By Tufail Ahmad, New Age Islam
31 Jan 2016
On January 30, the BBC Urdu Service carried an article by its Delhi-based correspondent Shakeel Akhtar which was titled "The RSS wants domination on the universities?" and published on its website BBCUrdu.com.1 The BBC correspondent would like Indian Muslims who read BBCUrdu.com to believe that the BJP and its parent organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) are out to seek ideological domination of universities in India.
In India, education is a state subject in which the federal government has no role. Except for some institutions governed by the federal government, the bulk of schools, colleges and universities are managed by the state governments. This point was clarified on January 28 when senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai questioned the federal government for fraud in the colleges of Tamil Nadu in his tweet to which India's Human Resource Minister Smriti Irani responded by a counter tweet: "Sir concerned college under jurisdiction of State. My ministry has no jurisdiction."2 Sardesai's tweet and the article by Shakeel Akhtar are examples of how journalists rush to blame everything on the BJP-led federal government – for their own ideological reasons.
Currently, just eight of the 29 states of India are under the rule BJP rule. The states under the BJP rule are: Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and the small state of Goa, where you can openly and legally eat beef despite the ideological opposition from the RSS. Shakeel Akhtar's piece does not give examples of the universities where the BJP and RSS are trying to change syllabi. The article is full of generalities without offering specific instances. The opening paragraphs of his article are:
"After the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in India, the party's ideological organisation RSS and its ally students' organisation Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, or ABVP, have become openly active in universities in full extreme."The second paragraph says: "The BJP's attempt is always to make changes in educational syllabi as per its ideology, to recruit those compatible with its ideology in the process of teaching, and to crush every resistance at the level of students."
There were times BBC journalists would interview people, cite incidents and counter viewpoints, source authentic research reports, and enlighten audiences. Shakeel Akhtar's article is not based on any interview, any incident and certainly not any research report, but he goes on to blame the BJP and the RSS for an ideological campaign, leaving the reader to wonder if he is engaging in an ideological campaign of his own against the BJP/RSS. Worse, he does not discuss what the RSS/BJP ideology is. To my understanding, the BJP has always stood for introducing the study of Indian culture and civilisation to Indians. Shakeel Akhtar's article also does not explain why the BJP feels the need to do so. Journalists used to include the opposite viewpoints, not any more.
After beating up the BJP and the RSS in the first two paragraphs, the author moves from the subject of education to the liberalisation of Indian economy over the past two decades during which he says the labour unions which used to be "a source for the political mobilisation for social and political issues and movements" have lost their relevance and are on the brink of extinction. Here the author notes the curbs were puton non-governmental organisations (NGOs) by the previous government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. But he feels uncomfortable that: "The Modi government has tightened screws on the registration and funding of these NGOs."
The BBC Urdu correspondent says: "The government has banned an organisation like Greenpeace. The funding of an organisation like Ford Foundation is being monitored." He does not enlighten his readers that thousands of NGOs like these have flouted tax rules and their mandates for years. Why does he think that these NGOs should not be banned despite flouting laws? By not explaining to its readers why the BJP government has acted against the NGOs, the BBC Urdu is forging the conspiracy theory that the BJP is engaged in ideological victimisation of these non-governmental organisations. This view is strengthened by the fact that the BBC Urdu website has published three images of the RSS workers to accompany this single article.
The fact is this. India is a country of laws. In the worst of times, these laws have been upheld by the courts. Greenpeace, which is a foreign organisation politically active, was violating Indian laws regarding its foreign income. Despite this, the Delhi High Court allowed the Greenpeace last year to use two of its domestic bank accounts and fixed assets.3 Similarly, the Ford Foundation, which is not banned, was violating Indian rules regarding its foreign income and was disbursing money to many other NGOs to further its agenda. As per the Indian government, the Ford Foundation "was funding non-FCRA registered and profit-making NGOs. Both the acts are illegal under FCRA [Foreign Contribution Regulation Act]." The BBC Urdu correspondent does not enlighten his reader why these NGOs were placed under laws, not banned.
