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The Rediff Special/V Gangadhar

Jingoism at the JNU

E-Mail this feature to a friend The arrival of the 40-member women's delegation from Pakistan in New Delhi was timely. It erased from the minds of Indians certain undesirable happenings at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, which could have blown up into a needless controversy.

Even right-wing groups, which frowned at any kind of exchanges with Pakistan, had reason to welcome the women's group. It was led by Asma Jehangir, chairperson of the Pakistan Human Rights Commission, who had to spend some days behind bars for her opposition to the military takeover in her country. Other members of the group included theatre, media personalities, social workers and professionals.

From the time of her arrival in Delhi, Asma Jehangir maintained that both countries should encourage people-to-people contacts. The politicians have their own roles to play and are unable to achieve any breakthrough. Her open admission about her country's involvement in the border incursions and creating mischief won her many friends in the capital.

The members of the group painted a sorrowful picture of the situation at home. But they were quick to point out that it could be worse. Replacing the existing military rule with a fake democracy will not improve relations between the two countries. What if the successor to General Musharraf turns out to be a fanatic who refuses to have any kind of dialogue with India? That was the reason, Asma Jehangir urged, India should not close the door to negotiations with the present Pakistani rulers.

The Pakistani women arrived in India when relations between the two countries were at an all-time low. The foreign ministers of India and Pakistan, even while travelling on the same flight abroad, did not exchange even a smile. Indians are boycotting en masse all kinds of diplomatic functions held at the Pakistani high commission in Delhi.

Such an atmosphere had boosted the morale of Indian hawks who regard Pakistan as an implacable enemy whose very existence is a threat. The Kargil conflict boosted the position of such hawks. They disapproved of any kind of cultural, economic and social exchanges with the 'enemy'. And it was this attitude that led to the unfortunate incident at the JNU where students beat up two army officers and one more person.

The beating was no doubt regrettable. The right-wing media reacted as expected, questioning the patriotism of the students. The issue generated heat in the Lok Sabha. Defence Minister George Fernandes lost no time in visiting the injured officers in hospital.

The incident took place during a mushaira. One of the participants, well-known Pakistani poetess Fehmida Riyaz, recited poems attacking fascist forces in both countries. The poems were also critical of the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests.

Now, a mushaira is an open forum where all sorts of views were exchanged. There was considerable opposition even within the country to the Pokhran nuclear tests. The Pakistani poetess never once singled India out for criticism. Her only regret was that certain forces in India were taking the country along the route adopted by Pakistan.

But this was enough to raise the hackles of two army officers who had invited themselves to the function. One of them was a Kargil hero. He began to shout anti-Pakistan slogans and tried to disrupt the mushaira.

Some reports said the officers were drunk. But they also possessed revolvers, which they brandished when the audience asked them to keep quiet. It was then that a section of the students set upon them and beat them up.

Though some of the pro-BJP dailies in Delhi said 'they were beaten to a pulp', their injuries were not all that serious. In fact, the army authorities refused the media permission to meet the wounded officers in hospital.

The conduct of the officers raised serious issues. What made them gatecrash into the mushaira, that too armed? Didn't they know the nature of the meeting? Why did they object to the views expressed by the poets when no one had specifically blamed India alone? Were they drunk? Did they think they were on the sets of Bollywood movies like Border and Pukar, which glorified the armed forces?

There are major problems that merit attention. For years, the armed forces, intelligence agencies and nuclear establishment in India have been the holiest of holy cows. No one knows what is happening in these branches of government. The media, films and theatre glorify the armed forces to such an extent that most people believe they can do no wrong.

The army's 'image' has been further fortified by the many occasions it has called out by various state governments to handle communal riots and other sensitive situations. Most of us believe there is no corruption, injustice or inefficiency in the armed forces. We do not realise that if the army and the intelligence agencies had been more alert, Kargil would probably not have happened at all.

The Indian armed forces have been known for their bravery and loyalty, and for functioning under extremely difficult conditions. But as in every walk of life, they have their black sheep. Superior officers sometimes exploit juniors, promotions and transfers take place illogically, and lack of foresight affects strategic planning.

The media, for the most part, shoves these faults under the carpet. Hindi films glorify armed forces personnel. Bollywood is not like Hollywood, which is highly critical of the Pentagon and the American war machine. Commercial cinema often features one officer and half-a-dozen jawans who jointly overcome the entire 'dushman' army.

The two officers who created all the trouble at the JNU thought they were protecting the country's integrity. But the kind of jingoism and intolerance exhibited by them reflects an unhealthy trend that is developing in the country. They had no right to interrupt the 'mushaira' or brandish their guns. The students would have gladly given them an opportunity to air their views, if only they had introduced themselves and gone about it the right way. Unfortunately, some defence personnel behave as if they are above the law.

The Bharatiya Janata Party's supporters in the media went overboard criticising the JNU students, calling them pampered kids and questioning their patriotism. This was most unfortunate. Despite several faults, the JNU remains an oasis in India's intellectual barrenness. Does the rightwing media want university students to behave like the criminal elements of certain North Indian universities who beat up boys and girls for being together on Valentine's Day? Independent thinking, though off-tangent at times, is better than a breed of intolerant hooligans who become violent at the slightest provocation.

Most important, our army officers should realise that real life is not Bollywood, that they should obey the laws of the land in a civilised society.

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