The Delhi Police conducted a mock drill at the Connaught Place on Sunday. The simulated scenario involved an unclaimed bag.
Sunday’s attack on students and professors of Jawaharlal Nehru University deserves condemnation in the strong possible terms. The attack was premeditated, brutal and criminal, and aimed at terrorising those of an alternate political persuasion. Without any prevarication, Delhi Police must identify those involved, arrest them and book them under relevant provisions of law.
It is in trying to understand the events that led to the attack that matters become murkier, and the sad fact is that no one ~ least of all the Vice-Chancellor of the university ~ can be absolved of blame. While allegations are hurled from either side of the ideological divide, certain facts must not be ignored. Tensions have been simmering in the university ever since the administration announced a 30-fold hike in charges for hostel rooms ~ from Rs 20 a month to Rs 600 for a single room.
While the quantum of the hike was bound to arouse passions, it must fairly be admitted that a charge of Rs 20 a month for a single room is ridiculous even in a heavily subsidised Central university, one that sees students enrolled for years on end as they grapple with the civil services and other competitive examinations.
There was justification for some increase, and it was the responsibility of the university administration ~ Vice-Chancellor, Registrar and the senior faculty (many of whom are television stars) ~ to explain this to students. Instead, positions were taken along ideological lines on the heavily polarised campus, where neither black nor white was prepared to accept the presence of grey.
From most accounts, the V-C chose not to engage with the dominant group of students out of a perceived ideological bias; the generally Left-leaning faculty was openly sympathetic to students and a large section of students was determined to keep the university paralysed. It is not in dispute that some protesting students had even sought to render university servers dysfunctional to ensure that the process of registration for semester exams could be stalled.
While these are the immediate and apparent causes for tension, the discord between an overtly nationalistic, Rightwing dispensation and a campus considered Leftleaning ~ and in the tortured reasoning of the Right “anti-national” ~ was visible. None of this though can justify the violence unleased on the campus on Sunday evening and the evidence that has surfaced so far suggests that Left-leaning students and teachers were targeted.
Besides the utter foolishness of violence at any point in time, the timing of this assault was especially stupid if only because it seems to have served to bring students across the country ~ some of whom are already agitated by the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens ~ on a common platform. With other groups, each with their own vested interests, also jumping on board, a dangerous process of polarisation is visible.
It will require statesmanship of the highest order to pull matters back from the brink and to restore sanity. To begin with, immediate steps must be taken to bring those responsible for Sunday’s violence to book. Students cannot be made to feel like the nation’s enemies; their concerns must be addressed without labelling them. Loudmouths on either side of the ideological divide must exercise restraint. These fires must be doused, not fanned.