Some questions for Kanhaiya, Leftists and JNU – Makarand R. Paranjape

Makarand R. Paranjape at JNU

Makarand R. ParanjapeIn the on-going series of teach-in lectures on nationalism, Prof Makarand Paranjape asked if JNU was a ‘democratic space’ or a ‘Left hegemonic space’ and why Leftists had trouble accepting the ‘legitimacy of the Indian state’.

The 15th lecture, “India’s Uncivil Wars: Tagore, Gandhi … JNU and what is ‘Left’ of the nation”, in the teach-in series of lectures on nationalism, titled “What the nation really needs to know” at the Jawaharlal Nehru University administrative block since the controversy over the arrest of its Students Union president Kanhaiya Kumar, turned out to be quite different from the earlier 14 lectures in the series.

Makarand Paranjape, a professor of English at JNU’s Centre for English Studies since 1999, began by noting what makes the university where he teaches so special:

I think that one of the things that makes us special or important to the nation is precisely this alternative, performative platform, this stage on which we can demonstrate our ideas, our disagreements—how to think clearly in fact, rather than the other performative, which is, I would say, mesmerising.

When Kanhaiya came out of jail and gave this talk,  I was a convert: I was also swaying and dancing around with everyone. It was a great moment.

But what I am going to do today is to emphasise the other performative—where we talk about ideas, we are objective, we are critical, we do not get carried away, we are open-minded, we interrogate and critique ourselves and not just mount attacks on people we disagree with.

And, indeed, also check factually incorrect statements, the sources of our ideas and so forth. And I do hope there is an occasion to discuss some of these things.

Paranjape spent the first 40 minutes of his lecture on Tagore and Gandhi’s concept of nationalism before coming to the events at JNU since February 9.

This, incidentally, was the first lecture put up by “Stand With JNU Media Group” that, on its YouTube page, was accompanied by a caveat titled “A critical analysis of the lecture” by Anshul Trivedi who began by noting that this lecture made him “learn the difficult art of rationally listening to something which I am viscerally repulsed by.” Trivedi went on to offer his critique which can be read here.

Paranjape had recently been in news for being part of a petition calling for an “unbiased and rigorous new historiography of India” that accused those behind the “closely-linked statements” on tolerance or “award-wapsi” as being “neither intellectual nor academic.” He was also part of those who wanted Sheldon Pollock removed as mentor and general editor of the Murty Classical Library of India.

Paranjape spoke in English, interspersed with some Hindi and began with an epigraph from John Gallagher: “Revolutions devour their children, nationalism eats its parents.”

Tracing the first part, “Revolutions devour their children” to Jacques Mallet du Pan in 1793 after the French Revolution, he went on to discuss the space between the so-called “revolutionaries” and the so-called “ultra-nationalists”.

I am a student of literature and I am deeply interested in how texts are read and interpreted. And texts include so many things, including slogans.

I am deeply interested in hermeneutics and interpretation and I would like to suggest for your consideration today a certain kind of hermeneutic of mediality. And it is interesting that these words—medial, medium—go back to very old roots where they merge with words like madhyam. And for those of you who are interested in classical Indian thought, there is a very famous school of Buddhism which is called Madhyamaka.

So how to mediate? What kind of hermeneutics can we have of mediation? A medial hermeneutic. Perhaps to begin with there has to be an intermedial hermeneutic so you find a way to negotiate or stand between two opposites or two poles to see how these two sides, how these two positions can speak to one another.

But perhaps if this project of mediality really succeeds, then from being intermedial might end up being remedial and the idea of remedy really connected with what we consider our state of health. Our state of health in many ways is about restoring equilibrium really. And of course it is very difficult to do in these times. But this is what we require today. And may I mention that there is an equivalence of this in contemporary thinking and that is called a diatopical hermeneutics.

He said he wanted to go beyond the easy and reductive formulations of pitting friends against the enemies.

What follows is a rough transcript (and translation into English) of the lecture from about the 40-minute point of the video. — Scroll.in Editor

Transcript

So much has been said, so much ink has been spilt—thankfully, not so much blood. When I heard the title of this series, “What the nation really needs to know”—and as my friend Kanhaiya also said, “We will tell them”—I felt we in JNU need to ask: Do we not have to listen? We only have to tell? Have we understood it all?

We too should listen to what they say. This is what I feel. This is the “diatopical intermediality” I was telling you about.

We will speak, but we will also listen.

So when we listen to them—and certainly there are misunderstandings—but it seems as if the discourse that emanates from here—the discussion and debates that come out from here—is very anti: It does not seem constructive. So people have told me, even some of those who think. Everything is very negative and destructive. So then question arises, and these are very important questions.

