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Foisting Militarism and Hyper-nationalism on Educational Spaces

India: Tanks on Campuses to Celebrating Surgical Strike Day Growing Signs of Militarization

17 October 2018

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Hindustan Times, July 24, 2017


Army tank in JNU: It is not the VC’s job to inculcate nationalism in students

Educational institutions are not the grounds for what is obviously a politically motivated drive to inculcate nationalism. The vice chancellor has eroded the credibility of both his office and JNU

Tiranga March was held on celebrate Kargil Vijay Diwas, at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, July 23 (Saumya Khandelwal/HT)

Jawaharlal Nehru University has been in the news in recent months for all the wrong reasons. The main one is the charge of sedition against many of its students for allegedly raising anti-national issues. Now the vice chancellor has undertaken an exercise that is bound to draw more unfavourable attention to the university. He has asked Union ministers Dharmendra Pradhan and General VK Singh to help him procure a tank to be displayed in a prominent place on the campus to be a constant reminder of the sacrifices the Indian Army makes. He also celebrated Kargil Vijay Diwas on the campus in collaboration with Army veterans for the first time.

It is not the VC’s job to inculcate nationalism in students and certainly not through installing a tank in the university. Of far greater import and relevance is the fact that given the recent turmoil, many students have suffered due to the inability to complete their courses. Seats for research have been drastically cut. The VC does not seem overly concerned about this. Celebrating military victories is best left to those who have expertise in the field and to politicians and the public if it so wishes, not to academics.

Nationalism is something which must come from within and not through external militaristic displays. This action by the VC will only evoke protest, derailing studies further. This is of a piece with carrying giant tirangas as a symbol of nationalism. These attempts to foist nationalism through these symbols are meaningless.

Pride in one’s country stems from the values and ethics that students witness in public life. The use of military hardware to instill patriotism is reminiscent of the worst of Soviet-style dictatorships where the State exerted its might through these. This has no place in a democracy where it is possible to not be a hypernationalist and yet be a good citizen.

Educational institutions in any event are not the grounds for what is obviously a politically motivated drive to inculcate nationalism. The VC has eroded the credibility of both his office and the institution by doing this.

A nation’s worth is not measured solely in military terms nor is nationalism synonymous with symbols of war. A comprehensive and relevant education system could be a far greater value addition to nation-building and it is this that should be the VC’s remit.

The ministry for human resource development should take him to task and ask him to stick to his brief. The Army is more than competent to commemorate its achievements without such interventions from academics. It can only be hoped that this does not start a trend at competitive nationalism among universities, which would spell danger for higher education.

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The Telegraph, 3 October 2018

The government borrows shine from the soldier

The decision to celebrate Surgical Strike Divas could well set off the beginnings of the militarization of the polity

by Sankarshan Thakur

There came a moment in my recent interaction with the chief of the army staff, Bipin Rawat, whose implications are unsettling enough to require remark. I ventured to get his sense of the situation in the Kashmir Valley, and he stopped me short and said he would like to wait a while before he opened up. “There is a new man there,” he said, meaning the recently appointed governor, Satya Pal Malik. “We want to give the new man time. I do not want to fix his position by making statements… I will speak later. He has to set the agenda. He has to decide what he wants to do, how he wants to handle the situation. If I speak now, people will say the army is trying to influence him or dominate the discourse in Kashmir. That will not be right. We have to see how he goes about it. If he has plans and he can rein in terrorism, we will be most happy.”

On the face of it, that seemed a fair comment — a new chief executive is in charge, he must run the place. But give that another read and you may perhaps realize what Rawat said is troubling on many counts. Referring to Governor Malik as nothing more than “new man” is the least of them. Implied in what Rawat said is that time is for him (and the armed forces) to grant to the civilian administration. Implied in what he said was the sense that Governor Malik was on test. Implied too was a taunt — “If he has plans and he can rein in terrorism, we will be most happy.” Implied, most worryingly, in his tone was something that said the buck stops with me: “I will speak later.” It was a tone of easy swagger and overlordship that appeared to make little allowance for what else there might come to bear on the future course in Kashmir — the elected government seated three corridors from him at the top of South Block, for a start.