The points regarding the Greenpeace, the Ford Foundation and India's economic liberalisation are introduced in the article to strengthen the author's wholesome argument which is to lash out at the BJP and the RSS. The worst part is that the BBC correspondent fails to differentiate between the BJP and the RSS. While some BJP politicians have emerged from the RSS, they are elected representatives and are under oath to abide by the Indian Constitution, which is perhaps the best constitution in the world given the fact that India is a hugely diverse nation. Prime Minister Modi, who came from the RSS, is committed to India's development and is known internationally for his precise thinking about uplifting India's poor irrespective of their religion or caste.
However, since Modi is from the RSS, the BBC Urdu correspondent thinks that the government belongs to the RSS, not to the people of India. After talking about NGOs, the author brings back the issue of universities again, stating: "In India, the only institution of resistance that is left is: the universities." One does not know if the author is a Marxist, but the sentence makes it clear that he thinks of universities as centres of resistance, not education. In the next sentence, the BBC Urdu correspondent gives a clean chit to the Congress party. He states: "Although the Congress has not been a progressive organisation, but during its rule there used to be freedom of expression and openness in educational institutions." This is far from truth. (In fact, the Congress harvested votes by causing Hindu-Muslim riots throughout the decades of the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.)
Right in the Indian capital of New Delhi, the Jawaharlal Nehru University has been a no-go area for non-Marxists for decades. The same is true of universities in West Bengal and Kerala states where the Marxists ruled for decades, and have brutally opposed anyone who disagreed with them. In a number of universities across India for decades, the National Students Union of India (NSUI), which is a wing of the Congress, has not allowed entry to speakers who held contrarian positions. Even recruitment in universities and government institutions were open to mainly those who held views compatible with the Congress party – the primary reason such award winners recently returned awards to show their loyalty to the party.
The BBC correspondent's ideological thinking emerges when he lauds: "In large numbers, teachers used to be of Left-wing or progressive." In which country (including in India's West Bengal and Kerala states) Left-wing teachers have been progressive? In Russia and China, Leftists are responsible for murders of more than 100 million human beings in the shortest possible time known to history. In West Bengal, the Marxists brutally suppressed all freedom of thought (forget expression) on college and university campuses. In Kerala, Marxists are openly murdering their opponents. Across the world, Left-wing writers are openly cohabiting with Islamists. In fact, the Left-wing professors are the most bigoted, worst of kind when it comes to the issue of freedom of speech. The Marxists only serve the Politburo and the Marxist-Congress ideology that has brought to India economic decadence, which the current Modi-led government is reversing. In fact, it was left to the Modi government to build toilets in schools across India.
The author mentions "a Dalit scholar's death" in Hyderabad as a result of ideological clash. In India nowadays, "Dalit", "Muslim", "minority", "secularism" and the like are halal tags to add to your article to get legitimacy. The BBC Urdu correspondent did not do proper research. The point is that the student, Rohith Vemula who committed suicide, was not a Dalit. On January 22, the Hyderabad police clarified that Rohit Vemula was not a Dalit.4 It might be time for the BBC journalists to use Google before they write their reports. Murders of students have taken place at campuses in India, especially in the Left-ruled states, over past several decades, which must be dealt by the local police. But important point about India's dominant narrative is this: those who are nowadays jumping to blame the BJP/RSS for everything are those who do not see ideology in cases of Naxalite terrorists or jihadists.
At the least, we can expect this: if the BBC correspondents are opposed to the RSS and the BJP, they should also be opposed to the Marxists, the Congress, Naxalites, the Muslim fundamentalists, and partisans of all kinds. That will be true journalism. Journalism is also about balance as well as representing the other side. However, since the Left-wing's so-called progressive journalists often are silent supporters of their own ideological movements, they fail to see that the other side too has a reasoned viewpoint. The BBC correspondent fails to grasp –despite the fact that the Berlin Wall fell years ago – that the Marxist domination of Indian universities for past several decades has stunted India's economic development and uplift of its people.
