The heckling and manhandling of Union minister Babul Supriyo and assault on BJP leader Agnimitra Paul by an assortment of alleged ruling party-affiliated 'students' and Leftist goons at Jadavpur University campus on Thursday must be one of the lowest points in campus politics. However, this deplorable incident " which prompted West Bengal governor to rush to the minister's rescue even as Mamata Banerjee's police failed to show the necessary alacrity to contain the bedlam at the campus " points to a deeper malaise that goes beyond mere ideological turf war and TMC-BJP rivalry.
To diagnose this malaise, we need to consider how self-proclaimed 'liberals' and 'leftist progressives' have reacted to the assault on a Union minister and a woman leader. Had this attack been the handiwork of a BJP-affiliated students' union, all hell would have broken loose by now " not to speak of alarmist commentaries from western media. In contrast, Thursday's violence has been either greeted by pin-drop silence from 'liberal' quarters, or an audacious attempt has been made to justify the violence by obfuscating the truth " another cliched tactic.
The CPI(ML) later issued a statement saying that the Union minister "entered the campus with 'firearms' and 'brutally attacked the students'". The statement also alleged that the minister "manhandled" a female student.
To take CPI(ML) leader Kavita Krishnan's claim, or the statement, at face value, is to accept that a Union minister arrived at the JU campus to abuse and intimidate students of a rival ideological persuasion. But there's more than just hypocrisy at work here. The apparent motive of Krishnan and her ilk is to create a false equivalence so that the violent conduct of goonish students may be justified.
This argument, as author Arnab Ray has pointed out on Twitter, isn't that different from 'liberals' drumming up contorted excuses to justify the violence of Antifa activists who believe that it is okay to thrash 'fascists'.
"The logic for the violence advanced by the 'progressives' will be the same as that advanced by Antifa in the US, it is not fascist to punch a fascist. 'Fascist' is the anti-matter to 'anti-national', the all-justifying label," he tweeted.
And this tactic is apparently working. AFSU leader Debraj Debnath, who participated in the protest, asserted that "fascist forces" will not be allowed in the campus. "We will not let BJP, RSS or ABVP spread their ideology in a liberal institute like JU," he was quoted, as saying.
This attempt to sanctify goonish and violent behaviour as an "organic expression" of "righteous anger" against "fascism" is a stark example of how conceited and narcissistic liberalism has become. This, of course, isn't new. Such duplicity by Leftists and liberals, who claim to be on the side of free speech and freedom of expression, have become common to the point that it fails to even evoke any outrage. We have seen such scenes at JU " which fashions itself as a 'liberal bastion' " before as well when filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri tried to show his film Buddha In A Traffic Jam. The filmmaker was similarly assaulted by Leftist goons in the 'seat of liberalism' in one of India's most "progressive and intellectual" cities.
Neither is this phenomenon exclusively Indian. Antifa "activists", the darling of liberals in the West, recently roughed up a photojournalist in Portland causing brain haemorrhage. Andy Ngo, a soft-spoken, gay son of Vietnamese immigrants had to be hospitalised for being thrashed by Antifa goons who were raising slogans about smashing "heteronormative white supremacist patriarchy". You can't make this up.
It is easy to sound indignant at Vladimir Putin when he says liberalism has become obsolete, but it is increasingly obvious that liberals and their ideology, 'liberalism', are in global retreat. The rise of populism across the world " the most readily recognisable symbols of it are Brexit, Donald Trump or Jair Bolsonaro " has made one thing clear. As a political force, liberalism is facing a bleak future.
The fading of liberalism (not to speak of the Left's receding political heft) is being witnessed worldwide, and India is no exception. The once-powerful Leftists in India are now dinosaurs and their political footprint is near extinction. But a paradox exists. The Economist calls this paradox a "malign dialectic".
While liberalism/Left-wing progressivism (not strictly the same but coterminous in this piece) is in global retreat as a political force, its heft as an institutional force has not diminished, and it continues to wield enormous influence through relentless entrenchment of its power in elite educational or transnational institutions or in the media, and through its time-tested 'denial of platform' mechanism by which opposing ideologies are continuously throttled. What's more, this process is, in turn, pushing 'liberals' further to the extreme Left " where pretensions of tolerance are readily being shed.
As The Economist writes, "Liberal administrators are not only entrenching their power, squeezing out conservative or populist points of view. They are moving to the Left, powered by furious indignation at the rise of the Trumpenproletariat and its equivalents around the world."
What happened at JU on Thursday " apart from it being a manifestation of the BJP-TMC political war and a clash of rival ideologies as the ABVP increasingly wields its political power and challenges the hegemony of Leftist student unions in campus around India " is also an accurate example of this 'malign dialectic' at work. "Liberal institutions" such as the JU in Kolkata or the JNU in New Delhi have become the final frontiers where entrenched 'liberals' have cocooned themselves and instead of trying to come to terms with the changing political movements, they prefer raising walls and lashing out when their turf is threatened. We haven't seen the last of such clashes, that is for sure.