There is a telling passage in Gary Bass’s book, The Blood Telegram. In as early as 1969, frustrated by the interlocutory spirit and cumbersome rules of democracy, Indira Gandhi mused that “Sometimes I wish …we had a real revolution–like France or Russia–at the time of independence.” Her meaning is clear -- India’s governance paradigm needed to shift and settle, once and for all, the ambiguities of democratic rule. Six years later she declared Emergency rule.
The last two years of BJP-led governance in India has the feel of that “revolution” being at hand. What is at stake is India’s identity from being an avowed liberal-secular polity to an unapologetically religious-nationalist one. In that context, 2014 was not so much a “Modi wave” as it was a popular tide reflecting the frustrations of India’s 1950s generation who were at a loss to explain her lack of salience in world affairs, insulting for the world’s second most populous, at 1.2 billion, state.
The multiple legacies of this country’s ancient philosophies, arts and sciences (the plurals are important) seem to have failed the fledgling nation-state: fifty per cent of the population is bereft of toilets; large sections of its minorities are under attack for their beliefs and life-ways; its foreign relations with the neighborhood are ambiguous, troubled; and its truly poor are without relief.
The overt march towards the goal of a Hindu nationalist country began with the 1992 demolition of Babri Masjid. It was under a Congress government. It was confirmed in 2014. In the event, the BJP regime’s strategy has been to glorify India’s majority religion, transform that advantage into a case for majoritarian rule and brand as anti-national everyone who resists it.
But the BJP may find that the JNU debacle, all the more audacious for having begun over Kashmir, is the tip of the iceberg of the resistance to its intent. It recalls the student revolution of the 1960s in Europe and America which arguably changed the course of their histories. Indeed, the BJP may have brought India to its French-and-Russian-moment, its “real revolution” in Indira Gandhi’s words.
It is both exhilarating and scary to contemplate. The first invigorates because those revolutions spelt real change; the second has menacing overtones because revolutions can be so very bloody.
(Siddiq Wahid is the former vice-chancellor, Islamic University of Science and Technology, Kashmir)
(The views expressed in the Freedom Series are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of 'Outlook' magazine or its journalists.)