NEW DELHI: A strange comparison, perhaps at first glance. Muzaffarnagar where Jats were pitted against Muslims in high intensity, low casualty violence that displaced hundreds, had people running for their lives, spread trauma and anguish and hate that has still not subsided. The other, a University where the police attacked the students, terrorising the campus, and leading to the arrests of some.

And yet there was a similar build up to both, a certain methodology that played itself out, and a similar state response. Of course it was far more in the face in the villages of UP, and more restrained in the case of JNU but the dots are easily joined. The difference was in the immediate conclusion that has demonstrated the stark difference between ignorance and awareness, where the one allowed the people to be exploited without even realising it and the other resulted in a fight back that is almost unprecedented in recent decades in its unity and tenacity.

The Similarities:

Muzaffarnagar: Rumours spreading hate for weeks before the actual violence in Muzaffarnagar and adjoining areas. A vicious propaganda, documented since by independent fact finding teams, that sought to bring distrust and suspicion between the Jats and the Muslims who had worked out earlier animosities in the region to actually vote together in several elections since. Old Jat leader Charan Singh was the first unifying factor, when he made his constituency understand the importance of electoral alliances, a lesson that played itself out on the ground during elections even after his death. This unity was broken by the vicious propaganda of 2014, that spread through the villages like wildfire, with the people having no recourse---in the absence of any other information--- but to believe what their community leaders, and MPs and MLAs ---confirmed since to be from the Bharatiya Janata Party by newspapers---were telling them through the mahapanchayats and individually with such certainty. Distrust and anger grew rapidly as leaders exhorted the Jats to ‘take revenge’ for the insult to their women by the Muslim youth.

The rumours were spread in this case through the attacks on other universities, where the progressive students ---Periyar Study Circle in IIT-Madras; Ambedkar Students Association in Hyderabad Central University, were targeted as being anti-national, traitors, extremists, Maoists. In both cases the students wing of the BJP, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, took up the cudgels for ‘nationalism’, and routine differences within the campus were turned into major issues. In both cases the Union Human Resource Development Ministry intervened directly, the ‘anti-national’ activities of the young students were placed on the national discourse, and a propaganda unleashed that the “Left students” were against the Indian Constitution. The Periyar Study Circle was banned, then reinstated after a struggle that helped bring the national vs anti-national controversy on to a national platform as it were. This was followed by the Rohith Vemula incident where again five Dalit students were penalised for “anti-national” activities. Here the propaganda surrounding the expulsion would have continued unabated, had it not been for Vemula’s suicide, that took the lid off this pressure cooker. And the anger of the students burst on to the streets. But the insidious campaign continued, with JNU of course being always central to this propaganda.

Muzaffarnagar: The rumours spread through the villagers, spewing hate and venom, were brought to a head with the bodies of young people, a video (more of this later) and a final mahapanchayat that gave the call for violence.

The mobs came out and attacked the Muslims, striking terror across the villages, and the rest is history.

JNU: The anti national campaign that was spread through the other campuses, came into JNU with the Afzal Guru meeting----shortly after the new Vice Chancellor had taken over----with a television channel that played a big role later being reportedly signed into the campus by the ABVP students.

The Delhi police under then Police Commissioner Bassi, stormed the campus striking terror amongst the students and faculty, and the rest is history.

Muzaffarnagar: A key video clip circulated through the mobile telephones showing Muslims beating up villagers contributed to the violence, some fact finding reports say, sparked off the violence actually. It was subsequently found to be fake, an old video from Pakistan, but the damage had been done. Villages had been attacked, and people killed, women raped, and others displaced, most of them never to return. The person who put up this video was identified as a BJP MLA Sangeet Singh Som.

JNU: Videos found to be morphed were not just circulated but aired by top Television channels for days on end, joining the mobs standing outside the JNU gates, in baying for the students heads. By the time the media recognised this---- a few TV channels changed course, at least three others refused---the damage had been done, the nationalism versus anti national debate had been provoked with completely wrong information, and the boys were being hounded and arrested.

Muzaffarnagar: No action was taken against Som initially and he was moving around as a hero. Finally he was booked briefly, released, and then garlanded and feted by the party and its cadres. No action was taken against all those inciting the crowds at the mahapanchayat through vicious hate speech.

JNU: The mobs could not enter JNU, but a group of lawyers did worse. They violated all laws inside the Patiala courts when the arrested JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar was to be produced before the magistrate by thrashing students, journalists and shouting death for the anti nationals. A senior BJP leader was on camera, seen rushing after a young CPI activist, pinning him to the ground and thrashing him. The lawyers were filmed by the TV crews present viciously beating journalists. And then the same persons attacked Kanhaiya as he was brought in, tearing his clothes, kicking and punching him.

Delhi police stood and watched, and when the journalists tried to make the cops intervene they were told it was best they left the premises as there was little they could do. The lawyers were identified as was the BJP lawmaker OP Sharma, but no action was taken, except for a quick arrest of the violent lawyers and then bail. Sharma of course, remains defiant.No action against him.

Muzaffarnagar: The slogan was against anti-nationals defined as the Muslims who should go to Pakistan.

JNU: The debate was sharpened and broadened, with the ‘Left’ students being brought into the larger definition of ‘anti-national’ being honed by the right wing with the core still being occupied by the Muslim (Guru and the Kashmiris).

The Difference:

Muzaffarnagar: No political resistance. Samajwadi party in fact was complicit. And the anger of the affected Muslims was more against Mulayam Singh and his son for doing nothing to prevent the violence, and then later to protect them during the violence, and even later for their relief and rehabilitation. It was as if nothing had happened with the Samajwadi top brass not even visiting the affected areas. Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav made one quick visit when he heard the the Congress leaders would be touring the villages, and left shortly after. Congress President Sonia Gandhi and then PM Manmohan Singh visited the villages, but there was little to no follow up action. The Rashtriya Lok Dal and Ajit Singh that has a base in western UP disappeared from view.

JNU: the entire Opposition came together. As did the students across India, supported by the world. As did civil society.

Two years ago, just after the Muzaffarnagar flames were lit Prime MInister Narendra Modi swept to power on the slogan of ‘development for all’. BJP President Amar Shah was credited by the big media for ‘social engineering’ in Uttar Pradesh after the bloody violence in Muzaffarnagar.

Two years later, the development promises have lost colour and pace. Bihar, where the fight was keen and the BJP and the Opposition had put in their all, went against the BJP. The third year in power takes the BJP into first a round of five elections, then in 2016 into crucial Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and the rest before the general elections in 2019.

The new slogan is “nationalism vs anti-nationalism’.