How have we arrived at this pass? How have we arrived, almost without notice or cognition, at the military brass assuming — even exuding — an air that almost domineers civilian authority? How have we arrived at a general who hectors his presence and hollers policy intent ahead of the government that he is signed up to serve? “Talks and terror cannot go hand in hand”; “It is time to give it back to them [Pakistan] in the same coin”; “People need to be afraid of us”; “The army is your last resort”. It is how we have heard generals in Pakistan usually speak; it is a voice and a vocabulary a prided democracy such as ours should remain uncomfortable about.

The meditated and deliberate manner in which the Narendra Modi government has come to project, and use, the armed forces for its political ends cannot be cause for comfort. Our armed forces are an institution — and an exemplary and distinguished one — of the Indian State; they are not an extension or an instrument of the government of the day or the political party the government belongs to. The Indian armed forces are neither the PLA of China, nor do they march like the battering arm of the Nazi party in Germany.

The government diktat on celebrating Surgical Strike Divas — the anniversary of the cross-border operation of September 2016 — is quite the symptom of a potential malaise the Modi government is nurturing. The Indian armed forces have a long and illustrious tradition of valour and service. There can be no argument that the jawan is deserving of our tribute and gratitude and, very often, celebration. But there should be an argument when a government picks out one event out of a boundless catalogue and orders a nation-wide jamboree. If its daily valorization of the jawan on the political maidan has made a stable trend of the politicization of the armed forces, the decision to celebrate Surgical Strike Divas could well set off the beginnings of the militarization of the polity, a polity dosed and spurred on militarism and vengeance of the kind that the Establishment has begun to unabashedly espouse and vow. It is not, in fact, the jawan that the government is celebrating when it orders such festivity; it is the use of the jawan as a badge of achievement pinned to the lapel of the government of the day: who effected the surgical strikes? Modiji did, and so hail Modiji! Did it occur to anyone in the government, after all, that the anniversary of the war of 1965 came to pass barely a week before Surgical Strike Divas and it was allowed to go unnoticed? But of course Modiji was not in power then, so leave that anniversary, or any other whose credit the Modi government cannot claim.

It is quite another matter that the surgical strike of two years ago remains a thing of doubted depth and dubious dividends. If it was meant as a dare and deterrent, it proved resoundingly counterproductive. The Line of Control has never been so unquiet as during the past couple of years — ceasefire violations, often rather violent and sustained, have spiralled from 100-odd in 2010 to more than a thousand last year. The number of soldiers who died in Jammu and Kashmir since 2014 is now 219; the count in the previous five years was 144. The tumult in the Valley itself has shown no signs of easing.

And while the Modi government tilts full throttle harnessing the soldiery to its political ends, it actually offers the soldier or the brass little. It uses the jawan to feed its rhetoric, it pays little attention to feeding the jawan or his urgent requirements. Or even the requirements of national security. What did the vice-chief of the army staff, Sarath Chand, tell the parliamentary standing committee on defence just a few months ago? “Funds allocated are insufficient and the army is finding it difficult to even stock arms, ammunition and spares for a 10-day intensive war.” He had prefaced his position remarking that the defence budget had “dashed our hopes” and that the marginal increase had barely compensated for inflation. More than 80 per cent of the defence budget goes to meeting ways and means of expenditure. Sixty eight per cent of the equipment the jawan has is obsolete. Seek out sentiment beyond the rhetoric the brass brandishes and there is unease and restiveness to be found in the ranks — an imperfect OROP settlement, grouses on how the Seventh Pay Commission has filtered down, unhappiness over being yoked more and more to civilian undertakings, shouldering and mending failures that are not of their making. The Modi government borrows shine from the soldier each day, it bestows on him tatters. It is one thing to honour the casket of a soldier who falls in the line of duty, quite another to provide him well enough to stand and fight. Surely, the jawan that Prime Minister Modi so loves to extol from the pulpit deserves better. The nation does too.

Jai Hind.

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Firstpost, September 21, 2018

UGC’s directive on celebrating ’Surgical Strike Day’ sets dangerous precedent for assault on academic independence

by Suhit K Sen

Under instruction from the central government, the University Grants Commission (UGC) has told 900-odd universities and 38,000-odd colleges that they will have to observe a ‘Surgical Strike Day’ on 29 September. According to reports, as of now, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has made it clear that her state will not follow this order.

