“We do not believe in the French interpretation of secularism”: IIMC’s KG Suresh Discusses the Yagna Being Conducted at the Institute

Tashi Tobgyal/Indian Express Archive
20 May, 2017

Today, the Indian Institute of Mass Communication in Delhi, in association with Media Scan, a weekly newspaper, will host a day-long seminar on journalism, titled “National Journalism in Current Scenario: Media and Myth.” The seminar will be preceded by a yagna—a Hindu ritual. According to news reports, Hitesh Shankar, the publisher of the Panchajanya, a mouthpiece of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, was scheduled to moderate the inaugural session of the seminar. SRP Kalluri, the former inspector-general of Bastar who has been accused of human-rights violations, has been invited to participate. Students and alumni of IIMC, along with several observers, have criticised the institute for hosting the seminar. Many characterised the yagna as opposed to the ideals of secularism. Others characterised the ritual as evidence of IIMC’s “saffronisation.” The institute has been embroiled in several controversies in recent months: in March 2016, Amit Sengupta, then a professor at IIMC, was transferred to the the institute’s Odisha branch, and many on campus alleged that his transfer was a result of the government’s interference in the institute. In December 2016, an academic associate’s termination led many to claim that this too, was a result of the administration’s political affiliations.

On 18 May 2017, Sagar, a web reporter at The Caravan, spoke to KG Suresh, the director-general of IIMC. Suresh, who is scheduled to speak at the event, is a former senior fellow with the Vivekananda Foundation, a public-policy think-tank affiliated to the RSS. Sagar spoke to Suresh about the seminar, the institute’s policy regarding religious rituals on campus, and the controversy surrounding the event.

Sagar: It has been reported that IIMC will be conducting a yagna before a seminar at the institute.

KG Suresh: You see, if tomorrow The Caravan comes and says we are a media organisation and we want do something for discussion on media—we generally [agree], because we look at IIMC as national property and we want all the campuses across the country to become a media hub. In this context, whether it is Laadli Media Awards—they had their jury meeting [this year, at IIMC]—[or] last year there was a media educator’s conference for which Mr Rathore [Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore is the minister of state for information and broadcasting] had come. So whenever media organisations approach us, we give people our venue and we give it to them free of cost.

Since we are giving it to them free of cost, we have to state that we are partners to any event. If we don’t say that, then there will be audit objections and they will say, why didn’t you give it on hire to private parties? On issues which have nothing to do with media, we also give our auditorium out on rent. We are very supportive of any media organisations and we don’t look into who is being invited and all that. I am not talking about newspapers or something; I am talking about media organisations that are voluntary. Commercial organisations, we charge.

These people [those organising the seminar] came, and see, our academic session is over, so there is no question of any ideological imposition or anything. There are just a couple of them [students] staying on the campus, I had given them special permission to stay because our hostel is to go on renovation soon. Secondly, it is a Saturday, so even our staff is not there, so whom am I imposing this on? On trees, on plants on the gardens? So if somebody has an agenda, [it is] two of the ex-students who are most active in this, they are no longer attending because the academic session is over. One of them is a suspended student, Rohin Verma, and another one is Ankit Kumar Singh, who was given a notice, so they have a grudge against the administration and they try to score points. So, these people are going around sending things to media houses and circulating stuff on social media.

Even in this, if I helped organise it, I would be inaugurating it and I would be getting some high-profile minister to inaugurate it. I am just one of the speakers on one the panels, beyond that I don’t go into who are they [the organisers] are calling. If there is some violent activity, demonstrations or something like that, then I will take cognisance of that. In this case, I came to know through social media that in the morning, some volunteers would be doing some havan or yagna or whatever. They are doing it; we have absolutely nothing to do with it. Now, this [IIMC] is the same place where—much before NDA [National Democratic Alliance] government or the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] government came in to power—during the Congress regime, an idol of goddess Saraswati was installed in the campus. Every year, both in IIMC and in JNU [Jawaharlal Nehru University], Saraswati Puja happens every year. I did not introduce it.

If four people tomorrow say we want to offer namaz and they ask for permission, we have no objection. We do not look at it as a religious activity. I see no harm happening. I am not conducting it, [the yagna], you should have a problem if I am conducting it.

S: As the head of an institute, do you think such religious activities should be allowed?

KGS: Why not? Then I should not be allowing Saraswati Puja also and I should demolish the statue. Are you demanding that from me? Why at that time [when the statue was installed] people were silent? Because it was installed by the Congress government? That is why they have no answers. You want to target the government and make the charge of saffronisation, so you have found a victim in KG Suresh.

Please, let us be clear, we do not believe in the French interpretation of secularism. Secularism means we give equal support to all religions. The first course that I launched [after being appointed director-general] was Urdu. Whether you identify it with a particular community or not it is your choice. If you want to be hypocritical, that is your choice. It should not be that way, but all students in the Urdu journalism programme are from the minority community.

