JNU And The Power of Being Branded Anti-National

The BJP victory in UP was not so much due to promises of progress but rather, one stoking the fears of anti-nationalism rearing itself again.

WrittenBy:Martand Jha
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Now that the legislative assembly elections in the five states are done and dusted, all that remains is to examine how. BJP has a historic mandate by the people of Uttar Pradesh, grabbing a humongous 324 seats out 403 total seats, thereby winning by a three-fourth majority. None of the opinion or exit polls predicted such a victory and almost everyone was stunned, if not shocked or in awe of this result.

As the numbers started trickling in, with BJP looking to emerge as the clear winner in Uttar Pradesh, news channels reached out to politicians and spokespersons from BJP for reactions and sound bites. Many leaders attributed this victory to the “clean image” of PM Modi, dissatisfaction with the ruling Samajwadi Party and their coalition with the Congress. Others claimed that it was indicative of the support enjoyed by the BJP’s decision on demonetisation.

However a few leaders also claimed that this verdict was a slap against anti-nationalism, a reference to the alleged slogans shouted it Jawaharlal Nehru University on February 9 last year. From Giriraj Singh to Arun Jaitley, BJP leaders were of the opinion that the victory in UP proved that voters were vehemently against ‘anti-national’ forces working within the country.

But is that truly the case? Can a few slogans allegedly raised within the premises of a university be so polarizing as to affect the outcome of the elections in UP? Here, the point is not about who raised those slogans or whether those students were from JNU or from outside.

Instead, the perception created about JNU as a den of anti-national-leftist forces who live on tax payers’ money and do nothing constructive for the nation has reached a large population living outside the city. With the media covering this issue literally non-stop for about three to four weeks and news anchors taking dissenting voices to task for not being patriotic enough–the message sent loudly and clearly was that anti-national forces were trying to destabilize India and the BJP was the sole defender of protecting the integrity of India.

And so the issues of a university became the space where nation parties played out their own narratives. Those who supported JNU from Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal, Sitaram Yechury etc., were all tarred with the same brush of anti-nationalism. At the height of this last year, a phrase which became synonymous with the BJP’s Lok Sabha election campaign began making the rounds “Janta maaf nahi karegi”, referring to who were supposedly on the wrong side of history.

The JNU issue reared its head during the UP election results when a tweet by a former JNU Student Union Vice-President Shehla Rashid raised many hackles. The tweet did not go over very well. Even critics of BJP, like former J&K Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah accepted the popularity of the party.

It has been more than a year since the subject of JNU and nationalism dominated public discourse and though the intensity may have decreased, it has never died out. The issue continues to be a major TRP booster for media, especially the electronic media. The protests at and around Ramjas College recently repeat much of the same rhetoric from last year, and at its heart culminated around one of the student’s from last year’s fracas, Umar Khalid asked to give a talk.

When an issue remains in the public eye for as long as it did, it is bound to impact the electoral choices of voters especially if it repeats itself in a new, but familiar avatar. The degree of this impact may vary but in this case, where aided by the media machinery the specter of JNU hung heavily over UP.

To sum up, the question of nationalism which erupted in JNU seems to have spread to the people who fear that this, more than any other problem in the country, is what ails us and have voted for a party that firmly promises to stamp such sentiments out. It might seem reductive to say that JNU and nationalism were the ‘hot button’ topics impacting this year’s election, but to say it had little would also be incorrect.


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