By Abhimanyu Singh for Youth Ki Awaaz:
Shock. Anger. Anguish. This is what one of the country’s top universities, JNU felt yesterday. Shock at its president Kanhaiya Kumar of the AISF (All India Students’ Federation) being picked up by the police on charges of sedition and conspiracy against the State. Kumar was produced at Patiala House Court yesterday where he was sent to a three-day police remand for further interrogation. The Amnesty International has condemned the development.
It is learnt that five other students have also been named in the FIR. They are Umar Khalid, Rama Naga, Anant Prakash, Anirban Bhattacharya and Ashutosh Kumar. While Khalid and Bhattacharya are ex-DSU (Democratic Students’ Union) activists who organised the event ‘The Country Without a Post Office’, Naga is a JNUSU office bearer. Kumar was JNUSU president in the last Union while Prakash was the Vice-President. The police is also reportedly looking for other students, including those who organised the event on Tuesday. I spoke to one of the organisers yesterday afternoon and was told that they had not been picked up till then. It has been reported that eight students have been debarred from academic activity pending an enquiry.
It is pertinent to note that on Thursday, in a speech outside the Administration Block in JNU, Kumar had said: “true freedom will come from Parliament and Constitution.” Behind him, a large tri-colour loomed. While he did say that there was a necessity to discuss the concept of violence and the reasons and motives behind terrorism, he also added for good measure, “we don’t support terrorist activities.”
Kumar also pointed out that a University stood for the “critical analysis of the common conscience.”
The anger visible yesterday among JNU students was because they felt that their right to critically analyse the conscience of the nation had been taken away, as several of them told me, in one way or another. Not only did the police pick up Kumar, they also raided hostels, at least two of them, according to sources, to look for more students to apprehend. The anger was so palpable that a correspondent from an internationally reputed news channel was heckled as students were unsure about his identity. News anchors were also criticised in strong terms by the students, who had assembled in front of the Administration Block, for sensationalising the issue and leading a vicious campaign against the University.
The anguish was clearly felt at being branded ‘anti-national’. D. Raja, senior leader of the CPI (Communist Party Of India), who came to meet the V-C later in the day, said so in no uncertain terms. He pointed out, in an improvised speech to the students assembled that the AISF had a history of fighting the British and it needed no lesson in patriotism from anyone, least of all the right-wing forces. He also made it clear that the issue would be raised in the Parliament and that the CPI would take it up with the Home Minister.
He stated that there was an “atmosphere of terror” in the University. He condemned the arrest of Kumar and pledged that the CPI would ensure that he won’t stay in jail for long. He demanded that all charges against him should be withdrawn. “The police in connivance with the government can’t intimidate us. It hasn’t become a dictatorship yet. The constitution has given us the right to stand up and question our government. It is the universities that have become the real battlegrounds for ideas,” he said. On its part, the Home Minister from BJP, Rajnath Singh has tweeted that “anti-national” activities won’t be tolerated. Raja also exhorted the students to be “united” and “courageous.” The AISF is the student wing of the CPI.
I asked him for his response on allegations that pro-Pakistan slogans were raised at the event. “If such slogans were raised, they should not have been. One should not stretch the issue beyond a point,” he told me. He added that the arrest of Kanhiaya was symptomatic of attacking “Left forces of all hues.”
As far as sloganeering is concerned, Left sources admitted that some provocative ones were raised but they added that it was some Kashmiri students who had come from outside who were responsible.
Some divide within the student community was apparent too. A Left activist said that the DSU had Maoist tendencies and they had pushed the envelope too far, making it difficult for other Left organisations to fend for them. The JNUSU, with two AISA members, has already disassociated itself from the event and the sloganeering that followed.
However, despite differences, almost a thousand students marched at night after the Teachers Association read out a statement in support of Kumar, the president. The Teachers Association representatives met the V-C earlier in the day to discuss the events that have transpired beginning Tuesday evening at the campus.
It is indeed shocking that the highest offices of the government are extending no quarter to basic Constitutional rights like freedom of speech and expression and harping on sedition. This creates a grave doubt in any reasonable observer’s mind that more is underway than is being demonstrated. It is well-known that the BJP’s ideological mentor, the RSS, can’t stand JNU and its spirit of dissent and critical enquiry and has demanded its closure many times.
The JNU students have cried foul and rightly so. The sooner the government realises its folly and releases Kanhaiya, the better it will be for the democratic set-up of this country. Otherwise, pitched battles in the streets and derailing of Parliament will be par for the course.
Video of Kanhaiya Kumar’s speech hours before his arrest: