Beating up People for the Flag is Not Nationalist, Say Ex-ABVP JNU Unit Members

In conversation with The Wire, two of the three former ABVP JNU unit members, who resigned in the aftermath of Kanhaiya Kumar’s arrest, discuss their reasons for leaving the organisation.

Ankit Hans (left) and Pradeep Narwal. Credit: The Wire/Jahnavi Sen

Ankit Hans (left) and Pradeep Narwal. Credit: The Wire/Jahnavi Sen

Three members of the ABVP’s JNU unit – Pradeep Narwal (joint secretary), Ankit Hans (secretary, School of Social Sciences) and Rahul Yadav (president, School of Social Sciences) – resigned from the organisation on Wednesday, February 17, over the ongoing issue involving Kanhaiya Kumar, the president of the students’ union, and how it is being portrayed and handled, and also due to some longstanding differences. Narwal and Hans spoke to The Wire about what made them take this decision. Although Narwal responded to the questions, Hans said he endorsed everything that was said at the interview.

When did your differences with the ABVP begin?

I joined the ABVP in August, and it can’t be said that the differences were sudden. They are longstanding, especially about the Manusmriti and the Rohith Vemula issue.

Can you elaborate?

When the Rohith Vemula issue came up in January, I told my fellow party members that we should condemn minister Bandaru Dattatreya’s statement. His intervention was not justified. Hyderabad Central University is a central university, an autonomous university. So then decisions should be taken by the university board. Why are politicians coming in between? But others were not willing to condemn it.

Then about the Manusmriti. I said, let’s burn the Manusmriti. For many years now, the ABVP has been branded as casteist. So I said let’s wipe this out. First everyone was reluctant to discuss it. I managed to force them to discuss it, but in the discussions, I was standing alone, and what came out was not acceptable to me.

Then the JNU incident happened. I totally condemn what happened in JNU, it was very wrong. People did shout anti-national slogans. But we want a judicial probe into that, not a mob probe. Right now, a mob is probing the issue – beating up people even in front of a court. This is not what you expect in a democracy. When journalists with their cameras are being beaten up outside a court, how can we expect safety for common people? When the journalists were hit, the police was there and they didn’t interrupt. So the police is not doing a fair job, they are representing an ideology. I don’t want to be a part of an institution like that.

I’m willing to be the mouthpiece of a government that is fair and impartial, but not for a government that is totally representing an ideology. If you’re a prime minister, it’s of a country, not an ideology. Any post for that matter, you need to be rational and see every person in the country as equal. You can’t just say “you are anti-national”. Why this rhetoric of “anti-national”? It’s like you’re killing an institution.

Even some of the media is acting like a spokesperson for the government. As a news anchor, you should be impartial. You should look at both sides of the coin. But some of them are acting like judges. Like Arnab [Goswami], saying “you are wrong, you are right”. You’re there to take people’s opinions, not to judge. I won’t say the entire media is wrong, but some of them are really destroying the image of JNU, calling it “anti-national JNU”. What does that mean?

If something wrong happened, a judicial probe should be held. If someone is found guilty they should be punished as per the law. But the media and the mob cannot punish the accused people. Right now they’re not even culprits, it has to be decided by the courts whether they are guilty.

Did you try to bring these reservations out within the organisation?

I tried to, especially within JNU, but nothing concrete came out of it.

What would you say about the violence that happened at the Patiala House court claiming to promote “nationalism”?

I was in Kashmir, I lived there for seven years. That’s where I saw real nationalism, there was no caste prejudice. Everyone spoke of India as a whole. In the rest of the country, the concept of nationalism is very unclear for people. When caste loyalties are so big and people are following caste rituals, talking about nationalism doesn’t make sense.

Holding a flag in your hand and beating up people in the name of that flag is not nationalist. This is a flag that says you should have faith in the constitution of the country. You are the biggest anti-national by hitting people in the name of that flag.

What do you think about the stand of the government and the ABVP on this “mob culture”?

If I thought they were trying to stop it, I wouldn’t have quit the ABVP. The government has failed, and failed miserably. They are just legitimising this mob culture and doing nothing to stop it. Party karyakartas will act according to the ministers. If you have MLAs like OP Sharma slapping and hitting people, what can we expect from a common karyakarta who is serving the party? They will then have the same violent mentality. We are against that. We are in the 1%, because we have quit the party. The rest of the 99% will follow the dictates from above.

Do you support the strike that students and teachers have called in JNU?

I won’t say that I support the strike altogether. But I will say that the strike is justified in some ways – mobs are gathered outside to threaten students, the police is coming into campus. Common students are feeling harassed. If the strike is asking for autonomy for the university, for the issue not to be politicised and the need for the institution not to be branded anti-national, I think that’s justified. At some points they may be taking things too far, but at the larger level their call is justified. I may not be in agreement with all of their points, but on the whole it makes sense. Professors also got beaten up, that is completely unjustified. They are our professors, how can we support that?

We are planning some independent activities in the coming days. We support the constitution, not this Talibani mob culture.

  • ProgressForIndia

    These folks are yapping about Manusmirti – it’s just one text out of so many – no need to overplay it.
    Caste conflicts in India aren’t the result of everyone having been indoctrinated with Manusmirti.

    I’m an atheist, but just because I don’t believe in Bible/Koran/Gita doesn’t mean I’ll burn them to offend others. Likewise, burning Manusmirti isn’t the answer – and I don’t believe in Manusmirti at all.

    • DaryaSophia

      Burning it symbolic – albeit too violent, admittedly – but one has to admit Manusmriti is more appalling than any other texts in its casteism. It’s also the text that the RSS prefers for obvious reasons, which makes it representative of upper caste might, although that does not mean all casteism is reducible to Manusmriti. And the Bible and Quran, although I don’t support them either, are irrelevant here as neither talks of caste nor justifies it. There’s also the politics of majoritrian power so burning a majoritarian text is not quite the same thing as burning the text of an oppressed culture within India. They’re not comparably equal in their everyday dynamic. That said, I dont support burning anything. This is the most inefficient way of engaging with its problematic contents.

  • SJ

    This is the good gesture by three members. If you think your organization is doing unfair raise your voice if not listened then resign… Absolutely right….You persons can distinguish between right and wrong. May God give all the people of India this wisdom…

  • DaryaSophia

    Just one thought for Hans and Narwal. Were they sleeping since the last twenty five years? When they joined the BJP’s student wing, what did they expect it to be, a bunch of misunderstood monsters? Everybody’s always known they’ve always been goons and nothing but goons. How can you possibly rationalise joining such cadre – and support with your effort such ideology – to begin with? You knew surely about all of its casteism way before, and you joined them in August last year. Incredible.