Surgical Strike Day a plot to curb student activism or move to instil national pride?

Illustration by Manas Gurung | ThePrint

A University Grants Commission (UGC) circular asked varsities and higher education institutions to observe 29 September as Surgical Strike Day. It also suggested a list of activities the campuses can carry out.

ThePrint asks:Surgical Strike Day a plot to curb student activism or move to instil national pride?

These advisories create dharma-sankat for V-Cs who don’t want to frogmarch students

M. Rajivlochan
Professor, Panjab University

It has been decades since the UGC asked universities to pursue academic excellence or honoured them for doing marvellous research, facilitated the recruitment of good faculty, or even help good students.

Rather, instructions from the UGC to observe Surgical Strike Day are one with numerous other instructions issued by it earlier. More memorable ones included instructions to observe ‘Rajiv Gandhi Day’, ‘pledge against corruption’, ‘Indira Gandhi Day’, ‘seminar on Jawaharlal Nehru’, ‘pledge against dowry’, ‘pledge against smoking’, and ‘clean dustbins’.

Those advisories did not result in the university loving Rajiv Gandhi, Indira Gandhi or Nehru any better. Pledges made little difference to those who distinguished between university and normal life. After taking a pledge against corruption or dowry or dirtiness in the university, they happily went ahead spitting paan at recently cleaned walls while taking a bribe and asking for dowry.

The advisories did create a dharma-sankat for those vice-chancellors, deans who did not want to frogmarch their colleagues and students into doing things. To get past that disobedience, the UGC now demands photographs of people doing what they had been advised to do. Geo-tagged and uploaded to a webpage.

Will a Surgical Strike Day strengthen nationalism on campuses? That is iffy, considering nationalism can’t be forced on anyone. The order by a Supreme Court judge that everyone should stand up for the national anthem at theatres promoted revulsion rather than nationalism. Doing work together for the public good promotes the feeling of nationalism better.

Move not aimed at curbing student politics, but provides counter to Left hegemony

Sangit Kumar Ragi
Professor of Political Science, Delhi University
The MHRD advisory to the universities and colleges in India to celebrate the second anniversary of the surgical strikes created a clear divide among political parties and intelligentsia in the country. While a section of the Right-leaning intelligentsia appreciated the initiative of the government on the ground that it will give an opportunity to the academic community to understand the works of the armed forces and instil a sense of patriotism in the young minds, the Left parties and anti-Right intelligentsia criticised it because it amounted to executive overreach with intention to interfere into the functioning of autonomous institutions to suit its political interests. The student community was also divided.
It would not be impertinent to observe that campuses, instead of being the breeding ground of ideas for the nation, largely turned into ideological nurseries generating cadres for the political parties. And those who are crying foul play today and chanting for intellectual freedom have been the major culprits of bringing the universities and academic institutions to this state. The intellectual Left trained and nurtured students to have an anti-state ideology in the name of ‘critical enquiry’ and created an ideological hegemony in campuses with the support of the Congress. Instead of responding to the patriotic and nationalist narratives of the Right-wing, they chose to mock and deride them.

With the BJP government coming into power and the Left badly beaten in its political homelands, the ideological charms toward the Left have receded and the tilt towards the Right has been seen increasing across the campuses. Discourses on things like surgical strikes and commemorating the valour of the armed forces which invoke nationalist sentiments certainly challenges and dents the ideological narratives of the Left, anti-state intellectual echo-system in the campuses. This initiative is not to tame the politics and students activism on the campuses; neither it seems to be the intent of the government to do so, but it is sure to strengthen the counter-narratives of the Right against the Left.

If we don’t protest such impositions, next generation of students will never forgive us

Student, Jadavpur University

A group of men, armed with guns penetrating the mountainous territory of the LoC and beyond, in an attempt to destroy that which they have been ordered to. Theirs is not to reason why.

But we, students and academic communities who read books (that have sometimes been confiscated from our teachers), ours is to reason why. And we do reason in our universities, we are taught to. We learn the bloody histories of nations and power conflicts. We sit for dharnas and go out to morchas. Students’ activism in India is partly the result of critical, angry marginalised students in universities. Women, Queer, Dalit, Muslim, Disabled. How does one root out anger? By calling it sedition, shooting someone at a tea stall, by forcing on us a skewed understanding of nationalism.

Most universities need sheep that will follow the official line that our education is subsidised and therefore, we must listen to what the state tells us. Sheep have to be spoonfed the importance of surgical strikes in order to root out angry students. A propaganda machine has to be put in place in educational institutions. They have to celebrate surgical strike day. It is, after all, a surgical strike against critically engaging education.

And, humanities departments suffer the most.

Recently, the education ministry in West Bengal tried to do away with the entrance examinations for Jadavpur University’s arts sections, we protested. It has been stalled for now.

Jadavpur University will resist this surgical strike on education for as long as it can think independently. And if we don’t, the next generation of students will never forgive us.

We will certainly celebrate Surgical Strike Day

Dr K.R. Venugopal 
Vice-Chancellor, Bangalore University

We are yet to receive a communication from the UGC, but if the directive comes, we will certainly celebrate it.

Why should we not celebrate our armed forces? If the objection is to calling it Surgical Strike Day, may be we should look at a more pleasing name, because surgical may make us sound boisterous.

Why ‘surgical’, we should have a more holistic terminology. One may call it armed forces day or a version of martyrs’ day. What is important is that the day should be marked and observed. I think one should celebrate it as a day of success and not generate animosity about it, especially as it honours how our armed forces have fought for us.

Looks like govt has nothing else to pat itself on the back for

Fatima Khan
Journalist, ThePrint

When the only notable events in a government’s tenure are events such as the disastrous
demonetisation move, the ever-falling rupee, and Aadhaar linking, it isn’t surprising that they came up with a ‘Surgical Strike Day’.
The political discourse is such that both politicians and party supporters look for instant gratification instead of aspiring to achieve long-term goals for the country. The surgical strikes conducted two years ago were a pre-emptive set of routine and covert strikes that may have possibly been undertaken by the Indian Army several times in the past without the government of the day making a show of it. But this government can’t do without thumping their 56-inch chests. Back then, it was hailed as India’s answer that will teach Pakistan a lesson. But, soon after the strike, the Indian Army base in Nagrota was attacked. Whether it is insurgency-related fatalities or a diplomatic tie, the situation has only grown grimmer. What are we celebrating then? Even the Army has expressed unease at the continued politicisation of surgical strikes.

Using a hypermasculine lens of looking at a nation-state and how it should operate is not only deeply problematic but also, counter-productive. Instead of celebrating Surgical Strike Day, why don’t we use the existing Army Day to tell citizens what measures have been taken to make the life of our Army personnel better? One person on duty from Armed Forces commits suicide every three days. This is deeply shameful.