The Daily Fix: Mr Home Minister, there is a difference between terror and dissent

The Daily Fix: Mr Home Minister, there is a difference between terror and dissent
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The Big Story: Blame it on Hafiz Saeed

The Centre’s reaction to protests in Jawaharlal Nehru University has tipped over into parody. Not content with booking students for sedition, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh has alleged that Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed is backing the protests. Further investigation revealed that Singh’s allegation might have been based on a tweet from an allegedly fake Twitter handle. The Delhi police had retweeted it earlier, asking students not to support such “anti-national rhetoric”. Said the home minister, in what has to be exquisite irony, “Understand the reality.”

Singh’s statement, however, could also be frightening new evidence of the many failures of understanding that the Centre has demonstrated over the past week. It does not understand, for instance, that there is a rather large distance between students shouting angry slogans and a terror outfit that murders innocent people. The Centre has already displayed deficiencies in its grasp of how democracy and dissent operate. Singh’s remark further reveals a government that is unable to make finer intellectual distinctions. So far as the Centre is concerned, “anti-national” feeling, terrorism and some sort of vaguely defined “leftwing” politics must be viewed in the same broad sweep. It may be too much to expect Singh and his colleagues to comprehend the notion that attending a commemoration of Afzal Guru’s hanging may not amount to supporting the crimes he committed, that in Kashmir, Guru’s empty grave has come to stand for a deep sense of hurt among a people increasingly alienated from the state.

Singh’s remarks are consistent with the government’s habit of criminalising opinions that are different from its own, of chalking out a narrow space that holds what is “national” and what is permitted. The events of the past week are alarming illustrations of those ideas in practice.
The Big Scroll: on the day’s big story
Rohan Venkataramakrishnan points out how a fake Twitter handle and a dubious news report could be behind Rajnath Singh’s claim that LeT chief Hafiz Saeed was supporting the JNU protests.

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1. In the Indian Express, Pratap Bhanu Mehta argues that the JNU protests are not as much of a threat to India as the government’s subversion of freedom.
2. In the Hindu, Nivedita Menon suggests that the Sangh Parivar’s student wing has been used to foment trouble across campuses.
3. In the Telegraph, Mukul Kesavan discusses the government’s “near-lunatic overreaction” to the JNU protests.

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The BJP and a segment of the media like to portray JNU as a hotbed of subversive political activity, or in the words of a BJP member, “a Maoist production factory”. This characterisation finds favour with those who watch aggressive television anchors shout their studio guests into submission or silence every night. But there is truth beyond television news.

A young woman from Assam, a first year MA student, tried to explain to me why she and her friends were going to join a student and faculty protest at the administrative block in JNU. “Look, you must understand, it was our dream to study in JNU,” she said. “Now we are finally here, and they are telling us that in JNU they teach us about terrorism, that we support terrorists! They have sent the police to arrest students! They are saying this university we worked hard to enter is a bad place and we are bad people. That is why we are going.”