S: You said that you would also grant permission to somebody to read the namaz if they wanted to do so. Isn’t it wrong to conduct either the namaz or a yagna in an educational institute?

KGS: This is the problem with you people. You don’t understand the Indian concept of secularism. I told you we don’t believe in French concept of secularism. It’s sarva dharma samadhar here: equal right to all religions.

S: Don’t you think that only education should take place inside educational institutes?

KGS: No, not at all. Army cantonment ke andar mandir aur mazar dono hotey hain. Pehle wo demolish karayen. [There are mandirs and mazars inside army cantonments as well. Get those demolished first.] Why is there is a Sikh regiment in the army? On the basis of religion?

S: That’s from the colonial era. There is a Rajputana regiment, as well as a Gorkha one.

KGS:Toh yagna aur hawan toh hazaron salon se hain.Chalne dijiye. [Yagna and hawans have been ongoing for thousands of years. Let them go on.] This is not British India, it’s Indian India.

S: There are allegations from a lot of students that the institute library is buying many “RSS books.”

KGS: There are no RSS books there.

Sagar: Some on campus mentioned that books from the Vivekanand Foundation have recently been added to your library. The cost of these, they say, is over Rs 40,000. Should an educational institute be investing so much in one particular ideology?

KGS: What about that? We have so many books from many publications. [The Vivekananda Foundation] is a well-known think tank. We have [the historian] Romila Thapar’s book also. The Bible is also there and the Quran is also there. It is not my fault that Hindus have written more religious texts than other religious groups. We want our students to get exposure to all ideologies, all religions, everything. Not just media issues—they should have access to broaden their horizons.

[The book published by] Vivekanand Foundation is not about Hindutva, it is about the history of ancient India. After [the educational trust] Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan published it in the [19]50s, no other publication has come out with this book thus far, so we bought it. The Constitution of India is also there in the library. Why should I not have the books of publications with which some people don’t agree? Even if it is RSS, why should I not buy the book? Why should people only learn about CPI (M) [the Communist Party of India (Marxist)] and CPI (ML) [the Communist Party of India (Marxist and Lenninist)] and AISA [All India Students Association, the student-wing of the CPI (ML)]?

I have a budget of Rs 20 lakh and I get books at a discounted price, do they know that? They are talking about the cover price and I get it at half the price. Since when has the media started getting into the price of each and every book that I buy? If someone has a vested interest, you can find everything wrong.

S: I doubt that the students have a vested interest.

KGS: I have already told you [about the students.] Outside people have motivated them.

S: Students of IIMC have also said that most of the people who have been invited for the seminar only follow a certain ideology.

KGS: Don’t say students, say one or two students. I have 400 students and if one or two of them are saying things and the rest are keeping quiet, say one or two. Who are the people I have invited? You can name them for me.

S: Panchajanya’s editor, Hitesh Shankar, has been invited, for instance.

KGS: You can have a problem if he came and addressed the students, if someone comes to meet me what is your problem? Sukhdeo Thorat [the former chairman of the University Grants Commission] who is considered to be an opponent of the government, he came to meet me last week and I have put it on FB [Facebook].

S: When such an event takes place on your campus, won’t it be seen as an event taking place at a journalism institute?

KGS: If a certain section of the media is biased, I can’t help them. Them saying that will expose their bias. Despite all the adverse publicity that you friends gave me in the last one year, why is it that today, when the media is criticising other institutes for a reduction of seats, I am increasing the seats here at IIMC? For the first time, breaking all the records, I have received 6,000 applications.

We put our successes on social media too, but you never look at that. You look at these things because you are looking for how to defame. Regional-language journalism is happening in an institute of national importance—[that] doesn’t matter to you. You see, you have a basic comprehension problem, that is why, unfortunately you do not study at IIMC. I am telling you ten times in the past one hour that we are not organising the event, and you are repeating your allegations again and again.

S: Apart from starting an Urdu course, has the institution done anything else to balance your ideological leanings?

KGS: What balance? There is no need for any of that. I have introduced Yoga also for the benefit of the students.

S: Is yoga compulsory for the students?

KGS: No, this is your interpretation. There is a teacher and a class and everyone can go if they want to. There is nothing compulsory in IIMC, not even attending classes. I have sent you messages about the Marathi and Malayalam journalism programmes and I have never seen you express any interest in that.

I don’t believe anything is wrong with the entire event. But the media believes in sensationalism. This creates sensationalism na, [to say,] “IIMC holding yagna! Itni badi cheez hai bhai! Humare desh ka secularism khatre mein hai. Bade afsos ki baat hai.” [It’s a big thing! Our nation’s secularism is under threat. This is very saddening.] I’m really scared of your secularism.

This interview has been edited and condensed.