JNU, Patiala House, The Jats — Reaping The Whirlwind

Simmering discontent waiting to flare up

For more than forty years now our politicians have been seeding the clouds above our country with all manner of poison; communalism, casteism, corruption, religious fundamentalism, appeasement politics, contempt for the law, brow-beating of the administration, hate mongering, criminalisation of the electoral system, regionalism, distortion of the justice delivery apparatus. Their efforts have been explicitly and implicitly supported by all the organs and institutions of government and society that were meant to ensure that this should never happen: they have all been either co-opted or intimidated into subscribing to this insidious blueprint for disaster.

Parliament has ceased to function in any meaningful way for many years and makes just about as much sense as an Arnab Goswami panel discussion. The bureaucracy has never recovered from Mrs. Gandhi’s doctrine of a “committed bureaucracy” and any residual steel in the frame has been melted down by repeated tinkering with the recruitment processes and mindless reservations. The higher judiciary has been so content in its rarefied portals, deliberating on lofty constitutional themes and assured of instant reemployment, that it has failed to notice that the innards of our justice delivery system have become hollow, inhabited by the rich, the powerful, the privileged and that it has now become a force for persecution rather than for providing succour. The police has become indistinguishable from the lawbreaker, and is feared even more. The press does make a lot of noise, the better to drown out the tinkle of the coins being gathered at the altar of the TRP gods looming over the news editor.

We have been sowing the wind with poison for a long time, and it is now time to reap the whirlwind. Events over the last few weeks have shown us that the harvest shall be deadly and it shall be bloody. JNU, Patiala House and Haryana Jats are just the early varieties of this harvest of discontent.

JNU

JNU and Kanhaiya Kumar should have never happened, if only political parties had not made Universities their nurseries and governments, past and present, not sought to micro-manage them. Over the decades their autonomy has been destroyed. The present govt. has gone even further on this path to perdition: it has aggressively sought to control their thought processes and to bring them in line with their own political, social and cultural ideology. This has been a huge mistake. Universities are not army cantonements where blind obedience and unquestioned conformism are essential prerequisites. Universities, by their very nature are meant to encourage free thinking, question authority, challenge accepted paradigms and ideologies. Dissent and debate are the life force of universities, and the energy and iconoclasm of youth is an essential component of this. Since the beginning of the last millenium students have emerged as important stake holders of a country’s political processes. The slogans, protests and demonstrations in universities should be seen as the the churning of ideas in young minds. Mrs. Smriti Irani and her government have failed to acknowledge this, though the rest of the democratic world has, and instead have persistently sought to ” control” them and foist their own dogmas on them, through either ” direct” action such as appointments, control of syllabi, and administrative ” advisories”, or through preferential treatment of the ABVP.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Mrs. Irani’s tenure has been marked by complete distrust and a confrontational attitude on both sides. Incidents over the past year in IIMs, IITs, FTII Pune, Hyderabad University, Puducherry, AMU- all should have cautioned the government against rushing into JNU. What would have been no more than the usual campus protest and blowing off of excess steam has now snowballed into a country wide agitation that has invited support from leading international centers of learning. And Mrs. Irani’s solution?- fly the national flag on all campuses!

The atmosphere in our higher centers of learning has now been irretrievably vitiated for the remaining tenure of the NDA government: academia has been set back by many years and Mr. Gajendra Chauhan and Mr. Anupam Kher have now been crowned as the new intellectuals of India.

Mr. Bassi, Delhi’s Police Commissioner, on the other hand, has rendered great service to the nation: he has demonstrated as no one else could, what happens when the bureaucracy sells its soul to its political masters. His entire tenure has been marked by a servility to the central government and a hostility to the govt. of Delhi, an overbearing demeanour of unaccountability, and a professional ineptitude that takes one’s breath away. At times it has been difficult to believe that he is not a politician: in my entire career of 35 years I have never heard of any officer challenging a Chief Minister to a public debate! Mr. Bassi did so. He should have been suspended for this conduct but instead he had encomiums heaped on him by a Home Minister who tweets first and thinks later.

Even by the standards of a police force not known for its grasp of criminal law, the bungling by the Delhi police in the JNU case is colossal. Slapping sedition charges on nine students on the basis of a few alleged slogans is itself highly questionable; arresting one on the evidence of a doctored video clip SHOWN ON A TV CHANNEL is astounding. What was the hurry, Mr. Bassi ? It has been ten days now since the arrest and the police have not found one shred of evidence so far to support the sedition charge. In the interim, of course, Mr. Bassi has rewritten the CRPC: he says he will not take action to prevent the commission of a criminal act ( beating up of Kanhaiya by lawyers) because they are ” officers of the court”, that averting ” collateral damage” is more important for him than preventing an assault on someone IN HIS CUSTODY, that he has evidence against an accused but will not oppose his bail, that the nine students must ” prove their innocence” or be arrested !

Mr. Bassi’s behaviour would be hilarious were it not for the fact that it indicates how deep the rot of politicisation has set into our bureaucratic structure. Officers today don’t give a damn about rules and the courts as long as they have the backing of their political masters. People like Mr. Bassi are the norm today, not the exception, in our civil services.

