Raj Kumar Bhatia, former ABVP president associated with the student body since 43 years, tells Bhavna Vij-Aurora that a “free debate” in universities is possible only when the Left realises that even the VHP and the RSS have freedom of speech, but nationalism is non-negotiable. Excerpts from the interview:
You have been associated with Delhi University (DU) for over five decades, first as an undergraduate student and then as a teacher. What do you think about the Ramjas College incident and its fallout?
It all started with the invitation to Umar Khalid by Ramjas College. To invite him is to irritate and provoke people. After the JNU case, where slogans of “Kashmir ki azadi” were raised, he has become a symbol. I have seen the video myself.
In DU, I am told by people I trust, some Left-related girls began abusing the ABVP boys. Girls using abusive language is an issue in itself. The boys got provoked and one thing led to another. ABVP members are trained not to resort to violence whatever the provocation, but probably two boys did get provoked. If two out of 100 get provoked, only that gets all the attention.
Is the attention unwarranted?
If marks were to be allotted, ABVP would get 40 if they deserved 60, and the case is the opposite for the Left organisations.
Aren’t there other ways to settle differences and resolve issues instead of resorting to violence and street protests?
It is very difficult as things stand today. The Left is only interested in free debate. I don’t agree with their definition of free debate. Inviting Umar Khalid and listening to him is not part of free debate. Until the Left agrees that organisations like the VHP and the RSS also have freedom of expression, the debate cannot begin. Also, nationalism is non-negotiable.
Last year, Arundhati Vashishtha Anusandhan Peeth, an intellectual forum set up by Ashok Singhal and headed by Subramanian Swamy, had organised a two-day seminar in DU. When I got to know about the seminar, I warned them that the Left will disrupt it. I was proven right as students belonging to various Left organisations, including AISA from JNU, came and protested.
Swamy is not killing anyone with a sword. He only uses words. Freedom of speech cannot be defined at the convenience of the Left. Don’t the VHP and RSS have freedom of speech and expression? Or is it only reserved for Umar Khalid? Things have to be seen in perspective.
How do you think the situation in DU campus can be brought back to normal?
There is only one way, and that is restraint. I can only speak for ABVP. They have to be true to their training of no violence at any cost. They must not cross the lakshman rekha, whatever the provocation. I don’t know what the Left’s designs are, so cannot speak for them. I believe there are divisions within the Left.
Often right-wing organisations, including the ABVP, are accused of having a sense of entitlement with the BJP in power, which is why they are getting out of control. Do you think that is correct?
ABVP is an old organisation and it does not derive a sense of empowerment from the BJP. I know for sure that top people in the Parishad are aware of what is expected from them. Some new members may not be aware of the ethos of the body, but that will be taken care of. ABVP had to pay a price for the Prof Sabharwal case in Ujjain (he was attacked by a mob of students in 2006 and died of cardiac arrest). These things damage the organisation.