Published: 16th March 2020
The politics behind naming a road in JNU after Hindutva ideologue Veer Savarkar
With many students going home after the Coronavirus outbreak, the administration decided to install a road name board. Some are outrages, other nonplussed. What is the big deal?
The Jawaharlal Nehru University administration has named a road on campus after Indian politician and Hindu nationalist ideologue VD Savarkar to the surprise of many students on campus. Savarkar, and what he stood for, has been a bone of contention both on campus and the country at large, leading to students condemning the move. Especially because it was installed 'silently' at a time when students have gone back home because of the Coronavirus-induced break.
"For the last one year, the VC has been naming different roads on campus, even the tiny ones that nobody would care to name. These roads didn't even have names before, we just had our own names for the roads and we will continue to refer to these roads by those same names," said Apeksha Priyadarshini, a member of the JNU Students' Union and a leader with student group BASO, said. The road that has been named is the one linking the JNU campus with the IIMC campus, and is therefore located on the outskirts of the campus and not in any central location.
"Now that many of the students have gone home because of the spread of the Coronavirus, the administration sneakily installed the name board. They named other roads after people like Bhagat Singh and then slowly installed this board we well. It is clear that the administration wants to give this campus a certain colour, they are doing what the BJP is doing in the rest of the country - naming and renaming locations and roads," she added. Praveen Thallapelli, student leader and member of BAPSA also agreed that this decision by the administration clearly proves the VC is trying to bring in saffronisation in a space like JNU that has stood for progressive politics.
He pointed out that the VC had refused to take to task all the students and outsiders who were part of the mob that attacked the students on campus during the January 5 incident, "The VIC did not even punish the guilty. So by installing such a board, he is giving a free pass to the ABVP students and allowing them to run the campus and further right-wing thought," he feels. "The recent appointments of ABVP members in Assistant Professor posts also goes to show how this agenda is given full support here," he alleges.
ABVP JNU applauds and welcome the decision to rename the way to Subansir Hostel as V.D. Savarkar Marg.— ABVP JNU (@abvpjnu) March 16, 2020
May it be a reminder of the sacrifices that Veer Savarkar endured to release India from shackles of political and cultural slavery.#VDSavarkarMarg#VeerSavarkar#ABVPJNU pic.twitter.com/yNBFptLgVr
Of naming roads and mass tokenism
Jitendra Suna, BAPSA member who stood for the post of JNUSU President said that the installation of the name board shows the power dynamics present on campus. He believes that by celebrating people who 'preached inequality', the administration was declaring that it was okay to idolise these people in these times, "This is an official declaration, saying it is fine to idolise the leaders who are only visible in the politics of the ABVP during these times," he said.
Images of the mob that unleashed violence on the students
However, there are various small lanes and roads that have been named after various political figures, but clubbing them together is dangerous, Suna tells us. "They also have roads named after Bhagat Singh and Birsa Munda. Ever since the Ambedkarite movement started on campus, we have managed to make leaders of the Ambedkarite movement more visible here. So the administration likes to show tokenism by naming boards after leaders of the oppressed castes but this is only an appropriation of anti-caste politics," Suna explained.
He pointed out the irony of naming the library on campus after Dr BR Ambedkar, "Inside, there are barely any books on the anti-caste movement or even on Ambedkar. So when they don't even offer books on the movement, they are fooling no one by naming roads after the movement's leaders," the student points out.
Apeksha also threw light on the fact that students haven't received their scholarship funding for the last six months and the administration. "When we go and ask them about the scholarship, we are told the University doesn't have funds. But if we pay the mess bill late, we are fined. When the funds are not there how will we pay? And if things are really so bad, why are we wasting money on boards and other unnecessary things on campus. How do they suddenly find funds for these activities?" she questioned.
'Forget Savarkar, where was the JNUSU when Delhi needed help?'
Some students though aren't quite on board with all the outrage by the Union. For Heba Ahmed, a PhD student and activist, the outrage over the name doesn't matter much because she believes that the JNU community has not come together to condemn the atrocities inflicted on Muslims. "This is nothing new, The Vivekananda statue hasn't been unveiled but it was strategically placed opposite the Nehru status. So this is nothing remarkable. But yes, this is a matter of concern and this is an unfortunate deliberate provocation of the JNU community," she says.
"In his books, Savarkar had demanded outright violence against the Muslims. In his book '6 Glorius Epochs of Indian History, he legitimised violence against the Muslims. So now when his ideas are carried out in the form of the Delhi violence, where is the JNUSU and the student community? Instead of fretting over the name board, the students could have stood against Savarkar by standing in solidarity with the Muslims," Heba argues.
She also said that she is part of the JNU Coordination Committee that is helping out with rehabilitation efforts but the members are all mostly Muslims and the JNU community has not come forward to help them, "When they don't come together to express unapologetic solidarity and defence of the Muslims, then nobody cares about the outrage against Savarkar."