Since the Narendra Modi government came to power in 2014, a term that has gained great traction is 'anti-national.'
This term has been used widely and indiscriminately.
In the latest news, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has passed a draft ordinance extending this to private universities — the draft of the new ordinance cleared by the Uttar Pradesh cabinet has proposed that it be made mandatory for all existing and new private universities to submit an undertaking that they will not allow any 'anti-national' activities on their campuses.
Apni toh saffron pathshala? Yogi Adityanath's ordinance opens the gates for govt to meddle in universities. (Photo: PTI)
In 2016, three students of JNU — Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya — were briefly jailed on charges of sedition. Their crime — they had allegedly shouted 'anti-national' slogans along with many others. But the Supreme Court has stated on multiple occasions that slogans critical of the state do not amount to 'sedition.' Within weeks, the students were released from jail.
The police failed to prove any charges against the three students. The students, however, faced a long and harrowing time as people accused them of being anti-national.
It is for this reason that the Yogi government's ordinance appears problematic. There are enough provisions under the law to ensure those involved in real 'anti-national' activities are brought to book. The UP government's ordinance thus just seems to be a way to harass students.
Suppose, in a private university, while watching a World Cup cricket match, students cheer for England and not India — would that be anti-national? In the past, such instances have occurred. Would raising the slogan 'Jai Bheem' be considered a crime in Yogi Adityanath's UP?
Provisions are in place to deal with law and order issues on campuses, just like other parts of the country, so what was the need for Adityanath to pass such an ordinance?
The only purpose this ordinance serves is to subjugate free thinking among students. Private universities do not have much freedom even when it comes to deciding their curriculum. The new diktat in the making further stifles scope for dissent. Through this, Adityanath apparently wants to turn private universities into pathshalas with a saffron curriculum.
There is nothing that defines what an 'anti-national activity' is and that leaves scope for misuse and manipulation, letting authorities crack down on students at whim.
The real fear is that other states may soon try to replicate the UP model — we need to watch out.