Someone said here, “We will fight, we will battle, we will do this, we will do that, we will increase the fellowship too….” Wonderful, if you can accomplish it, but this is our state, I mean, we have elected these people. Unless we say, “This bourgeoise democracy we don’t believe in.”

This is the rub. This is where I come to the last part of my talk.

Did you check your facts?

What’s left of the nation—“left” here has a double meaning obviously. But by left of the nation, it means “What remains?” We’ve lost the middle-ground. Only the extremes remain. What is left of the nation? But what is left of the nation also means what the leftists have been saying about nationalism.

Kanhaiya said yesterday, “Ours is the oldest organisation, and we fought for independence.” But I want to ask him: What about the flip flop that happened by the Communist Party of India when they suddenly declared that the imperialist war was a people’s war? They said to the British—the Community Party of India sent a secret letter to the British—that they “will not agitate when you are fighting, we will cooperate with you.”

So when he [Kanhaiya] said, “We fought for India’s independence”—that is the Left students associations—I want to know what the evidence is.

It is very important to ask these questions.

Similarly, I might ask my friend Kanhaiya—he is right here. He said, “[M.S.] Golwalkar met Mussolini.” [Addressing Kanhaiya]: Did you not say that? Did you check your facts? It was Moonje [B.S. Moonje—a leader of the Hindu Mahasabha, and not Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] who met Mussolini.

I am not saying they [the RSS] were not impressed by the fascists—they were. They thought it is a very good idea to have an authoritarian system. Please let us agree on what is factual and what is not factual.

So, we have to check out facts, that is what I am saying.

Judicial murders

Fascism stands for anti-democratic position—and so does Stalinism. I am proud to belong to a country where one so-called “judicial murder” created such a huge ruckus.

Do you know how many judicial murders were committed from 1920 to 1950s in Stalinist USSR? 799,543. Almost a million.

And how many people were executed for criminal and civil charges? Only 34,000.

How many went to the Gulag? 14 million.

How many perished there? 1.4 million.

Now, my submission is—and where I am getting these facts from? Soviet records—Please look. Please, this too should be discussed. Fascists are anti-democratic. But we have also to look at the record of some of our friends from the Left. They were very anti-democratic—Stalin certainly was. He killed everybody who disagreed with him. He killed Trotsky as well.

Who tolerates dissent?

And this is not new in JNU. 1970s—you read the history of JNU. I think the author is somewhere here—I saw him earlier—oh, there he is. There was a very interesting Trotskyite called Jairus Banaji, and he challenged the most charismatic established Left leader who was none other than Comrade Prakash Karat. And in the following year, Anand Kumar won, defeated Karat in the JNUSU poll as a free-thinker.

So we have to look at our own history and see what has happened. So please let’s examine the details and see:

Who tolerates democracy?

Who tolerates dissent?

And who doesn’t?

Now, we have had so many statements from everywhere, but can you show me a statement from North Korea? Or even from China?

Because in China even today—I have been to China five times—and it is ruled by the Communist Party of India—but it is a capitalist state. I have met many Chinese intellectuals. In a cafe, over a drink, they can tell you whatever you like, how bad certain things were. But ask them to take out a morcha, they can’t.

You go to Tiananmen Square and take out what poster and see what happens. You will be whisked away.

Where? Who knows?

So who is democratic? Who is not democratic? It is something we have to deeply, deeply ask ourselves.

‘Ye Azadi jhooti hai’

Allow me two more things.

I have told you one instance of what happened during the Independence Movement. I will give you two more instances and then I will finish my talk and you can ask me questions.

So India became independent in 1947 and Communist Party of India, which was then not divided, was led by a man called Ranadive [B.T. Ranadive] who gave a slogan—“ye azadi jhooti hai” [This freedom is fake].

Romesh Thapar who edited a journal called Crossroads was trying to smuggle copies—“smuggle” because he was taking them to Telangana—and Nehru invoked sedition. He also invoked sedition against Organiser, let me tell you. Nehru said to both sides “Boss, what is happening?” Both sides, in different ways were saying—were attacking—independence.

So these slogans—about “fake freedom”—ye azadi jhooti hai—have persisted over time.

So the Communist line on India’s independence followed Stalin, where he said revolution in the colonies would be a two-step process: First step, you know, you will have a bourgeoise kind of revolution or a bourgeoise take-over of power and in the second step you’d have a truly communist government in place.

So, this two-step theory was followed in India.

