai”. For those who follow campus politics across universities like Jadhavpur, JNU, DU, BHU, AMU, and many others, these slogans were nothing new. In fact, more atrocious things had been uttered in the past with complete impunity. But this was the first time, it became a national issue and masses saw the reality of our universities where in the name of ideology and studies, they are being taught to hate India and work to accentuate its divide lines.
The biggest consequence of the whole controversy was it brought RSS, Hindutva, and their ideology to the consciousness of the masses, the very thing the ecosystem worked all these years to prevent. The “social boycott” put by the media and Luytens ecosystem, which had a strong hold on intellectual space, was finally ended. Young students with RSS and ABVP backgrounds got to portray their views in every forum. (And people were disappointed to find that they were not rowdy, saffron clad, cow piss drinkers who were as uncivilized as the first men!)
Finally the ecosystem that was engineered and nurtured since the late 60s to maintain a strong hold on popular mindset and consciousness through control on education and civil society to enhance their political gains was standing naked with their anti-India, anti-Hindu face exposed and made people more acceptable towards RSS and Hindutva Waadis. It helped put in context the harassment and hatred Narendra Modi received in the last 15 years and thus enhancing the respect people had for him.
Much can be written, and has been written, about the JNU case but it did put focus on Nationalism and brought out the eternal hate of many for Modi and RSS out in the open. This helped Modi in not only getting public sympathy but also made public more vigilant regarding statements and news reports made by many popular journalists, intellectuals and others. This was a huge factor in what happened next.
Though politically 2016 was not an important year for Modi and BJP with those states going into elections where BJP did not have any significant presence but it managed to win Assam by a huge margin which mattered the most, however, 2016 was a year of big bang reforms the whole of India was waiting for – GST, Demonitization, IBC, Surgical Strikes. The momentum and general mood of Nationalism built up through JNU, Assam elections (where main issue was NRC and illegal immigrants) and Surgical Strikes; and fueled by controversies on National Anthem, Vande Matram, Jai Hind, and other nationalistic symbols; was ably used by PM Modi in leading the fight against corruption and black money through demonitization and GST.
After the JNU fiasco, the public was more apprehensive of journalists and intellectuals than Modi. A perception got build that a lot of people are ready to go to the extent of abusing India and compromise India’s interests when it comes to hating Modi. This made public more vigilant about media reports and people started verifying data and facts on their own rather than relying on news media. This helped expose the journalists, intellectuals, liberals even further. Their behavior since then specially regarding Army and Airstrikes has furthered this belief of “perpetual hate for Modi and Hindu”.
Never before in world history you had seen such a “draconian” (due to the number of people it impacted directly or indirectly) decision being rejoiced by the very those who were feeling its brunt the most! Never before you had seen a party, whose govt. had taken such a drastic measure which caused massive pain to millions, getting elected in the most populous Indian state with historic majority. We have seen governments falling in India in the name of Onion prices which causes distress among only a section of society but here the govt was formed even after it inflicted massive pain on most of the citizens of the country. And people say nothing has changed in Indian politics!!
Since that massive win in UP, Modi and BJP have not looked back. They sustained the momentum through wins or gains in many other states and even delivering another watershed moment in Indian politics by decimating the decades long Left rule in Tripura by increasing their vote share from a mere 2% to more than 50% in just 5 years! Modi was also able to beat the massive anti-incumbency in his home state Gujarat to get a respectable majority for BJP.
All these political gains combined with the success of many social schemes and good governance in general, allowed Modi to set the narrative throughout 2017 and 2018. The recent loss in 3 states of “Hindi Heartland” – MP, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh, had put BJP on the backfoot for a few days but the losses were not massive enough, apart from Chattisgarh, to make BJP go defensive especially after the interim budget in early 2019 and Balakot airstrikes.
Congress had a historic chance to show the Indian public that this is “New Congress” and detach themselves from its old sins by giving young leadership of Sachin Pilot and Jyotirao Scindia the chance to lead the state governments in the respective state but they showed that they are incapable of change and Indian citizens would simply have to stop giving them further chances just like Pakistan.
Given the performance in last 5 years, clean image of Modi and his ministers, opposition blunders after blunders, this election seems to be heading just one way – Namo 2.0!