NEW DELHI: Before I begin, I must appeal to Shehla and Kanhaiya not to push his candidature for the 2019 elections – we are of the movement, and it is in the movement that we must remain. The last two years have been extremely unprecedented. To begin, now, I would say that this attack – particularly when we are now hearing of firing on students in Patna University – indicates that the theatre of war in our country has radically expanded, beyond the popular narratives from Kashmir, Manipur, and such.

I only speak, of course, of reported incidents, and there are several unreported ones. India is becoming a penal state where people are being punished for dissent, where people are being displaced from their land, such as in Bastar. It would be foolish to expect universities like ours to be insulated from this onslaught. The nation has become a prison, so how can our universities be safe? This government is the most brutal we have ever had – and we can undeniably declare this as a state of undeclared emergency.

As a student of history, I have always read about continuities and change. In the context of this government, there have been several breaks, but there has also been much continuity. Both of these need to be looked at. One does not make sense without the other. We have seen a solidification of neoliberal economic policy. We may now be independent, but the ghost of Macaulay looms large over us.

Prime Minister Modi’s Skill India and Make in India policy nexus does not want research and thinking. Forget ‘Idea of India’ – this government does not condone even ‘ideas.’ The incursions of BPOs and MNCs have restructured education to emphasise employability. Macaulay’s agenda of blue-collar and white-collar workforce is being furthered. Universities, we must remember, are manifestations of all societal inequalities. The LPG regime of the last 30 years has only compounded these. We must trace this back to Rajiv Gandhi’s government which posited education not as a public good, but a private good. Why should, they asked, the society pay for education? 64% of education now belongs to the private players, and this is bound to have repercussions. Money must flow where the market is.

It has been emphasised consistently that we must integrate education with the market. Capital is always searching for newer avenues, and it looks at all of these things: mineral resources, education, healthcare, and such. This requires a penal state – such as to seize mineral resources from Bastar by deploying paramilitary forces.

A recent UGC notice illustrates this. The guidelines include fencing universities with barbed wires, installing CCTV cameras, regular security checks, biometric attendance system, parent-teacher feedback, and setting up a police station in university premises. In fact, in the name of our security following this issue, our campuses were militarised. Within this larger history of 20-30 years, this government has come in. After the UPA, corporate interest shifted towards the BJP, and more importantly, towards the fascist figure of (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi. Individuals like Amit Shah have openly proclaimed that the government wishes to dismantle the public sector – and we have seen how that has played out for universities and student unions. Resistance needs to be criminalised to align the society and economy with corporate interests and the World Bank-IMF agenda. Social justice measures must also be curbed. Even Supreme Court judges have ridiculed these.

It is this context that we must view this government. Arun Jaitley has said that the government has ‘won’ the ideological war. Of course there is an ideological war, but I do not believe they have won. If it indeed is an ideological war, why fight it with the police? The government has lost the ideological war – they lost it when they let the police into campuses, they lost it when they arrested students. We must counter two things here: the question of subsidies, and why students engage in politics. As for the former, we raised the issue of budget-cuts in welfare spending (such as education).

They want to manufacture consent, and that is very clear. When they further withdraw from education, they want to use our example to show that spending on education really is a waste of funds. It is actually we who are fighting for the taxpayers of this country. Secondly, we are asked why we do politics, and if we wish to, why we study. I wish to ask them: why shouldn’t we engage in politics? For us, politics does not mean voting every five years. For us, it has always meant raising issues that no one raises, issues that matter and need to be raised. Actually, they are not scared of politics; they have a problem with the politics of resistance. Opposition, if not nipped in the bud, can turn from mere opposition to an alternative.

Today, we are at a disjuncture of history. We cannot go back to reclaim new ideas. Today, for our struggle, we need to create a new idea for India, and this idea will, in turn, define it. The attack on students in JNU and elsewhere is part of other attacks on Dalits, Adivasis, and the poor. We need a democratic revolution – and it is this revolution that will create a new idea of India.

(This is the text of a presentation made by UMAR KHALID at the “Idea Of India Conclave: Two Years Of PM Modi.” It has been translated, transcribed and edited by KARTIK MAINI).