Legitimacy of the Indian State

Another moment when China invaded India [in 1962], E.M.S. Namboodiripad [another Communist leader] said India is the aggressor.

The only thing I am trying to say is: Why is it so difficult to accept the legitimacy of the Indian State? For many people in the established Left. Forget about the Maoists.

The Maoists believe that they have to use armed revolution to dislodge this government, and take over power. And you know the DSU [Democratic Students’ Union that arrested leaders Umar Khalid and Anirban earlier belonged to] is an offshoot of this Maoist party.

And let me also tell you—please also take a look at the letters of resignation that Umar Khalid, Anirban wrote from DSU. They said, “We are resigning because there is no scope for dissent. There is no democracy in DSU.”

Look at the ironies of these situation. I want you to be alive to that. So that is another moment.

Be a critic

And the third moment, if you want to look at it, is what happens after the collapse of the Soviet Union. And you look at the New Left Review issues and it is a great crisis: What to do?

Because the only counter to imperialism—the only counter to capitalism—is now gone.

And then they said, well, within the state, within the bourgeoise state, be a critic. Which I accept, but the point I am trying to make is that different shades of the Left in India have had a great deal of trouble in accepting the legitimacy of the elected government of India, whoever the party is.

Where does the Left derive its legitimacy from?

Now the real question is this: From where does the Left—and there are all kinds of Left, you know.

There is a Congress Left, you know, the Socialists: Aruna Asaf Ali, Achyut Patwardhan, JP [Jayprakash Narayan]. Now, these were branded by the Communist Party of India—look at the dialogues.

There’s a Progressive Left. There are writers—Mulk Raj Anand was thrown out, Manto was thrown out for indecency.

So it’s a complicated story. And I don’t what to simplify it.

But all I want to do to ask you is this: When you say you will overthrow the elected government, where do you derive your legitimacy from?

Is it that all the peasants have been polled—to give you the legitimacy?

I submit for your consideration that the legitimacy that authorises violence in this case, and you know the summary executions of informants—please read what happens: If you are thought to be an informant, you are executed by these people. I can give you figures….

Anyhow, where does it derive its authorisation from?

Where does it derive its legitimacy from?

I submit to you that it derives its authorisation and legitimacy from ideology.

So it’s like a theological authorisation.

It’s not any plebiscite or vote.

So yeah, if people in JNU had voted, if the Student Union had organised an actual debate, like, say the Oxford Union on the eve of the war—World War II—when they said, “This house believes that England, Britain, should not join the war” or something.

And they voted and they won.

That was not sedition.

Debate on Kashmiri separatism

So let’s have a debate.

Let’s say: How many people on this campus support separatism on Kashmir? We can have a debate.

Let’s see how many people—there are 8,000 students in JNU, apparently, according to Professor Sopory’s statement. If you go to the website—the JNU website’s figures are not updated—these are 2009 figures, they are the latest and they say around 7,000 students.

And you know that my friend here, whom I deeply respect, Kanhaiya Kumar, was elected by a little over a thousand votes. And the second person got some 600 and some odd votes. You can correct me as to the actual figures.

And you could have a real debate—I have lived on this campus for over 16 years … and my suspicion is….

[Responds to someone who says something] That’s right, but let’s poll. How many people support Kashmiri separatism?

[People shout]: No, no, not now, let’s have a proper debate, thank you.

But with due respect to you, you will see—you are far outnumbered.

Five people raised their hands.

[At this point the crowd roars and some more—a few more people from what is visible—raise their hands.]

Even so, anyhow, let’s get back to the point: I am saying, that’s another way to do it. And that’s my point.

And then there would be a legitimacy to this kind of movement.

And why not? I mean, every form of opinion should be respected. I don’t think that is the issue.

My question was that when something is authorised, what is it that authorises it?

And to me, social contract—call it Locke, call it Rousseau—is the basis of modern democracy, where people and their rulers have a contract: we vote you and you represent our will.

Left hegemonic space?

Anyhow, I will come to the end of my talk which was simply that when we consider ourselves a democratic space, we should also ask ourselves if this is entirely true.

Isn’t it possible that this is a Left hegemonic space? Well, if you disagree, you are silenced, you are boycotted, you are brow-beaten, or—or, sometimes, you are brainwashed.

[Loud shouts of No!]

I can give you so many examples. But let me just say one thing: I love JNU too. I love JNU as much as anybody else.

[Responds to some shouts that it is not about love] Love is very important [At this point Kanhaiya Kumar intervenes and counsels Paranjape not to get into a one to one with those present as it could go on, to which Paranjape agrees.]

