NEW DELHI: “Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and caldron bubble.”

CPI(M)’s Sitaram Yechury brought Shakespeare’s famous witches from Macbeth into the Rajya Sabha today to warn the government of the prophecy for disaster, and that the King today will not be the King tomorrow. BJPs Meenakshi Lekhi had a day before, likened the Indian Left to witches and demons that Yechury ridiculed in Parliament with his classical humour, saying that the government would do well to take the witches warning seriously.

It was a speech par excellent, sober, factual, and yet combative where he said it as it is, openly challenged the government to arrest him for raising the slogan of azadi ---from poverty, from hunger, from Manuvad, from Sanghvad---making it clear to the ignorant this this slogan had been raised by Left and progressive forces in the country since decades. And had nothing to do with sedition and secession, but all to do with freedom from the shackles that kept the marginalised and the oppressed bound.

Yechury opened the debate by saying he was speaking in “anguish, anger and anxiety” as this concerted attack was not just against one or two Universities but an assault on the Constitution of India with the government leading the insurrection against the Constitution itself. He said it was an effort to turn secular democratic India into a Hindu Rashtra.

Yechury said that a situation had been created where Rohith Vemula took his life. Later Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad read from the five letters sent to the Hyderabad Central University by the Human Resource Development Ministry saying to point out that the subject matter of these letters consistently referred to the anti-national activities in HCU, with the seniority of the officials writing the letters moving from under secretary to joint secretary, and the letters initially addressed to the Registrar then being addressed to the Vice Chancellor. The argument of the Opposition was that at the instance of the ABVP and the BJP leaders on the ground, conditions were created in which Vemula felt he had no choice but to take his own life.

Yechury, who was president of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union at one time, was combative in his sobriety. He did not shout, emote, get hysterical but very calmly reminded the House of BR Ambedkars words where he said, “in politics we will be recognizing the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value.In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value.How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? “

Yechury said it was not sufficient to pay lip service to the concerns of Dalits, it was essential for the government to come with a concrete agenda. He said that the Left had been pointing out that the public sector space was shrinking and it was essential to look for reservatons for the Dalits, to ensure an egalitarian order where equality is ensured irrespective of caste, creed or sex. This, he said, was being violated now.

On JNU Sitaram Yechury ridiculed the efforts to link the students to terrorist Hafiz Saeed on the basis of a fake Twitter handle. He questioned the all out effort to penalise an entire university, to defame it, to dub the students terrorists even though some of the finest brains today even in government from JNU that the government now says is anti-national. He questioned the glorification of Nathuram Godse who had killed Gandhi. As for placing the national flag in all campuses, he said, “the national flag in our hearts is far larger than all the flags you can put together.”

“We don’t need patriotism certificates,” Yechury said. He pointed out that national leaders like Gandhi, Tilak, Bhagat Singh were all victims of the laws of sedition that were now being used by the state against students. He pointed to a statement by the Delhi Police Commissioner saying that the students had to prove their innocence, as against the standing law that a person was innocent until proven guilty.

He listed the sequence of events, the police storming the campus, the beating of students and journalists in the Patiala courts by lawyers, the inaction by the police, the threats hurled by the lawyers even after the incident. He spoke of the diversity of India, reflected in her literature, her religion, her contribution to thought and political processes across the world, the fact that these advances had now stalled and the world was already commenting on the efforts to stifle dissent here.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley intervened during the debate to make the points:

  1. Accused have been arrested, some of them, investigations are on. By getting into these sidelands please do not camouflage the very serious offence that has taken place. It is an alliance of the Maoists and the Jihadists. The Maoists today don’t believe in the Constitution.
  2. He read from the pamphlets that had appeared in the JNU campus, and repeated the slogans raised against India, to say that this was part of the effort to break the state; and how can the police watch quietly while persons---perhaps outsiders as well---with faces covered, raised these slogans.
  3. Jaitley quoted from Ambedkar where he had identified the opposition to the Constitution coming from the Communists and the Socialists. He said that there was a sea of change from the communists as they were in 1949 when the speech was made, and in 2016. The Minister said that he was reading out the quote in the context of the ultra-Left today who were raising these slogans.
  4. Jaitley said that the core issue, squarely relates not to amount of academic license that exists in universities----”youngsters as they grow and mature they realise it was not ideal behaviour, some amount of radical romancing can also take place”---but the core issue was whether we are going to give respectability to those whose primary ideology is to break this country.”
  5. The Minister said that the functions organised in HCU and JNU were in the defence of terrorists Yaqub Memon and Afzal Guru, both convicted by the highest court of the land.
  6. At JNU the slogans were not about azadi from economic deprivation, Jaitley said, but for freedom for Manipur, for Kashmir.
  7. He justified the alliance with the PDP in Kashmir, saying that to fight the separatist in the border state nationalist parties had to ally with the regional parties there be it the PDP or the National Conference.

Azad pointed out that no one in the House had endorsed the slogans against the country, but the demand was that do not use the debate to polarise the country on the lines of nationalism and anti-nationalism; do not create a conflict between people; and that cases should not be slapped on the wrong persons; and the students should not be attacked.

The debate is still on.