Saturday 10 April 2021
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ViewsArticleWho Is Afraid Of Critique Or Debate?

Who Is Afraid Of Critique Or Debate?

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Does this look like a campus where you can play 'politics-politics'?
IIT-Madras: Does this look like a campus where you can play ‘politics-politics’?

[dropcaps round=”no”]T[/dropcaps]he IIT-Madras incident, which led to the mainstream media slamming the Narendra Modi Government for a decision taken by the institution’s management, comes as a big surprise. Is it a case of making a mountain out of a molehill or there is some substance in it? Modi baiters are the first to jump and describe it as an attack on freedom of expression. The truth is likely to be buried in the cacophony of discordant voices. Nobody is asking why Modi will do this!

Before becoming the prime minister, Modi faced barbs of his critics in the national media without protest. He would always say, “You do your work, let me do mine.” Just revisit the a few year old stories. The media had termed him a villain of Gujarat 2002. He ignored the media when the journalists simply refused to go by the accounts of investigating agencies, the inquiry commission and court verdicts. Instead, found out means to communicate his ideas to the people directly.

Further back in history, Modi had played a significant role during the anti-Emergency movement, 1975-77. He organised underground protest movements in Gujarat that had become the nerve centre of a people’s movement against draconian laws brought in by the Congress. He turned anti-Congress and learnt a lesson that the voice of dissent should not be stifled. During his interactions with this journalist he used to wonder why he should react to what the media is saying. “Let them do what they like, I will do what I feel is correct. Finally, it is the people who would judge me.”

The alleged directive from the MHRD
The alleged directive from the MHRD circulated by some activists

A leader so convinced about himself and his action would not stoop to so low as to ask the IIT authorities to stop a motley group of students just because they turned critical of Modi. It is ridiculous to suggest the prime minister — or even the Ministry of Human Resource Development — is behind the management’s decision to derecognise the student body, Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle that had distributed pamphlets against the prime minister inside the campus. Why then did the HRD ministry send a warning against such activities? The HRD Ministry has denied it.

It appears quite confusing since there are allegations and counter allegations. A reconstruction of events makes the following scenario emerge. An anonymous complaint was sent by someone against the activity of the APSC, which is a group of about 20 students, that they were using IIT logo etc to make it look like official programme of the prestigious institute. The authorities, thereafter, banned the use of auditorium, their email services or the institute’s notice board.

The justification given was:

As per the guidelines in force, student bodies cannot use the name of IIT Madras or its official entities in any capacity to publicise their activities or garner support without official permission.

The students staged protest, particularly the ones affiliated to the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), CPI(M)’s youth wing known for its ultra-left leanings.

Such a seminar with the blessings of the authorities would not be allowed even in the Jawaharlal Nehru University that is a citadel of left activism. You can organise seminars and criticise the government, but not use the official stamp. Educational institutions are not run on partisan lines. Speakers participating at the event can air their views, and this is what makes democracy thrive, but you cannot expect the authorities to give its approval or support. A institution for technical studies would not allow even that.

Denial by the MHRD
Denial by the MHRD

This is where the students group went wrong. No one would mind if you were to criticise Modi — he can be criticised if members of a group think that he is wrong. It is such criticisms that bring sense to policy makers. And I am very confident that neither the HRD ministry nor the IIT would cross its limits. They know that the prime minister would not be happy with such restrictions.

But should the protesters not think twice before betraying reason and maligning rationalists like BR Ambedkar and Periyar EV Ramasamy? It is easier to start groups named after the said thought leaders, difficult to carry the burden of their names with responsibility. It is time they introspected to ascertain whether they have gone wrong by not being open to reason. They should also ask whether Modi would really mind their criticism, when these are coming dime a dozen from various quarters across the country.

A person claiming to have some information about the incident said that this APSC is a casteist group hell bent on slamming other castes, particularly Brahmins. How can one allow these people to spread hatred? I reasoned with him and asked whether one could stop such activities by force. The only way you can counter these people is by challenging them to debate. Don’t shun debate. If it violates the campus’s regulations and decorum, do it outside the campus.

On the social front, Hinduism promotes liberal values. If people criticise Brahminism, inquire why they are doing so. If they criticise Brahmins, give them the reason why they should not. There is no need to suffer from persecution complex from either side.

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Sudesh Verma
Sudesh Verma
Member of the BJP's national media team, senior journalist and founder of Debating India Foundation

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