On March 20, the ABVP disrupted a seminar at a college in Bareilly, alleging that retired BHU professor Chauthi Ram Yadav had made controversial remarks about the RSS.
According to news reports, there are allegations that you compared Mohan Bhagwat to a terrorist. Is it true?
This lie has been perpetrated by newspapers. While the seminar was going on, members of the ABVP barged in and spread the rumour. Neither did the organisers file complaints, nor was there any such statement in the lecture. The media is ready to pounce at any opportunity. They print whatever the ABVP says is the truth. Nowhere in my lecture did I say that Mohan Bhagwat is a terrorist or criticise the RSS. There was no occasion nor any reason to make such a claim. The topic of the seminar was ‘Development of Hindi literature and Information Technology’. Two scholars of technology had presented their point of view and I had to connect it to literature. In my address, I spoke about how information technology affects literature.
What role did print media play during the freedom struggle and how did it relate to and affect literature? I had to address this question. In a nutshell, during that time, literature and print media opened a joint front against British imperialist forces with the slogan, ‘Fight the cannon with the pen’. Almost all prominent writers of the period were also renowned journalists, including Bhartendu Harishchandra and Premchand. History can be written from the pages of the Hans and the Jagran. Journalists like Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi and Makhanlal Chaturvedi were equally great writers.
Together, literature and journalism launched a pointed attack on imperialism. In my lecture I stated that it had an effect on politics of the day. All prominent leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and others took out at least two newspapers each – one in English and another in a regional language. A collective of these efforts brought about independence. The literature of the period is one of nationalism and patriotic fervour. The kind of country that was going to be created was reflected in the literature as well as journalistic writings of the time.
In a similar vein, I said that the world identifies India with Gandhi, Nehru and Ambedkar. On foreign trips, our current prime minister names these leaders in his speeches. [Narendra] Modi is well aware of the contribution of these leaders in the creation of modern India. By remembering them, he acknowledges their contribution. He does not name Bhagwat. In my lecture, Bhagwat’s name appeared in this context. They distorted the statement to allege that I had called Bhagwat a terrorist.
Everyone knows about the role they [the RSS] have played in nation building. How does that imply that I am calling Bhagwat a terrorist? Later, all the newspapers ran the headline, highlighting the allegation against me. The newspapers are working as mouthpieces for the BJP and the RSS. They publish the claims of their student wing without fact-checking.
Do you think it is a coincidence that seminars are being interrupted and scholars are being attacked in so many universities?
Interrupting seminars has become a trend. Whenever a seminar or workshop takes place in BHU, a member of the RSS is always present. I attended a seminar in Ranchi once where one man was sitting throughout all the sessions. He kept on interrupting the lecture. I contradicted him. It is happening in all universities where the vice-chancellor is an RSS member. The voices of dissent, which speak for freedom and against communalism and political hypocrisy are being silenced.
The alleged ‘terrorist’ remark has been intentionally construed by the ABVP and the sangh. They proclaimed that it is their government and that they would not let another JNU be formed. The issue has been raised unnecessarily. It is nothing but a conspiracy. They have formed the government in UP and firebrand Hindutva leader Yogi Adityanath has been appointed the chief minister. He is a true RSS representative who is capable of mobilising a fierce Hindutva agenda. None of this was part of the lecture.
Attacks are being carried out on universities, on scholars, professors and seminars. Should we then stop organising seminars and debates? Not at all. The attacks will not stop it. It will continue as per routine. Writers like us, who are Dalits, backwards, humanitarian and progressive, will continue to debate and discuss. By tricking the Dalits and backwards and putting a dent in the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party’s non-Yadav backward and non-chamaar dalit vote base, they have attempted to destabilise the two parties. The SP and BSP also committed blunders which caused several disgruntled leaders to leave us. A support base has been formed by grouping such leaders. With Yogi heading this group, they will now do whatever they wish. This latest episode is just a peek into what they are going to do.
While the BJP woos Dalits, bahujans and backwards, the RSS carries out attacks on writers belonging to these communities.
I have regularly written about the issue. It is political hypocrisy they practice to woo voters, especially the Dalit and backward communities. A fierce Hindutva agenda lies behind this masquerade which can only be implemented once the SP and BSP vote base has been hijacked.
Keshav Prasad Maurya was declared BJP state president in Uttar Pradesh. But once the party won by a majority he was sidelined and Yogi Adityanath was appointed chief minister hoodwinking the Dalit-backward voters. BJP MP Kalraj Mishra had even shaken off Maurya’s hand refusing to hold it during a rally. Maurya was also abused in a parivartan rally held in Allahabad. All the dalit and backward community members joining the BJP will soon realise that their role will be restricted to laying the carpets. The party is only using them.
The SP and BSP made mistakes and suffered consequences. As a result, intellectuals from the Dalit and backward communities will have to struggle and work towards reform. Unless you organise the bahujan samaj as a community, they will not be integrated in society. The battle ahead is very tough. It is time to address the bahujan community instead of dalit and backward. When Kanshiram founded the BSP, it addressed the issues of only three-fourth of the backward community.
Do you think that the defeat of SP and BSP in the recent assembly polls in UP is the defeat of social justice or identity politics?
If a marxist fails, would you say that Marxism has failed? It is the failure of forces that implement Marxism. They were upper caste members who could not get the ground reality right. They stopped attacking Brahmanical forces and caste discrimination in a region fraught with it. They allowed communal fascism to prosper and failed to raise the issues of dalits and women.
It is pointless to say that socialism or social justice has been defeated. As long as society exists social inequality, hypocrisy, caste and varna system, and discrimination will remain and so will the question of social justice, and the issue of reservation. Which socialism did Mulayam bring about or what identity politics did Mayawati define? Both of them indulged in the politics of power and became rivals, turning entire communities against each other. The BJP allied with them on three occasions ignoring their real target and with every term they came closer to voters from both the communities. By lending support to Mayawati thrice, the BJP ensured that there was no reconciliation between the two parties. Had UP followed the example of Bihar, the BJP could never have come to power. However, the Dalit and backward community members who have joined the BJP will soon realise how the party has used them.
How do you view the way attacks have been carried out on seminars and debates?
To implement fierce Hindutva is the long-established agenda of the RSS which it will carry out in an absolutely fascist way. They used to do it covertly till now but now they have come out in the open. They believe that coming to power in UP gives them a free hand in the country with nobody to hold them accountable. A repeat of murders like that of Kalburgi and Pansare may be witnessed. In this seminar, the rumour about remarks against Bhagwat and RSS was spread so that if no one counters it they would exploit the issue further. Today, they have targeted me. Tomorrow, it will be someone else. Usually, people do not interfere in such matters. But it is better to take swift action and register protest immediately otherwise such incidents will keep on happening. These are troubling times and people must come together because it is a question of survival.
This article was originally published on The Wire Hindi and translated by Naushin Rehman