Let me state at the outset that I am an unabashed supporter of free-markets and minimum government intervention. Subsidies play a crucial role in distorting markets, and from agriculture to industry, this has been a core problem in a socialist India. While the rhetoric for subsidy is that it is pro-poor, they are not the biggest beneficiaries of our subsidy spread.
But here is the thing – I am a beneficiary of subsidy. So are you, and your neighbour or brother or friend who loves to rant about JNU and how they are being anti-national and should instead be thankful to the Indian state. Oh the irony of Indian journalists raving and ranting about subsidies on TV channels with air-waves bought on the money made from newsprint subsidized by the Indian tax-payer.
The food you eat is produced with fertilizers bought on subsidies. The petrol and diesel you guzzle by tens of litres to run your cars and generators were, until recently, subsidized. If you are from a family of government employees, your education could have been subsidized. Drinking water is subsidized. Many of us who categorise ourselves as upper-middle-class are from families which have benefited from the public distribution system in the past. Did you think about that when you mocked Manmohan Singh?
Why do we, as middle-class Indians who enjoy government subsidies, think that we can defend rioters and goons who go around claiming to be nationalists, but students of JNU cannot express their opinion on what they think is injustice, just because their education is paid for by the Indian government? Arnab Goswami can run a political crusade against a sitting Union Minister of External Affairs, but students of JNU cannot mourn the death of Afzal Guru? Admittedly Afzal cannot be compared to Sushma Swaraj, but she is a minister representing India, so where does one draw the line? Why is he not an anti-national? If subsidy is a parameter, then when is Timesgroup going to give up newsprint subsidies or taking government ads?
One of the arguments being made is that we pay for students' education, not their politics. That’s true. But what is political freedom, then, if I have to restrict my political views because I am a beneficiary of subsidies like most of the country?
Diksha Madhok writes in Quartz that we are OK with IIT subsidies, but not JNU. I am not too sure about that, the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle in IIT-M came for some sharp criticism too.
Which brings us to the larger point here, that in Indian public discourse, discussions on issues like subsidy, loans and regulations are based on which party you support, not economic reasoning. We like subsidies for ourselves, not the poor, or those we disagree with politically. NREGA is bad, but dare you demand that the middle-class to give up cooking-gas subsidies. You have to ask them nicely, like Modi ji did. You can have an embarrassing Vedic Science workshop in IIT-M, but cannot have Ambedkar's and Periyar’s ideas being spread in the campus, because, subsidies.
That we think we are at the disposal of the state if we benefit from subsidies is precisely the problem with subsidies – the government becomes the master when it should be the servant. The government thinks it can buy citizens with subsidies, and we cannot allow that. Our liberty as individuals is supreme. We have the right to express our political views, however extreme, and no state can rob us off it by throwing a few bread crumbs our way. I do not endorse the views of JNU's extremists, but thier individual liberties cannot be taken away just because we throw some subsidies their way.
The irony, however, is that there is no better indictment of the flaws of the socialist state than people of the country holding Leftists in JNU responsible for their actions because they eat off the government’s hand.