As the events at JNU have unfolded over the past week, there has been a stunned silence from the upper echelons of corporate India. This has however, not been the case in the reaction of the average corporate employee to happenings in Delhi. And the reaction has been near-unanimous in its outrage against (and I’ll write this in the style of a corporate Powerpoint presentation):
These are only some of the reasoned arguments and opinions you will hear in a corporate office elevator today. I will not bother outlining the bile flowing from those whose opinions are formed readymade for consumption by Arnab Goswami: that purveyor of half-truths, doctored videos and Photoshopped nationalism. They’re there on the streets and on social media for all to see.
In an ideal world, there would be no national boundaries, no corporates ruling the world, and I’d have a wand that answers to Harry Potter spells. It is however, difficult to argue, outside the realm of conspiracy theories and Lennon songs, that the military is not required. A very large section of Indians, including most sickular anti-nationals would prefer being governed by a fascist RSS regime than the ISIS, for example. At the same time, the corporate world keeps the market economy ticking. They both have their place in society, as it exists today, which is not to say that better structures cannot be envisioned.
The idea that university students need to contribute to society on similar lines to the military or the corporate world is missing a key nuance. Both the military and corporates are systems that do not allow much dissent (for reasons that are important in those setups). A soldier cannot disagree with his superiors beyond a minimal point. That is part of the allure the military has always had: the idea of unquestioningly laying down your life, if it comes to that. The corporate structure allows slightly more freedom on that count, though not a lot more (despite what corporate policies might want you to believe).
As such, the military and corporate worlds are not the most conducive arenas for dissenting voices, for anti-establishment thoughts that are essential parts of the cycle of thesis-antithesis-synthesis. Without dissent, without antitheses in society, we have a self-reinforcing system of ideas that will never be updated or replaced, no matter how corrupt or out-of-sync they become. And dissent requires space for free thought, no matter how outrageous, how ‘dangerous’ they might be to currently accepted belief systems. That space is, and always has been the university. In that sense, the success of a university system should not be judged by how similarly to the military and big business have they contributed to society, but how differently.
Militaries around the world have proven themselves ineffectual to internally preventing, or punishing human rights abuses. There is just too much incentive to treat it as ‘part of the job’. For this very reason, is it wishful thinking that the military will reverse its stand on the Armed Forces’ Special Powers Act (AFSPA) or that Guantanamo Bay will close without democratic public pressure.
Similarly, the average corporate employee, whose working environment requires him to first blend in, then stand out, rather than the other way around, is not one to push social development or radical ideas. The excesses of capitalist big business are issues the corporate soldier is unlikely to tackle internally, his bonuses often depending on the systematic societal oppression that imperialistic capitalism represents. It is futile to blame the individual in such cases, since the individual here is a soft target — more anonymous, more faceless than anywhere else. The corporate soldier is even denied the momentary fame of being a martyr that his military counterpart commands.
If these pillars of the Gujarat model of capitalist-nationalism cannot be called upon to provide voices of dissent, who is it left to? To students, who, it can be argued, are making good use of taxpayer money by providing that voice of dissent. It is imperative, that student activists, then, do not have more than passing ‘respect’ for the incumbent socio-economic-military structure (read, complex). And that universities like JNU are allowed to thrive, because the limits of nationalism are definitely not going to be debated or tested on the battlefield or glass-front corporate offices.