Why is the BJP targeting JNU

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On February 25, 2008 occurred in connection with a violent riot by the ABVP at the Delhi University Hindu nationalist rhetoric and action openly to the day. The incident also marked the sad climax of a long-standing controversy surrounding parts of the university's history curriculum. Under the leadership of ABVP activist Vikas Dahiya, a large group of people from outside Delhi University had gathered on the campus in northern Delhi. Only a small group that, according to several reports, consists not of students but of hooligans (Goondas) passed, marched to the history seminar. There they wanted to confront the seminar leader regarding the controversy. However, the presence of journalists was required as a prerequisite for an interview. When they were there, the activists began their tirades and became violent. In the presence of journalists and police officers, they insulted the lecturers and professors present, physically assaulted the seminar leader and willfully demolished his office. The students involved were arrested that evening. 1

Of course, the reason for the arrest was the vandalism and violence that had occurred, which cannot be tolerated in a democracy. However, no reference was made to the ideological stance of the student organization. Contrary to what the brutality of what happened would lead one to believe, the ABVP is extremely adept at the way it operates in this and other places. The coverage and problematization of certain potentially successful topics is always followed by a media campaign, which in this incident gains further explosiveness and publicity through both the use of force and the inclusion of press representatives. The ultimate goal is to impose the views and will of a small group on the general public. The events described are above all an expression of an increasing politicization of the right-wing spectrum of Indian student politics, in which the ABVP occupies a prominent place.

The student organization ABVP

The ABVP boldly describes itself as the world's largest student organization. 2 With its headquarters in Mumbai (Bombay) and branches in almost every Union state in India, it was founded - according to its own statement - shortly after the independence of students and teachers, which was founded by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS; National Volunteer Organization) were inspired. 3 The aim was and is to include student activity in the task of "national reconstruction". Prof. Yeshwantrao Kelkar, a lecturer from Bombay, took over the organization of the association in 1958 and led it until his death in 1987. He is described as its architect and as the person through whose actions the ABVP became what it is today.

The website of the ABVP gives some interesting information about the current state of the organization. So it is something unique that the ABVP was able to emerge as a stable organization of an otherwise moving student body. It is openly communicated: "Perhaps no social organization has its members changing so quickly and regularly as the ABVP has." but two other important comments, especially for Delhi, in order to understand the situation. Firstly, voters, supporters and members of the ABVP are often very young students who, due to their age (often younger than 20 years), are mostly enrolled in a bachelor's program. Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), with its focus on postgraduate courses, stands in sharp contrast to Delhi University, the largest proportion of students enrolled in a BA. In the latter institution, the ABVP is only particularly well represented within the Faculty of Language, Literature and Culture. However, it is the only faculty at JNU that offers a bachelor's program. Otherwise, the JNU is clearly different from left student groups such as the All India Students' Union (AISA) or the Students' Federation of India (SFI) dominates. On the other hand, the influence of the ABVP is noticeable on the DU. Second, some DU lecturers emphasized in their statements that the perpetrators were not students of the university itself. This suggests that the ABVP is also relying on outside rioters and thugs to carry out violent actions. Something similar is true of an incident during the primary campaign against the JNU student body (JNUSU; Jawaharlal Nehru University Students' Union) to report in November 2007. During an introduction and discussion round attended by candidates for the JNUSU Presidium, a representative of the Bahujan Samaj Students Forum (BSSF; Student Forum of the Community Movement) made a derogatory remark about the Hindu god Rama in a generally heated debate. Above all ABVP supporters from outside the university later indulged in violence, and one student was seriously injured.

On the ABVP website, the deep anchoring of the organization is also openly explained, not just in student circles. Teachers in particular would be an ongoing component of membership. It is also important to mention that the ABVP receives at least ideological support from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP; Indian People's Party). During the elections for the JNU student council, a Sikhist BJP member of the Lok Sabha visited, who gave the young audience a lot of courage for the upcoming election.

The activities of the ABVP extend into a large number of activities, whereby in addition to the original student and educational area, the role of the organization in "pointing out and solving major problems in the country" is emphasized. In this sense, the ABVP addresses issues ranging from education, terrorism in Kashmir, infiltration by foreigners in Assam, reservation policy to issues of unemployment: all against the background of the supposedly underlying ideal of "national reconstruction".

