Why we need to worry about ABVP's 'nationalism'

Gunjeet Sra
Gunjeet SraFeb 28, 2017 | 13:47

Why we need to worry about ABVP's 'nationalism'

Nationalism is power hunger tempered by self-deception, wrote George Orwell.

In 2014, ABVP (the student wing of BJP) gained 10 lakh members. The sudden surge in enrolment could be attributed to the general elections and the wave of patriotism swept by the Achhe Din campaign.

With its parent party at the centre of national politics, ABVP's star has been systematically on the rise. In the last two years, more have enrolled in the extreme right-wing student party. In Delhi alone, there are over 38,000 members and its total membership exceeds 33,00,000. It is now the largest youth political party in the country and its influence is rapidly increasing.

The signs of this are everywhere. In 2015, it won a seat in the most unusual place - Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), the bastion of the Left (the only other time it had done so was 13 years ago, when AB Vajpayee was prime minister in 2002).

That same year, the ABVP won elections at a Calcutta college (Institute of Jute Technology). Last year it cemented its in-roads in Kerala, a state that has traditionally been Left, by winning elections at Kannur University.

In UP, its numbers have been on a steady rise. Right now, it controls the student unions of at least 18 universities across India.

ABVP might have the numbers, but it is the Left that has led student politics in India and there is a lot of bitterness attached to the fact. When BJP MLA OP Sharma led students to bash up Kanhaiya Kumar at his court appearance, some of this bitterness became apparent.

It was further highlighted when a BJP member brought up P Muralidhar Rao and how he was “nearly killed by the Naxals” as a member of the ABVP in the 1980s, after he was questioned about the impunity reserved for ABVP.

The ABVP was formed 33 years before the BJP, registered in 1949, with the aim of “nation-building.” The idea at the time was to give an alternate to Leftist student politics of the time. If you look at the website of the organisation, some of its zealousness becomes clear - to become a candidate, a person must “treat the nation as supreme”. One must have “character” and be willing to deal with “anti-national elements" with “fervent pride”.

ABVP's number one enemy is the communist Left. Photo: PTI

Two things have become apparent in the last two years - the ABVP has taken upon itself to sensitise university campuses on nationalistic as well as Hindu agenda and that it will largely continue to be intolerant of minority voices that don’t toe its line of patriotic candour.

And, of course, its number one enemy is the communist Left, which it has managed to successfully brand as anti-national and un-Indian. This repeated branding of the Left as “anti-national” has served a larger purpose, it has brought ABVP closer to the majoritarian common masses and united them through the idea of the greater good in the name of patriotism.

Last year, when protests broke out at JNU over anti-nationalism, ABVP members came out in hoards. The most noticeable aspect of these protests were the number of women at the forefront of the protests. A fact that was very noticeable because traditionally it has always been the Left that has had women prominently at its helm.

Organisations such as AISA, SFI and even the ASA for that matter have had articulate women leaders who have led dissent. Scores of young women are joining the ABVP with patriotism in mind; also ABVP realises that in order to tackle the Left successfully, women need to be at the forefront, pushing their agenda. And somehow it seems to be working. 

Take the Ramjas College case for example, which saw ABVP-induced violence against professors and students for a programme titled “cultures of protest” in which JNU scholar Umar Khalid was a speaker for his PhD thesis on “War on Tribals”.

While there has been widespread backlash over the incident across the media and the university, comments under some of the videos on YouTube and Facebook have been mind-numbingly "patriotic" and pro-ABVP.

Which is as shocking as it is disheartening, and points to the fact that the ABVP has managed to successfully become the footsoldiers of intolerance against any debate over patriotism. The fact that they use violence to get their message across is something that is viewed as a minor inconvenience in the face of nationalism.

Whether it is delivering a lecture on tribal rights, eating beef, talking about Muslims, Kashmir or being a minority in India, or even talking about something that might not be deemed moral - basically anything that doesn’t appeal to the majoritarian idea of India and your place in it, is going to be perceived as anti-national and if you’re a part of it, despite knowing that, you deserve what is coming to you, the ABVP seems to be saying.

Ever since Independence, this idea of absolute patriotism, bordering on jingoism is very appealing to the masses, but it has been pushed aggressively by the NDA government. When the Prime Minister kneeled at the gates of Parliament in obeisance before his swearing-in ceremony, the crowds went crazy.

This was followed by a national beef ban, which was immediately followed by the lynching of a Muslim (whose murderer was wrapped in the national flag at his cremation). The hoisting of national flags in schools and colleges and the very recent directive on the playing of the national anthem before movie screenings - are all ideas stemming from an overzealous patriotic mindset which will continue to draw people, until its agenda of obliterating discourse and free thought is successful.

Last updated: February 28, 2017 | 13:47
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