“Facts are subversive”, according to noted European historian Timothy Garton Ash. In the era of alternative facts, let’s start with those which are incontrovertible.

On 9 February, 2016 the Democratic Students Union organised a cultural event in Jawaharlal Nehru University expressing solidarity with “the struggle of Kashmiri people for their democratic right to self-determination”.

The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, student wing of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, claimed “anti-national” slogans were raised at the event including calls for an “Azad Kashmir”. As the self-proclaimed bastions of “Bharat Mata”, the ABVP assaulted several attendees of the cultural event. Three students allegedly instrumental in organising the event and subsequent sloganeering-then JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar, and PhD students at JNU, Anirban Bhattacharya and Umar Khalid-were booked for Sedition. Despite public furore towards the students at the time, a year on, no Charge Sheet has been filed.

Fast forward to 21 February, 2017, and déjà vu overcomes you. This time the ABVP was triggered by a two-day seminar organised by the English Department and Literary Society of Ramjas College titled “Cultures of Protest”.

The seminar was scheduled to comprise eight panels with 23 speakers, one of whom was Umar Khalid. Since his dissertation focuses on the disenfranchisement of tribal communities by the Indian State, he was on a panel titled “Unveiling the State: Regions in Conflict”. Film maker Sanjay Kak (known for his documentary on the Kashmiri struggle, “Jashn-e-Azadi”) and A Bimol Akoijam, an Associate Professor at JNU (who writes about the violence of AFSPA, and the relationship of minority groups to nation-states) were to be his co-panellists.

On the morning of 21 February, Yogit Rathi, DUSU President and ABVP member, submitted a memorandum to the Principal of Ramjas College demanding the “anti-nationalist” Khalid be removed from the speaker list. Despite the organisers’ compliance with their demand, the ABVP proceeded to disrupt the Conference by hurling stones through the windows of the Room hosting the seminar.

The ABVP proceeded to create an environment of fear around North Campus by assaulting several Delhi University students and faculty suspected to be involved with the seminar over the next week.

In 2016, the Indian State clamped down upon JNU. Then Education Minister, Smriti Irani commented that no insult to “Mother India” would be tolerated by the Government. Similarly, Home Minister Rajnath Singh warned, “Anyone who raises anti-India slogans or tries to put a question mark on nation's unity and integrity will not be spared”. The Government unleashed the full force of the Police and the media, upon JNU and Kanhaiya, Anirban and Umar in particular.

In 2017, the State chose to turn a blind eye to the ABVP’s violence. On 21st February, despite protests from DU students, Police at Maurice Nagar Police Station refused to file an FIR against the ABVP goons. Instead, several protesters were assaulted by both the ABVP and the Police.

Only after day long protests outside the Delhi Police Headquarters on 22 February, the Police filed an FIR. The FIR created a false equivalence between AISA (Student wing of CPI(M)) and the ABVP by depicting the events of 21 February as a “clash” between both groups. So far, only 2 ABVP activists (subsequently expelled from the ABVP) have been arrested by the Police.

This “surgical strike” on Universities, first on JNU and then DU, has fostered student resistance. In JNU, this resistance was characterized by Kanhaiya’s speech upon being released on bail.

On a warm March evening, with the National Flag waving in the background, he said that their (purportedly on behalf of JNU students) aim was not “Azadi” from India, but from those destroying India. Carrying on the faith he previously expressed in the Constitution, he asked for the fulfilment of Constitutional promises towards Dalits, Adivasis, Women and other vulnerable groups.

Almost exactly a year later on February 28, approximately 2000 students marched from Khalsa College to Arts Faculty to “Save DU” from ABVP violence. The march was led by a colossal Tiranga. That was one of several appearances made by the Tricolour at the march, with several students either sporting tricolour face paint or waiving smaller Flags.

To understand the ABVP and BJP’s behaviour, their parent body, the Rashtriya Swamsevak Sangh, must be analysed.

The RSS was banned from institutional politics in 1949, and has fought its political battles through the BJP since 1980 (the Bharatiya Jan Sangh was the BJP’s predecessor). The RSS’ political vision is to transform Indian society into a culturally homogenous Hindu civilization.

A strong, united Nation is central to this imagination. In Sangh historiography, it was Hindu/National (Sangh notoriously conflates these terms) weakness which allowed the invasion of the ‘Motherland’ by Mughals. This cannot be allowed to repeat itself. Hence, no talk of secession from the Union can be tolerated.

An ABVP worker from Hindu College gave three reasons why secession is antagonistic to Sangh thought. Firstly, RSS’ ideology leaves no room for questioning the sanctity of ‘Bharat Mata’’s territorial integrity due to the Nation’s sacred geography. Secondly, secessionist demands hurt national pride. Lastly, secessionist claims are seeds of militant terrorism. Thus, this Government’s violent reaction towards those purportedly raising questions of Kashmiri secession should surprise no one.

In Sangh thought, the Nation is a natural, and desirable form of cultural community, membership of which hinges upon religion, language, “race” and a primordial connection to territory. Kanhaiya and his ilk may clash with the RSS on the metrics upon which citizenship should depend, but by seeking delivery of Constitutional guarantees, they leave the assumption of the Nation as a natural and attractive form of political organization unchallenged.

Studies show that secession is inimical to Liberal Constitutions. The problem with the Liberal-Constitutional and National paradigm is its intrinsic intolerance for transformational questions which challenge the premises of its existence (question of Kashmiri secession). Symptomatic of this is Delhi HC Justice Rani’s Order granting Kanhaiya bail, where she condemned the “anti-national” events at JNU (particularly slogans for an “Azad Kashmir”) as “an infection” which can spread like gangrene, and warrant amputation to protect national interest.

Secession clauses in the Soviet, Yugoslavian and Ethiopian Constitutions (or the Canadian Supreme Court granting Quebec a qualified Constitutional right to self-determination) are the exceptions which prove the rule. Faith in National territorial integrity is a necessary condition to participate in the Constitutional game.

The extensive use of nationalist iconography by both movements is symptomatic of an attempt to reclaim the Nation from the Right. Defending this as a tactical manoeuvre is inadequate. In the name of tactics, the Left has a history of falling into the nationalist trap. Whether it be the Second Communist International in 1914, betrayed by the European Communist Parties upon the outbreak of World War I, or the stance of radical Communists like Gangadhar Adhikari and BT Ranadive on Kashmir’s forced integration into the newly formed India of 1947.

Therefore, unless the paradigm of the Nation is questioned, fundamental questions about the Kashmiri people’s right of secession cannot be asked in the political sphere. If purportedly radical movements also assume the Nation to be natural, where can such core issues of justice be raised?

(The writer is a 3rd year Student in Jindal Law School)