The recent events at Delhi University, however, look less like reconstruction than willful destruction. It is an event in a long series of campaigns and violent actions by the Hindu right in India that are based on a particular interpretation of Indian history.

History and its interpretation by Hindu nationalist groups

The ABVP is part of the Hindu nationalist movement, as a student organization embedded in the larger conglomerate of the Sangh Parivar (family of connections). Such is the ideological but loose association of various groups of the Hindu right, including the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP; World Hindu Council), the BJP and the RSS. Their policy, which is fundamentally based on a "neo-orthodox" interpretation of Hinduism and aims to establish a distinct Hindu culture as the decisive culture in India, has an impact on large parts of Indian society and, through the migration of Indians to other parts of the world, also across the Beyond state borders. 5 However, within India the picture is not monolithic. Regionally, Hindu rights are most strongly represented in the Hindi distribution area in northern India. In contrast, Tamil Nadu's politics, for example, is shaped by the work of the social reformer and politician Periyar E. V. Ramaswamy Naicker (1879-1974). With the founding of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK; Dravidian Progress Movement), his anti-Hindi and anti-Brahmin movement led to an independent party landscape, some of which still agitate directly against Hindu nationalist groups in the north to this day. 6

Particularly in the past two decades, groups of the Hindu right have gained increased public attention. One of the most striking features here was often the amalgamation of religious motifs with a peculiar interpretation of history and massive promotion of one's own point of view in the form of campaigns. Examples of actions at the interface between historical interpretation and religious fanaticism - often with a violent outcome - are found all too often. The destruction of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992 by a Hindu mob was one of the earliest and most cruel incidents. It was based on the agitation of leading Hindu nationalists that the former Mughal ruler Babur had destroyed a Hindu temple on the same site in the 16th century before he built the mosque. Thousands of people died in the weeks following the agitation of the Hindu right-wing (see the article: In the Name of Rams: The Destruction of the Babri Mosque of Ayodhya). Another incident, which is more closely related to the problem of ideology and education, was the changes made by the BJP-led government to school textbooks between 2001 and 2004. The ultimate goal of the action was to change the constitution of Indian society in such a way that it that future voter potential would be secured. 7

A special feature of many agitations is the use of a campaign policy in which certain topics of Hindu nationalist interest are publicly denounced at great expense and thus develop into controversies. There are three recent campaigns on a corresponding page. 8 One of the campaigns mentioned developed over the second half of 2007 around the future of the so-called Ram Sethu (Rams Bridge; also Adam's Bridge), a rock / coral formation in the Indian Ocean that connects India with Sri Lanka. Hindus believe that the monkey army of the god Rama built this bridge and then conquered Sri Lanka. The campaign was directed against a project of the central government and the government of the Union state of Tamil Nadu, which aims to partially destroy the formation in order to enable better and faster shipping. Also in 2007 a controversy about the painter M.F. Hussain, who portrayed various Hindu gods in such a way that Hindu nationalists once again felt that their religious feelings were hurt (see the text Open Society, Narrowed Mind).

The latest campaign is directed against the broadcasting of the film Jodha Akbar, which has already been banned in some of the BJP-ruled states of the Union. The reason for the boycott for Hindu nationalists is, among other things, the allegedly misrepresentation of Akbar's relationship with Jodha and the glorification of a Muslim ruler in a Hindi film.