Two years after the government announced that it had mounted cross-border ‘surgical strikes’ against terrorist targets in Pakistan, the UGC has issued an order detailing the manner in which the day should or could be observed. It says that students should write letters or cards in physical or digital format expressing their support for the armed forces. These letters will then be forwarded to the relevant authorities in the armed forces and be followed by meetings between army officers and students on or off campus.

The orders also make provisions for educational institutions inviting ex-servicemen, who would speak to students about the sacrifices made by armed forces personnel who defend the country. The National Cadet Corps will organise these meetings.

The orders have, unsurprisingly, attracted criticism, which have, however, been deflected by the secretary of the UGC with the blasé comment that differences of opinion are possible, but the orders have been issued in accordance with a government directive.

It’s difficult to figure out at first blush what to make of these bizarre instructions. It appears that some people have read into them an attempt to inculcate in the young a nationalist spirit. Some have been supportive of the initiative and some critical. The latter believe that pride in one’s nation cannot, or should not, be fostered by such hothouse stratagems. It is possible that those who favour the move believe that an awareness of the role the armed forces play in securing the nation-state is a healthy way of engaging students in the duties of citizenship.

There is another way of reading these instructions that has nothing to do with the nationalist or nation-building enterprise. Before getting to that, a couple of interlinked distinctions need to be made. First, there is a difference between the nation and the nation-state. Loosely speaking, the first is interchangeable with the country, while the second has built into it the massive institutional apparatus of the state, including in its ambit the political, administrative and judicial systems and the armed forces.

Pride in or love for the nation and the people who constitute it is in the arena of the emotive and is usually called patriotism. One would suppose that there is little need to make a special effort or initiate a programme to foster it. Pride in the nation-state is a form of ideology that has to be fostered at various levels and in various ways – though, patently, not through the kind of farcical programmes represented by a ‘Surgical Strike Day’.

If one were to presume that this observance is indeed about fostering in the students some kind of pride in ‘India’, it would obviously be for India, the nation-state rather than India, the country and its people. The question is: Is it necessary for the state to take on the responsibility of, in a sense, indoctrinating citizens? In other words, is there anything wrong in a citizen not feeling particularly nationalistic in the sense of feeling proud of the institutional complex that is built into the nation-state?

Liberals would answer the first question in the negative and the second in the affirmative – they could point out that even the ‘fundamental duties’ laid out in the Constitution do not enjoin upon citizens to be nationalistic. The pragmatic would point out that, as a matter of fact, most citizens feel disgust for rather than pride in a ‘system’ that is perceived to be corrupt, insensitive and chronically on the brink of terminal collapse. The ideologically committed would like to fashion all citizens in their own image. A lot of people would, however, point out that patriotism and nationalism are almost always in mutual conflict: in other words, the more one loves the country and its people, the more one despises the institutions that despoil them.

However, the ‘Surgical Strike Day’ project probably has nothing to do with either the ideology of nationalism or the emotion of patriotism. Its far more circumscribed agenda is the celebration of the regime that ordered the surgical strikes. In this context, one may recall that there were claims, neither fully substantiated or convincingly rebutted, that the strikes were of a routine character and similar actions had been undertaken many times in the past. It was just that the regime of the day came up with the idea of packaging them as an out-of-the-box solution to cross-border terrorism. If, indeed, it was such a solution, one must, for the record, note that it was a dismal failure, rather like the other surgical strike launched by the current regime – the one also known as ‘demonetisation’.

To return to the main argument, it seems circumstantially very likely that the operation that has been entrusted to the UGC is about reminding the young that the current regime is muscular and no-nonsense, able and willing to confront its enemies head-on. it is all about conveying to young people, many of whom will be voting for the first time in a Lok Sabha elections for the first time in 2019, that the country’s security is safe in the hands of the existing dispensation in New Delhi.

In other words, ‘Surgical Strike Day’ is itself an out-of-the-box electoral gimmick, which smacks unmistakably of the somewhat wacky. But it would be a mistake to consider it as a harmlessly eccentric ploy. It sets a dangerous precedent for other regimes to invade the state educational sector in ideologically motivated ways, which constitutes a wholly unacceptable and egregious assault on academic freedom and independence.