Patiala law

Patiala House too was inevitable given the sorry state of our legal profession and the kid gloves with which the judiciary has been treating repeated misdemeanours by lawyers in the past. It is no secret that the legal profession has been infiltrated by all kinds of undesirable persons: the Delhi Bar Council has itself stated that it suspects that 40% of its members have forged degrees! The Bar is a law unto itself and answers to no one, not even the Supreme Court. Notwithstanding that the Court has time and again opined that their frequent strikes are not legal they continue to hold the entire judicial system hostage. They even resort to violence and destruction of public and private property, as events earlier this month in Lucknow proved

Therefore, no rational observer of the Indian burlesque should have been surprised at the manner in which they beat up journalists and students outside the Patiala House courts last week. And, even though the Supreme Court was seized of the matter, the next day they repeated their earlier violence, just in case their earlier message had got lost in transmission. Yesterday, a sting operation carried out by India Today shows the same lawyers gloating over how they thrashed Kanhaiya for three hours, how he soiled his pants, how the police sided with them. More ominously, they also hinted that they had more plans for the student leader when he was next produced in court and these plans could even include setting off petrol bombs!

These worthies should have been in jail by now- after all a govt. which can arrest young students for raising slogans should be able to arrest hardened lawyers for assault and battery inside a court premises, right ? Wrong. Messers Sharma, Chauhan, et al are strutting about Delhi, draped in the ” nationalistic” fervour of a govt which at the moment has little else to offer in the way of governance. Will the Supreme Court take stringent action against them? We’ll have to wait and see– but don’t hold your breath.

Ever since VP Singh released the OBC genie from its bottle in 1990 ALL political parties and ALL governments have been playing games with it to further their electoral prospects. According to a survey by the Anthropological Survey of India in the 1980’s the country has a mind boggling 65000 castes! Of them 3743 were categorised as OBC and provided reservation under the Mandal formula. As if this list is not already mathematically astounding, there is ┬áconstant pressure to further ENLARGE this list. If it were not for the Supreme Court and its guidelines there would have been total social disorder by now. Mandal and the Constitution have been turned on their heads- no longer does backwardness and deprivation determine selection of a caste as OBC; the deciding factors are now numerical superiority and ability to wreak violence. It is the powerful who get included, not the weak. The Jats of Haryana may be slow on the uptake but they are not stupid: having been promised OBC status by both the Congress and the BJP ( in the face of the law laid down by the Supreme Court) for long, their bucolic patience has run thin and they have now decided to take matters in their own hands.

Jat1

The Jat agitation was waiting to happen. There are two more similar agitations going on as we speak- the Patidars in Gujarat and the Kapus down South; the Gujjars are again getting restive. Having failed politically to forestall the agitation, Mr. Modi and Khattar have failed administratively too, as the swathe of destruction, lawlessness and sheer mayhem over the entire state over the last ten days shows. Most of Haryana’s police force either colluded with the goondas or stood by silently, another testament to the emasculation of the country’s administrative structures over time. The Army and the CPMFs could do little as their hands too were tied by the dictum of ” minimum force”.

And the crowning blunder is that the govt. has capitulated to this blackmail by promising the Jats 10% reservation ( its a different matter that the fruits of this craven surrender has little chance of getting past the Supreme Court). But by this action the govt. has lit the fuse on a time bomb- now other castes who had been waiting in the wings will also wade in with similar demands. The so called ” forward” castes and the Muslims and Christians will sense their impending marginalisation and cannot be expected to remain silent. I foresee in the days to come a social tumult not seen before; ironically, under the watch of a “strong” and “decisive” Prime Minister.

Our sins are catching up with us–fast. We are not yet a failed state, but we certainly appear to be what Lant Pritchett ( Professor of Economics at Harvard) calls a ” flailing state”. I would go even further to say that we are a ” floundering” state.

One cannot do better than put it in Shakespeare’s words:

” O judgement! Thou are fled to brutish beasts

And men have lost their reason. “

Avay Shukla retired from the Indian Administrative Service in December 2010. He is a keen environmentalist and loves the mountains. He divides his time between Delhi and his cottage in a small village above Shimla. He used to play golf at one time but has now run out of balls. He blogs at http://avayshukla.blogspot.in/

2 Comments

  • This is disarming eloquence on the vicious vortex that sucks our polity and governance into ever deepening depths of governance and moral failure. The tone and tenor of Mr Shukla’s analysis is outstanding and makes so much more sense than I have read anywhere about the recent shameful (and unnecessary, yet inevitable) turmoil and its omnious fallout that is yet to come. The Police has through continual emasculation specialised (regressed?) into a repression force of the weak and the wronged.

    As for Haryana, if there was any remotest possibility of the Rule of Law ever coming into practice there, that hope has all but irreversibly evaporated in the pyrotechnics of the Jat agitation and the government’s tame (lame?) surrender. These people will now be ‘administering’ the state to greater glory!

    About the underlying nature of lawyers or ‘vakils’ as they are better known, a poet has summed it up so truly:

    “Paida hua vakil, to Iblees ne yun kaha,
    Allah ne mujh ko sahib-e-aulad kar diya!”

    One wonders though, why are the BJP ‘intellectuals’ (LK Advani, Arun Shourie, Shanta Kumar, Anupam Kher (?) to name a few) so quiet; or have they been silenced by their very own dreams-cum-illusions?

  • The bane of India’s democracy is the absence of “akal”.

    For the last forty years, civilised India has been led to slaughter by muscle and money; and the filth of obsequious intimidation. So much so that when the Minister of Human Resources walks to the next event of discord she looks like she could be packing a holster or two on either hip; not unlike her boss. Verbal responses, American style, are intimidatory as well. Hate, anger, abuse, lies, spinning, tangential rebuttal are all the rage. NDTV’s Big Fight and the one hosted by Ms Datt (I have lost all appetite for Arnab Goswami’s filibustering megalomania) – rackety, can’t hear a word, everyone talking at the same time though they are – also, amply, bring to limelight our wide-spread lack of self-respect and erudition. So
    we are indeed “fled to brutish beasts”… and the “cry” everywhere is “havoc”.

    It feels so good to say I told you so.

    And so utterly, unutterably sad.

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