Astonishing parallels can be seen in the recent incident at Delhi University. Here ABVP activists took offense at the inclusion of the text "Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation" by A.K. Ramanujan in a course on the ancient history of India. 9 The text describes and analyzes the great dynamism and diversity of oral narrative traditions and transmission of the story of Ram in India and around the world. On the part of the ABVP and other Hindu nationalist groups, however, the - from their point of view - false and degrading representation of Hindu gods such as Rama, Hanuman, Lakshman and Sita is criticized. 10 Although the text has been part of the curriculum of the course since 2006 and has been taught at various colleges, it was not until the beginning of this year that the alleged publication of the text with additional teaching materials caused particular excitement among the ABVP activists. Students had found a bound compilation of texts in a copy shop in Delhi that Dr. Upinder Singh, professor of Archeology and Ancient History of India and - perhaps not by chance - daughter of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, wrongly identified it as its author. The ABVP saw this as a direct link between the work of Upinder Singh and the DU History Seminar, which allegedly both wanted to expose Hinduism and hurt the feelings of Hindus. At the beginning of February 2008, however, the seminar had announced that, contrary to the activists' claims, it was by no means a goal to hurt the feelings of a culture, religion, tradition or community. 11 Nevertheless, the seminar defended the inclusion of the Ramanujan text. The aim of the course is to provide students with an awareness and understanding of India's rich and diverse cultural heritage. It is not necessary that lecturers or students agree with the content of certain texts, rather a critical discussion of the materials is essential. In contrast to a critical examination of any text, which is a matter of course for a scientific institution, the ABVP General Secretary Delhi tried to defend the agitation with a touch of the greatest naivety. 12 She expressed the fear that students might have to reflect the opinion of Ramanujan in their exams contrary to their religious ideas: "In our education system, unless you write what is taught in class, you do not get marks." [Footnote: 2375: 11: 1:13] This context of justification not only opens up the possibility of speaking in the name of an "unknown mass" of students. What is much worse is that it inverts reality and the actual actor becomes a helpless object.

What remains?

With the recent event in Delhi, the true dimension and ugly grimace of Hindu nationalist ideas were revealed once again. It cannot be overlooked that the Hindu nationalism that has flourished in India for a few decades has long since gained a foothold in student circles, both in terms of active participation and in the number of votes in internal university elections. The ABVP may already serve as a cadre organization for many other Hindu nationalist groups. Against the background of the described facets of the movement, it must also be noted that the ABVP still has to make use of a grown support structure of ideological pioneers, like-minded teachers, lecturers and thugs in order to get its news into the newspapers. The ABVP is still riding on training wheels, but growing support for the group within the student body is not an unlikely scenario.



[1] ABVP activists vandalize DU History Department, THE HINDU, Tuesday February 26, 2008, p. 3.

[2] The main source for the following statements is the ABVP website. The correctness of the information is not guaranteed, but it is potentially embellished and should therefore be treated with caution.

[3] The main source for these remarks is the ABVP website. No statement can be made about the correctness of the presentation and information. However, it is potentially embellished and should therefore be treated with caution. An overview of the spread of the organization in India at http://www.abvp.org/index.php?middle=near gives a total of 25 provinces with contact points.

[4] http://www.abvp.org/index.php?middle=aboutus

[5] Groups in India are financially and ideologically supported by related groups from other countries around the world. For example, there are student groups at universities in the USA who are at least ideologically very close to the ABVP.

[6] One example is the controversy surrounding Ram Sethu, in which the current Prime Minister Karunanidhi (DMK) let himself be carried away to make statements against the god Rama and thus sparked a dispute with the BJP. A brief description of the incident is provided below.

[7] See Marie Lall, "The BJP's Textbook Revisions: What lasting legacy for society?".

[8] See the page http://www.hindujagruti.org/ on which, among other things, the three following campaigns are described.

[9] See A. K. Ramanujan, "Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation". In: Paula Richman (ed.), Many Ramayanas: The Diversity of a Narrative Tradition in South Asia. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991. The essay has been expanded and published a second time in Vinay Dharwadker (ed.), The Collected Essays of A. K. Ramanujan, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 131-60. For the interested reader, Ramanujan's article and Richman's entire book is available at http://content.cdlib.org/xtf/view?docId=ft3j49n8h7&brand=ucpress.

[10] See the publications on the pages http://www.hindujagruti.org/news/3819.htmlhttp://www.hindujagruti.org/news/4024.html

[11] I received this message by email from professors who were affected or otherwise concerned. It is also publicly available at http://readerlist.freeflux.net/blog/archive/2008/02/28/reader-list-assault-upon-the-delhi-university-history.html.

[12] "PM daughter in Ramayan row", The Telegraph (Kolkata) February 2, 2008. Online edition.

[13] Ibid.