What makes us special, I think, is that we don’t beat the people we disagree with. We can bully them but we don’t beat them. I haven’t been beaten here—as yet. We are not like other people who offer a reward and all….

Autonomy of all institutions

I stand in solidarity of all who want to protect the autonomy, not only of JNU but all educational institutions.

I stand in solidarity of those who demand due process, who believe in the institutions—not of a university, but of a country.

I stand with all of this.

But the only thing I submit to you is that even I have been a victim of a campaign of vilification. Let me tell you there have been open letters against me, and I don’t know what someone is circulating against me today—let me tell you, I have never signed a Hindi petition so far. I don’t know what it is—the entire thing is in Hindi where my name too has been added—I have not yet read it.

The only thing I want to say is this—and this is my last point. After these things happened, you know, I was walking to the department, and I saw this person on a bicycle carrying a placard: “I am not anti-national.”

And I think we are not anti-national. I agree.

And when you hear my views which are critical of what I consider Left hegemonic practices—sometimes bordering on Left dictatorial practices—I hope I don’t have to carry a sign saying, “I am not anti-JNU”.

I am like all of you.

And if you read any book of mine, I acknowledge JNU, I acknowledge my colleagues, I acknowledge my students.

And I stand here before you because I believe that this performative is also important where we discuss ideas, we uphold the right of each other to disagree and we don’t reduce all politics to sloganeering and self-complacency but interrogate our own positions.

This is what I mean by “diatopical hermeneutics” where we acknowledge the incompleteness of our own positions and go forward.

Thank you. – Scroll.in, 8 March 2016

» Prof Dr Makarand Paranjape is an Indian poet and professor of English at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Kanhaiya Kumar

Kanhaiya Kumar

11 Responses

  1. JNU is mini soviet where you can say in favour & glory of soviet but anything against is just not allowed.

  2. Sir, very inspiring talk by the Professor. SIMPLY SUPERB. Grateful to him. I am a proud FAUZI who gave his entire youth for the safety and security of my motherland. JNU is being funded by tax which me and all my countrymen are paying very honestly. Huge subsidy on education and food which Kanhaiya and his ilk are enjoying since long are part of my hard earned money. I will definitely not like any one to take a shot at sovereignty and integrity of my motherland. Day is not far when a common man will take law into his own hands and give a very severe and on the spot punishment to such erratic persons like Kanhaiya, Anirban and many many more – BRIGADIER R V SINGH ( RETD )

  3. JNU-row

    JNU Row: Kanhaiya, 4 others should be rusticated, recommends top university panel – Manash Pratim Gohain – TNN – Times of India – New Delhi – Mar 14, 2016

    NEW DELHI: The high level inquiry committee set up by Jawaharlal Nehru University has recommended the expulsion of five students, including JNU students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar who is out on interim bail, and PhD scholars Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, currently in judicial custody on sedition charges, top university sources said.

    The committee was set up to probe the February 9 event on campus where anti-national slogans were allegedly raised.

    Four other students are likely to face suspension and a few others are to be let off with a fine. In all, 21 students are likely to get show-cause notice as to why action should not be initiated against them.

    JNU vice-chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar has appraised the dean’s committee of the summary of the report and recommendations, which found these students guilty of violating the university’s rules and norms.

    According to sources present at the deans’ committee meeting, five students are to face rustication, “which means they will be asked to leave the campus and discontinue their studies. Four other students are to face suspension and could also be asked to leave their hostel.”

    The final decision on the quantum of punishment will be taken by the VC and chief proctor A Dimri after a scrutiny of the suggestions as well as the replies to the show-cause notices, the sources added.

    The high level enquiry committee submitted its report on March 11, after two extensions (February 26 and March 3). Following the February 9 protest event against Afzal Guru’s hanging, the vice-chancellor had set up a proctorial enquiry on February 10 and then replaced it with the high level committee on February 11.

    In its interim report, the committee recommended debarring of eight students from all academic activities but allowed them to stay in hostels as guests.

    On Monday, the university said the committee had unanimously found some students to have violated the university’s rules. “There are standard provisions in the university rules to take action in such cases. The high level inquiry committee recommendations are based on the rules of discipline and proper conduct of JNU,” the varsity said.

    The VC, after appraising the dean’s committee of the committee’s recommendations, said, “The office of the chief proctor would take further action by issuing show cause notices to the students who have been found violating the rules and norms of the university.”

    Questions have been raised on the committee right from the beginning of the inquiry, with left-wing student’s groups and teachers slamming the university administration for debarring the students from academic activities even before the report came out.

