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Anupam Kher is learning politics the hard way

April 11, 2016 12:04 IST

Anupam Kher at Srinagar airport'Kanhaiya Kumar and others of his ilk are now out on bail. But what about the NIT 'anti-nationals'?' asks Amulya Ganguli.

Anupam Kher is learning politics the hard way.

In his days of innocence before his abortive mission to the National Institute of Technology in Srinagar, he apparently divided the country into two groups -- nationalists and anti-nationals.

No nuances were involved. The former were perpetually in the right and the purported traitors in the second category were fit for prolonged incarceration, if not the gallows.

It was a natural reaction, therefore, for him to hop on to a plane and fly to Srinagar to stand by the nationalist students of the NIT for having put up a valiant resistance against the mocking antics of the anti-nationals who had cheered India's defeat in the cricket T20 World Cup semi-final against the West Indies.

To the Bollywood hero/villain/comedian, the scene in Srinagar was a replay of what happened in Hyderabad Central University, where the nationalist students of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the Sangh Parivar's student wing, had waged a bruising battle against Rohith Vemula and other anti-nationals for their distress over the hanging of Yakub Memon.

The scene at the NIT was also a replay of the anti-Indian slogans raised by the anti-nationals at Jawaharlal Nehru University while mourning the execution of another terrorist, Afzal Guru.

So far, so clear. The complications began, however, when the BJP in Delhi and the BJP in Srinagar reacted different to the anti-nationals in JNU and Hyderabad on one hand and in the NIT on the other.

Where the former were concerned, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, bristling with rage, directed the then supine Delhi police commissioner, B S Bassi, to book the offenders under the colonial era sedition law, which the Narendra Modi government has found to be a convenient tool for use against critics.

The JNU student leader, Kanhaiya Kumar, and others of his ilk are now out on bail. But the question arises: What about the NIT anti-nationals?

If Kanhaiya Kumar and others are accused of raising slogans calling for India's 'barbadi (destruction),' the NIT students -- mainly Kashmiris -- can be said to be guilty of celebrating India's humiliation, even if in a sporting fixture.

Nevertheless, their whoops of delight are bound to jar in the ears of the non-Kashmiris, as they did on the fateful night in the campus hostels. Their protests led to police intervention, as in JNU and Hyderabad Central University earlier, and baton charges, for that is the only way the police know how to act.

Ever since these unfortunate incidents, Kher and other patriots have been up in arms with calls being made to shift the NIT out of the Kashmir Valley, which is a variation of Subramanian Swamy's prescription for closing down and fumigating JNU.

But the question which the nationalists are seemingly unable to answer is the difference between the BJP's responses in Delhi and in Srinagar.

The answer lies in the BJP's realisation that not only is nationalism not a one-dimensional issue in a multicultural country, but also that the students have to be handled with kid gloves.

The second realisation had briefly dawned on the BJP in Hyderabad after Rohith Vemula's suicide, but was forgotten after a few months when the bete noire of the students, Vice-Chancellor Appa Rao, who is seen as being servile to the BJP, returned to the campus to take up his duties.

Such convenient forgetfulness will not do in NIT because the conditions in Srinagar are far more sensitive than in Hyderabad or in Delhi.

There is no question, therefore, of the saffronites doing in Srinagar what they did in the Patiala House Court where they beat and humiliated Kanhaiya Kumar. Restraint, therefore, is now the key word for the BJP in Srinagar.

Will this new appreciation of the multifarious Indians scene by the BJP percolate down from Srinagar to Delhi, Hyderabad and elsewhere?

Since the sedition law has not been applied to the NIT students, will the charges against Kanhaiya Kumar and others be withdrawn or diluted?

The heavy-handed approach favoured by the BJP against signs of dissent, whether the return of awards by artists or a refusal to say, Bharat Mata Ki Jai, will seem odd in the context of the mellowness displayed by the party in Srinagar.

It was always known to the much-derided secularists/'sickularists' that a distinction between nationalists and anti-nationals is not feasible in a country of India's diversity.

The BJP may have raked up the issue via the Bharat Mata Ki Jai ploy to boost its political position prior to a series of crucial elections. But the defeat of the men in blue raised the old saffron bugbear of Muslims cheering Pakistan rather than India, which was a staple of the BJP propaganda in the 1990s.

Only this time, the party has to dismiss the conduct of the Kashmiri students in NIT as a sign of youthful exuberance.

Amulya Ganguli is a writer on current affairs.

IMAGE: Anupam Kher being stopped by the Jammu and Kashmir police at Srinagar airport. Photograph: ANI/Twitter.

Amulya Ganguli