– Jyotirmaya Tripathy-
Now that the dust has settled, tempers have cooled and blood has congealed after the beef festival at IIT, Madras, it is time for some analysis. It should be emphasised that the Government’s recent notification banning cattle trade for slaughtering purposes in cattle markets does not deprive anybody of his or her right to consume beef. The problem, to my mind, lies not in the so-called beef ban, but reflects a crisis within the Left parties to stay relevant, combined with the realisation that their hitherto unchallenged authority in universities is up for resistance and that their directionless narratives are subject to counter narratives. The IITM controversy is a manifestation of that crisis, and the brouhaha over the incident is an effort to take control of another institutional space.
Ever since Modi’s ascent to power, the Left parties’ hold over prestigious educational institutions is fast loosening. This is supplemented with the realisation that in states like Kerala, in spite of a history of Left rule, there are indications of BJP’s rise. It is common knowledge that the average Left voter in Kerala is a Hindu voter, where as the Congress led coalition is backed by the so-called secular and minority voters. It may be recollected that the former Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan, to consolidate his Hindu vote base, had spoken against love jihad and the Islamist design on Kerala society and had echoed the sentiments of the honorable Kerala High Court. BJP’s slow but consistent gain is not only impoverishing the Left vote bank, but is also demotivating the Left cadre to protect their constituency. It is also robbing the Left intellectuals of institutional privileges to legitimate their ways of seeing things as reality.
The beef festival had its unusual share of media coverage thereby making the event a performance of sorts. Within minutes of the brawl in the dining hall of IIT, Madras, there were stories about Right wing members assaulting a progressive cosmopolitan beef festival participant peacefully exercising his right in a Jain mess. Posters with the affected student’s bruised and swollen face were flashed and the painful, yet pensive, mien of the victim was the perfect shot for the Left-Liberal class declaring the arrival of doomsday. In contrast, the other student was nowhere to be seen, the news of his broken arm nowhere covered; he remained invisible under the epithets of ‘ABVP worker’ and ‘Right wing agent’. Even more eye-catching was Kerala Chief Minister demanding justice for the student from his State. If the incident established anything, it is the angst of ‘progressive’ groups to control public discourses. It also establishes that far from being spontaneous response to Central ruling, the beef festival was a highly choreographed spectacle signaling that ‘we still exist’.
The IITs, originally designed to create human resources for Indian industry, are the new sites for Left’s experiment with student politics, and its victory in IIT, Madras will subvert the very idea of IITs and will be a betrayal of their mission.
(The writer is a member of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Madras. Views expressed are his personal)