The Delhi University Plaza on Thursday witnessed a seminar turning into a protest, a protest turning into a fight and a fight turning into a social media war. The seminar titled the ‘idea of university’ was organised by activists of All India Students Association (AISA), a left inclined student political party. The guest speakers in the seminar were notable academician from reputed institutions teaching diverse disciplines such as Satish Deshpande, Anup Dhar, and Prabhu Mahapatra. There is, however, one similarity among all these speakers, all of them with little distinction can be huddled together to be labelled as representing a common ideology. They would all seemingly converge in approval, that there has been ‘saffronisation’ of education. They would nod in approval that dissent is being muzzled in the universities and there is visible discrimination in universities towards the lower castes. All would contend against the patronage of the new government in academic institutions towards under-qualified functionaries. All of this is appreciated if debated, but the seminar was an exercise in sermons, if AISA in particular and the left in general are appreciative of dissent then the absence of a person that represents a contrary point of view defeats the very ‘idea of university’ that the left yearns for. The seminar isn’t just an ‘idea of university’ it is more evidently ‘their idea of university’. If a university is a place of dissent and a venue for accommodation of conflicting thoughts, then the sheer absence of a luminary on the right in this seminar is a comment on upon the commitment of the left towards ‘right to dissent’.
Whom to invite?
This is where the right falters; it hasn’t been able to produce a class of academicians and sound thinkers that can provide a coherent counter-balance to the left. Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) relied upon sloganeering to challenge the protest, instead of questioning the speakers, or introducing their own speakers during the seminar. However, this void on right is nothing but a courtesy of the left, for years state patronage was exclusively given to Marxist historians and thinkers. Education ministers like Arjun Singh and Nurul Hasan exclusively catered to this class, through institutions such as the Indian Council of Historical Research, ignoring an alternative discourse. These years of neglect have failed to produce a sane right-wing alternative, which once blossomed under the aegis of Swatantra Party.
Everyone is Guilty
The left is apprehensive of ‘saffronisation’ of education but remains mute about the distortions in textbooks they themselves have purported over the years and continue to do so, quite recently the small state of Tripura, ruled by CPM made sweeping changes in text books. Where in Marx and Russian revolution was served as history in class 9th history text books. ‘Eminent historians’ by Arun Shourie documents how textbooks in West Bengal have been a victim of selective omissions, to produce a desired narrative of history. The seminars of the left however, give this a miss, putting them on the same pedestal as with the right.
On the off-set the seminar wasn’t merely a gathering of academicians professing how an ideal university should be, the choice of venue, the decorations, and the accompanying kanjiras was reflective that is was a political seminar rather a seminar on politics. AISA has been rigorously trying to carve a space for itself in Delhi University politics, so the seminar can’t be reduced to a mere exercise in discussion. However, in a politically active university, such seminars should be welcomed, but the same organisations are seen to be protesting if the seminar is conducted on Ram Mandir issue in the campus. Free speech shouldn’t be a luxury based on the nature of opinion, right to dissent if demanded, necessitates an appreciation of it for the other side.
There were reports of clashes from both the sides towards the end of the seminar and while ABVP is known to be particularly aggressive, the left can’t be completely absolved from provocation. Their politics lies in successful baiting of the aggressive elements that is nurtured in ABVP. But susceptibility to such provocation is an example of ideological weakness that persists in the right.
Lastly, if ABVP deems nationalism to be a higher ideal than what left professes, then it has to engage in a debate and prove it to be so. It should engage in the discourse rather than shouting at it from the periphery. The new union should organise a dissenting seminar than disrupting an ongoing one.