In the BBC correspondent's view, it seems the artists and intellectuals are only those who belong to the Left.Shakeel Akhtar writes: "The country's intellectuals, artists, litterateurs and students are not only united against a powerful government but also have the capacity to force it to bend its head." The truth is: these students, artists and litterateurs are cowards who have always surrendered before the Marxist governments in West Bengal and Kerala and the Congress governments over past several decades. They are spineless characters in India's discourse. One example here will suffice: Bollywood actor literally harasses and hounds the Hindu god Shiva in his film PK for money and popularity but adopts total silence when an Islamic cleric in Bijnor publicly calls for beheading anyone criticising Prophet Muhammad, or Islamists rampage in Malda.
The BBC correspondent only sees ideology. He notes: "The occupation of universities is important for the RSS and BJP." He thinks that it is a way for Hindutva to dominate India's thought – this writer has written an extensive analysis of what Hindutva is.5 The fact is that the RSS, which might have emerged in different circumstances, is now upholding the Indian Constitution – a point argued by this writer elsewhere.6 Even in the cases where the BJP-led Indian government has questioned the minority status of universitieslike the Jamia Millia Islamia and the Aligarh Muslim University, it is because the Indian state is a secular republic. Under the Indian Constitution, a university which is funded by the government cannot be a minority institution. The BJP government's position is a constitutional position. This does not prevent any minority or non-minority community from establishing universities. In fact, India has witnessed large-scale proliferation of private colleges and universities over the past decade.
Here are a few points to think over. One, the BBC Urdu is a foreign publishing organisation which gives it an excellent positioning to be neutral on India's current affairs and thereby intervene in India's intellectual discourse in a manner that enlightens Indian Muslims. This is because its website BBCUrdu.com is read in India mainly by Muslims. Two, the BBC Urdu could publish a series of reports that highlight issues related with Muslim women – a bulk of whom are living under subjugation of archaic religious laws and orthodoxies. Three, it appears from the current article that the BBC Urdu is engaged in bashing up the Indian government, which could be due to personal ideological positions of its journalists and senior editors.
Four, the BBC Urdu must make it mandatory for its journalists to ideologically dissociate themselves from their writings, to quote individuals from diverse viewpointsin all articles and cite research reports, to mention opposite viewpoints (the basic principle of journalism), to produce balanced reports. Five, instead of bashing up the Modi government for ideological reasons, the BBC Urdu could focus on its Muslim readers, bring out their real issues to the forefront and help to enlighten them. This is especially because thousands of madrassas and colleges where BBC Urdu's readers go to study are under the total occupation of Islamic fundamentalists and clerics.
Disclaimer: I have worked at the BBC Urdu in London for years. I want my former colleagues to understand that this piece is not a personal comment. It is essentially an inquiry into the intellectual discourse India has witnessed recently in which writers, actors and award-winners blame the BJP/RSS for everything for ideological reasons (notably in the case of lynching of a Muslim in Dadri) while simultaneously shutting their eyes to mass-scale issues (for example, when the Islamists went on the rampage in Malda). The BBC Urdumust save itself from this ideological trap.For now, I am left wondering if the BBC Urdu has become another madrassa forging conspiracy theories and mass orthodoxies into the Indian Muslim consciousness.
Tufail Ahmad is Director of South Asia Studies Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute, Washington DC. He tweets @tufailelif
1bbc.com/urdu/regional/2016/01/160130_doosra_pehlu_bjp_uni_ra, January 30, 2016.
2 satyavijayi.com/when-smriti-slapped-a-rajdeep-on-twitter-like-a-boss/, accessed January 31, 2016.
3. thehindu.com/news/national/court-allows-greenpeace-india-to-operate-two-of-its-domestic-accounts/article7251108.ece, May 27, 2015.
4. articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2016-01-23/news/70012498_1_police-investigation-scheduled-caste-sc-st-act, January 23, 2016.
5. newageislam.com/current-affairs/tufail-ahmad,-new-age-islam/shades-of-hindutva%E2%80%93-examining-challenges-from-within-and-without/d/106144, January 28, 2016.
6 swarajyamag.com/politics/the-india-constitution-upheld-by-the-rss/, December 28, 2015.
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