    JNUSU vice president Shehla Rashid Shora on March 11, the day when the report was submitted, said they would not accept “whatever the report says as the committee has not worked in a transparent manner”.

    The students under scanner also decided not to depose before the committee and therefore this report has been prepared without hearing the defence of the 21 students. According to sources in the JNU administration, the students will be given three days to reply to the show cause notice as to why no action should be taken against them.

    JNUSU joint secretary Saurabh Sharma, who belongs to the BJP-aligned ABVP, said the university should release the report in public domain and added that no leniency should be showed on the guilty.

  4. Letter from JNU Chief Proctor to Kanhaiya Kumar
    JNU to Kanhaiya Kunar

  5. I am a common man in Independent India.I can not accept anybody accusing my motherland whether students,leftists or any other politicians.I don’t know the technical meaning of nationalism.I think, anybody who think or speak against my motherland is anti-national. Kanhaiya and whole left parties,now the Italian prince who supported the attackers of India are anti nationals.They have no place in our country.

  6. Prof Paranjapes brilliant speech in full

  7. What a dignified rebuttal by Prof. Paranjape to the disgraceful student leader.

  8. Students misled, used as cannon fodder, says JNU prof – Aradhna Wal – DNA – 9 March 2016

    A day after he criticised Jawaharlal Nehru University Student Union president Kanhaiya Kumar’s speech, and questioned whether JNU was a “left hegemonic space”, professor of English Makarand Paranjape tells DNA that academic space needs to be depoliticised, and that current student politics were one of extreme negativity.

    > How do you view student politics in JNU in the context of student politics in the country right now?

    > Student politics in JNU has many wonderful things attached to it. However, it’s also negative, and frames itself as anti-establishment, anti-state, anti-administration, especially by the left bodies in power. We are not in a space of occupation. Why not have constructive engagement rather than being extremely negative? Noam Chomsky called it manufactured consent, but here there is manufactured discontent. As a president of JNUSU, you stand for all students. Yet, some students are treated shabbily when they don’t agree with dominant discourse. After February 9, Kanhaiya could have reached out to students who were angry about the slogans raised. However, as a professor of JNU, I am for autonomy of the institutions. It is wrong to have a witch hunt against students. Sedition is a serious charge and our thorough legal system should release the two students in jail if it finds no evidence against them.

    > JNU student politics supported Occupy UGC, which fights for public education, and justice for Rohith Vemula, which is for an inclusive social fabric in higher education and against caste discrimination. Isn’t that constructive engagement?

    > There is a great initiative by the government and other agencies for an inclusive education system. Almost 50% of our seats are reserved. JNU has backward points and deprivation points. You get points as a woman, as someone from backward classes. For example, a masters class with 30 seats will have 29 girls and one man. We’ve gone to the other extreme now. There are many beneficiaries of the state’s attempts but no acknowledgment for it. All over the world there is affirmative action, no quota system. There is no free ride. Those with fellowships are subject to progress reports. If we want fellowships where is the accountability for quality work? Here even attendance isn’t compulsory. Students should produce work, publish papers. This is politics of disaffection, where the state is your enemy rather than your elected representative.

    > Isn’t your criticism of negative politics valid for politics as a whole, and not just for left bodies?

    > We need to depoliticise academic space. Re-academisation is another kind of politics, rather than the current dangerous divisive politics. This is devoid of content, of intellectual muscularity. There is an enjoyable performative quality to it, but it is vapid. If people had high quality debate I would participate. We aren’t academicians anymore, we’re rabble rousers. What worries me is the lack of new discourse. There is so much party politics as the campus is used as a training ground for cadres. Students are being misled, they are being used as cannon fodder but trained with no skills. They all won’t get jobs with political parties after they graduate. It is no one’s god-given right to be the only one’s critiquing the state, nor is it JNUSU’s. They talk of revolution but have no answers as to how they’ll bring it about. If it is revolution through bullets it is unconstitutional, if it is through ballots then they are like everyone else.

    > You speak of there being bullying on campus, yet there are these teach-ins where divergent views are put forward.

    > It is not so divergent. I was the first speaker to have questioned the others’ views. Even when I spoke, there were pamphlets being distributed against me. It is not lumpen politics but things are not so simple. Within left hegemony you are either brainwashed or branded or boycotted or bullied.

    • This writer met Prof Paranjape some years ago in Tiruvannamalai. No student could wish for a more understanding, sincere, and intelligent teacher. He has only their best interests at heart. Instead of circulating pamphlets against him, JNU students should listen carefully to what he has to say.

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