Union home minister Amit Shah’s statement that universities “should not become wrestling grounds for ideological battles” and that they must instead become “platform for exchange of views” comes as an antithesis of what democracies would like their institutions of higher learning to be in order to design their atmosphere of intellectual discourses.
Mr Shah prefers “exchange of ideas” and despises “ideological battles”. That he welcomes ideas and their exchanges is routine and only rings an alarm when the home minister of a country of 136 crore people, made up by every possible shade of human race, says the idea of ideologies wrestling, even in universities, is frowned upon.
Mr Shah, being a practitioner of the ideology that RSS has been propagating for more than 90 years, may not want ideological conflicts because diversity is not an idea the Sangh Parivar may be comfortable with because of its belief that only uniformity would take the nation forward. “One nation-one culture”, at the end of the day, is what it most looks forward to and this concept may be propelling the thought that India is a single geo-cultural entity.
The home minister may not be the first person to sit on the seat of power and prescribe the contours of civil discourses. His words simply reflect everything that proponents of totalitarian ideologies have been known to profess in all parts of the world. They may believe their ideologies are complete and the gold standard, needing no addition and reform.
Human progression is not a linear one; it keeps evolving. This evolution is made possible when there is a conflict of ideologies, and hence anyone who is interested in it must welcome it. There may be universal condemnation of violent manifestations of ideologies but their conflicts, whether on campuses or outside, is part of the democratic paradigm.
Any totalitarian view would suffer from another infirmity, especially in the Indian context. This country defeated the first major challenge to democracy and its institutions when campuses erupted against the Emergency in the mid 1970s. The universities were the breeding ground of Opposition ideologies and several seniors in the current crop of leaders had their baptism by fire in that period. If the universities had ended with being a platform for exchange of ideas, India’s course of history would have been different.
The problem with a prescription against ideological conflicts in universities is it tends to spur instruments of state into attempting crackdowns on what they see as dissent. University students have had various charges thrust on them, including sedition, when they opposed the policies and actions of the government. But such crackdowns are unlikely to strengthen the idea of democracy in this country.
When the tools to muffle ideological battles are unsheathed and universities tend to follow the trend, democracy will suffer. Learning should be inclusive and campuses must encourage all schools of thought so that the individual may discern the best path for himself and the society that he is part of.