Black Flags are Not Bullets, Slogans are not Stones

They are Questions A PM Must Answer

In the JNUSU polls last month, AISA retained the post of President, and polled a close second on all other Central Panel posts. Living up to its commitment of resisting the anti-people policies of the UPA Government, especially on the question of the shameful sellout to US diktats on the Iran issue, AISA played a leading role in waving black flags and raising slogans on the occasion of Manmohan Singh’s visit to the campus. They were greeted with physical violence by NSUI and JPF (an RSS front), while the SFI-AISF applauded Manmohan and held back from the protest. As we write this, the NSUI has brought an impeachment motion against the JNUSU President for supporting the protest by AISA.

Our protest, in which over a 100 students, inclusing those from the DSU and PSU participated, was inspired precisely by the wish, and the determination, to ask questions to the PM, not to disrupt his speech. But how does one engage in debate with a Prime Minister? Actual dialogue is out of the question, assuming, of course, that one is a common citizen, with no scope for lunch and dinner meetings with the PM. How to voice the questions that those lunching and dining with the PM have avoided asking – on the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act, on the deadly Patent Amendment Act? Slogans were the only way to voice those questions: black flags were the only way to ensure that our dissent did not go unnoticed by the PM.

But we got no answers; while the PM’s speech referred to the tradition of democracy and liberalism, and the willingness to hear out views that one disagrees with, the irony was that student leaders of his party (NSUI) who claim to be followers of Gandhiji, joined hands with the ABVP and JPF, descendants of his killer Godse, to redefine “democracy”! They answered black flags and slogans with kicks in the stomach, punches in the face, and gendered abuse and taunts directed against women.

The NSUI and JPF claim that the protest action violated the PM’s democratic right to speak. How much respect has Manmohan himself had for democratic mandates? In the May 2004 elections, the poor and dispossessed of our country gave a remarkable mandate - against the NDA’s policies. The people of this country refused their rulers the ‘right’ to turn India into a pawn of the US, to hand over our land for US military training; they said NO to bartering our solidarity with Third World people of Iraq and Iran, in return for scraps thrown to us by the Big Bully Bush. But has Manmohan heeded them?

Far from it: in Manmohan’s India, as in Vajpayee’s, the Sensex continues to Shine while the people continue to Struggle and Starve. Manmohan has not only refused to take steps to help punish the guilty of Gujarat genocide; he has continued the policies that cause starvation and farmers’ suicides, Gurgaon and Manipur stand witness to continued State repression. And worst of all, he has shamefully succumbed to US bullying by joining the US in its lies and frame-up against Iran in the IAEA.

Since Manmohan and his Government insist on being blind to the opinions and views of the mass of the country, sometimes it is only nude protests and black flags that force such rulers to look, for an instant at least, into the eyes of protestors rather than ignoring such dissent.

For the ‘crime’ of daring to address a PM directly, the protestors now face a witch-hunt: University authorities have summoned them and warned that if they fail to ‘apologise’, they will face action by the State, not to mention punishment at the hands of JNU Administration.

The SFI-AISF’s had backed out of the protest on November 14, obviously to avoid embarrassing their parent parties who are Manmohan’s allies, and who are ever eager to invite Manmohan as a guest to their own party forums. Nevertheless, they do not want to be seen in open alliance with the right wing NSUI and JPF. So, while claiming to oppose the NSUI on ‘impeachment’, they are supporting it in spirit, by calling for a ‘censure motion’ against the JNUSU President, unless she apologises for AISA’s protest!

Contrary to the media stereotype, dissent is no ‘eccentricity’ unique to JNU– people express it beyond JNU’s gates too. When students from AISA showed black flags to Advani on Independence Day 2003 in Darbhanga, Bihar, they were locked up for months on charges of sedition! For the student movement worldwide (and JNU is no exception), slogans have never been confined to spaces ‘allowed’ by rulers, just as debates have never been confined to classrooms. This bold spirit of dissent - that makes intellectual dialogue and debate meaningful by translating it into political questioning and radical democratic action - is the life-breath of democracy, the soul of the student movement.

- Awadhesh