Dear Opposition, Where Are You?
NEW DELHI: Dear Opposition leaders, who call yourselves secular,
Where are you? I have been looking for you for the past several days but just cannot find you. I met one of you at a demonstration, called not by the political parties of course, and asked where the rest of you were? And what were you going to do about what seems to be like a major political crisis? You said you were not sure , that you would like to do something but evaded questions about whether you all felt the circumstances arising out of the JNU crackdown were urgent, whether you were going to hit the streets, whether you were going to ensure that the students and all others remained safe? And how?
So I intensified my search. And I did find some of you at yet another demonstration spearheaded by civil society; some of you were there, making speeches, but it was clear from the crowd response that your words were not particularly scintillating, and you ---excuse me for saying this---seemed to be rather out of it as it were. In fact, when the buses carrying the JNU students arrived, at the demonstration, the huge crowd waiting for them burst into applause, that used to be reserved for you once but clearly not any more.
Then I called one of you to ask what the Opposition was planning to do? Well, we will be there of course in Parliament, you said. And is there any move towards Opposition unity, of an Opposition parties demonstration perhaps? Noooooo, you said. Not really. But we should meet sometime. Yes of course we should, said I. And the conversation ended.
How long will you hide behind the students, behind the public intellectuals? Or is your response just going to be confined to Twitter? And an occasional visit?
Is there an attempt to polarise India behind a single version of pro-government, pro-BJP/RSS nationalism with dissent being beaten and criminalised through a systematic campaign? I asked. You said that this is fascism, you said that circumstances are dire---I am only quoting what you have said---but when it came down to the question ‘what are you going to do about it?’ there is silence. You do not even have the beginnings of a plan. And I know this because I have been following you, asking you, questioning you like so many others of my tribe, but coming up with nought.
Of course you will stall Parliament; all political parties are good at that. Some of you will make a few speeches, your little moment of glory. As will the BJP leaders. And it will be your nationalism versus their nationalism, with theirs being fed to the people through the RSS machinery, through heavy propaganda, through house to house calls by their functionaries, through the media, through ministers in government, through pamphlets and leaflets, and of course through intimidation and terror tactics. That makes me ask, are you intimidated? Is that the reason for the silence, the disunity? The students are not, in fact their unity is growing. And strangely enough many of the journalists who are at the receiving end of abuse and threats also do not appear intimidated as they continue to do their job with degrees of commitment. Like the young reporter from Zee News who resigned with a statement that contains more guts than many of the tweets from you, as he is defenceless and without the shield of a political organisation.
But in my search for you I have found new leaders. Quite unexpectedly. I was not really looking for them, or even at them. And they come from poor socio-economic backgrounds. They come without protection. They come without the security that many of you travel with despite being in the Opposition. They speak their mind, they have compassion for the poor and the marginalised, and they have above all, the courage to challenge the combined might of private armies, government and ruling parties propaganda and above all the media trial and abuse that has ranged its powerful guns at them calling them terrorists, and anti-nationals, and Hafiz Saeed bhakts, with lawyers and political mobs from the establishment baying for their blood. Literally so. And what’s more these new leaders have a vision, the ability to transgress differences, to work in solidarity, and the fearlessness without which leaders cannot exist.
Who are they? I thought it was obvious. Kanhaiya Kumar. Umer Khalid. Shaila Rashid. Why? Well since it might not be visible to you as ‘leaders’ don’t easily recognise others the reasons are: The ability to understand and appreciate the importance of dissent and debate; to live with differing views no matter how radical without feeling threatened or insecure; to accommodate friendships regardless of political rivalries---such as Kanhaiyas close friendship with the ABVP leader; and the willingness to discuss and debate, as Umer Khalid said in his speech at JNU last night, “without vandalising” and terrorising the other point of view.
Courage that is striking in all. Kanhaiya’s conduct in police custody, his refusal to be cowed down and stick by his principles; Umer Khalid who should be terrified with the mobs and the media out to virtually lynch him but whose speech was an amazing assertion of rights and freedoms: and Shaila, a young Kashmiri girl, a Muslim who kept the flag of unity flying in JNU despite the abuse and the vitriol that she is receiving. Some of you dear Opposition leaders seem to be skulking around, literally, lest you fall foul of the government in power and perhaps you need to look at the speeches of these young students to know what sheer guts means. Incidentally Khalid did try and appear on television channels to give his point of view about the meeting that has been twisted out of recognition initially, but the attack on him by the celebrated media anchors finally sent him into hiding. Not to escape the law, but to ensure that if the government insists on applying the law, it is in a calmer environment where his voice ---and that of his lawyers--- is heard. And the country is not converted into a lynch mob by the ugly media trial that started as soon as the cops stormed the JNU campus.
Their oratory that is sharp, to the point, and highly political. All three have a vision and a mind that is clear and definitive --- as is so evident in what they say and the manner in which they say it --- with a dream and a passion without which leadership is not possible. You, dear Opposition leaders seem to have lost that passion (and it is nothing about being young, but more about being convinced) and that dream a long time ago. Khalid’s call to all students to unite, to struggle for their freedoms and their rights, not to give up their space and their right to debate and dissent, was powerful and passionate. And the honesty --- that has become a casualty in professional politics somehow --- that actually was mesmerising to us hacks who are always otherwise having to sift the chalk from the cheese while listening to the practised politicians today.
A lot more can be said but perhaps you have got the gist of what is being said. And perhaps you will realise that evasion, a fidgety ‘well lets see….” approach is not going to help you fight the battle that you yourselves have claimed to us, is brewing. Or perhaps has already arrived at your doorstep, while you are watching television.
Tomorrow, that is Feb 23 students from Hyderabad Central University are here along with thousands of others to raise their voice against the injustice that killed young Rohith Vemula. His suicide was seen by the students as a major turning point but for you, it was just another port of call. Right? Many of you visited, as you would a grieving relative, and returned to the comfort of your homes leaving the students to continue their struggle for justice.
You could not unite to even demand concerted action against those responsible for the witch hunt that led Vemula to take his own life ---- and yes you might now raise it in Parliament, when actually concerted action outside might have yielded more positive results.
Of course you are supporting the students, here and in Hyderabad. But as leaders you are not here to support, but to lead. To give direction, to generate pressure, to ensure that the system becomes accountable, and the innocent are not victimised. Why do we get the feeling that the students are on their own in this, being protected by each other and the faculty? The Hyderabad Joint Action Committee that has been set up has raised a series of demands, one of these being the broader insistence for a judicial enquiry into the discrimination and harassment of Dalit, Adivasi, OBC, religious minority students in all higher educational institutions. It has noted, "It has been a month since the institutional murder of Rohith Vemula at the hands of BJP, ABVP and the HCU administration. Rohith was one of the five Dalit research scholars expelled from the hostel and faced social boycott for raising his voice against injustice perpetrated by the fascist and brahmanical forces in the country.” And further added that instead of taking action against those responsible, they have actually “received promotions, shielded from judicial scrutiny while the Dalit identity of Rohith has been questioned.”
And you dear Opposition, have you made any such demands? Except for the odd statement have you been consistent in exerting for remedial action, for justice.
Well some of you said, wait. Wait for Parliament. It’s just a few hours away to the budget session of Parliament now. Waiting with the hope that we still might discover an Opposition, not just inside but more importantly, outside Parliament. Not because of you personally dear leaders ,but because of India that cannot remain a healthy democracy without a vibrant Opposition.
In the meanwhile, here are Umar Khalid and Kanhaiya Kumar’s speeches: