Dear Friends of the ABVP,
I write to you reluctantly as I was not sure if you would accept my right to speak to you. Many of you know, and I must disclose at the very beginning that I do not share your ideology. An ideology which has the RSS as its fountain head. And yet , I feel we can have a conversation. Also, because many of my students have been members of the ABVP. I have not tried to convert them. At the same time I cannot disown them.
As a student activist, I was a member of the AISF, But after taking up the profession of teaching, I took a conscious decision not to be a party to any side in the competitive student politics . Also that I cannot refuse invitation from any of them , even if I do not support or like their politics or ideology. I am critical of the CPM and CPIML or CPI or the CPI, Maoist, or the Congress Party, or the Jamate Islami but when their student outfits call me, I do go. I have been warned by my well wishing colleague not to forward the application for a hall from the student organisation supportive of the PWG, but I have not heeded them.
I am confident that people having antagonistic ideologies can talk to each other.This confidence comes from my childhood memories. Memories of Mahedra Babu, a very respected High School headmaster and a well known Pracharak of the RSS in and around Siwan, a small town of Bihar. He remained committed to the RSS till his last breath. But rarely went a week when my father, a teacher at the DAV College in Siwan, would not visit him or he would not come to our house.
My father was a Nehruvian then and continues to cherish his ideas even when India has turned its back on him. They didn’t belong to the same caste nor to the same profession. And they didn’t meet only to exchange pleasantries. Both of them were political animals and would spend hours discussing politics. These were the days when the RSS was trying to come out of the shadow that the murder of Mahatma had cast over it. It did not have power of the government behind it. And yet, Mahendra Chacha, as we knew him, was not denounced by my father nor did he ever thought of converting my father to his Hindu nationalism.
I donot forget Janardan Twari, a member of the Jan Sangh , the then political arm of the RSS and three times member of parliament from Siwan. He knew it well that my father would never vote for him but who always made a point to meet him before the elections.
I hardy remember an evening from my Siwan memories when Mahedra Babu would seen without his companion Faiz Sahab, a Muslim to the core, again a Chacha to us. He never asked him to leave India and move to Pakistan which has been in the eyes of many of the members of the RSS the destination of all the Muslims of India: Musalmaan kaa ek Sthan: Kabristaan yaa Pakistaan.
I recall the friendship of Ajmat Ali with Tripthai Siya Raman. Both teachers of the same college where my father taught , one a card holder of the Communist Party of India, the other a follower of the RSS.None wanted the other out from the college.
Or, my uncle, my father’s elder brother who, in even in his old days would call me to share his joy after reading a piece by me, which was often critical of the ideology he held and propagated, the Hindu nationalist ideology of the RSS. An RSS man ,he is a lover of Shakespeare and a connoisseur of the music of language.
You would be surprised to know that Chandrashekhar, the student leader of the AISA, from the much reviled JNU was a regular at Manhedra Babu’s. His son told me that a day before he was murdered,Chandrashekhar had dined with them at their place. He never called Chandrashekhar a traitor or somebody who should be barred from public places or put in jail.
As a student activist and a known communist, I never ever faced attack from my fellow activists from the ABVP. We protested against each other, but none tried to evict the other.
These memories welled in me when I heard that students and teachers of Delhi University have been beaten up by your members.
I decided to write to you after sharing a panel with one of your leaders on the noisy and bloody day at my campus. I had seen my colleagues, other students being hit by some of you. I heard and read them warning that communists would not be allowed to covert DU into JNU, that anti nationals would not be allowed in the campus.
Your leader denied the involvement of ABVP in violence but what he said next disturbed me. He argued that the students of the Ramjas College were venting their emotion and the role of the ABVP was only to support them. It was not only a tacit approval of the violence but also a strategic evasion of your own role in it. Blaming unnamed people for an act you committed.
This is not how youth behaves. Your ideal Bhagat Sigh did not try to escape after the bomb blast. He took responsibility for what he had done and paid the price for it.
You take responsibility for something you know is right and must be done, irrespective of the risk. When you try to escape it, you know in your heart that it was a wrong act. If you think that beating up people you think donot belong to you is right, you should say it boldly.
What you are doing now cannot be called a courageous act. You donot talk, you shout. You do not meet your opponents face to face, you try to eliminate them physically. This is not how students behave. Have faith in the power of your argument, meet argument with argument. If you respond to argument with physical force, you lose.
But I think of Mahedra Babu. How would he have reacted to such acts from members of an organization he had patronized? I imagine Chandrashekhar in the place of Umar Khalid or Shehla Rashid. Would he have approved of forcing them out , not allowing them space to have their say?
Mahendra Babu was from a small town and from the times when one could have endless conversation without the fear of the opposite side winning the debate. The conservationists rose from their table every evening to meet next to continue their dialogue. They believed not so much in the power of conversation as in its beauty . The need to meet someone so different from you and walk with him in fact confirms your own humanity.
Nations are actually unending conversation among its people. They stop growing when this conversation is blunted.
It is blunting of argument and conversation that we see in Delhi University, Jodhpur University, Haryana Central University , Mohanlal Sukhadia University, Jharkhand University and many other places. It is only your shouts that pierce the silence now suffocating .
Do you really think my friends, that you have won?
- Indian Express, February, 2017