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Ground Report: At The Rally Demanding Justice For Umar & Anirban, Left Stands Divided

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By Abhimanyu Singh

10572042_10154109741572780_3965254567831073986_oThe divide that exists within the various Left factions was visible on 15th March at the rally taken out to demand the release of Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya.

As a Hindu report has noted, in an hour-long speech, Kanhaiya Kumar, JNUSU president did not mention the names of Khalid and Bhattacharya even once. However, he raised slogans demanding their release at the end of the speech.

While Kumar belongs to the All India Students Federation, student wing of the Communist Party of India, Khalid and Bhattacharya belonged to the Democratic Students Union till a couple of months ago. They did leave the DSU but it was over issues related to gender and caste, to a certain extent, and they never expressed a lack of faith in the main thrust of the DSU’s politics which has always found faults with the mainstream Left’s belief in electoral or Parliamentary politics. It is this dynamic which appears to be behind the divide. However, some have linked this to his refusal to go into the details of the case.

In fact, two days before the rally, I was told that other Left organisations were not too happy with having the faces of Khalid and Bhattacharya on the posters prepared for the rally. Other Left organisations have been at the receiving end of DSU’s criticism within and outside the campus for several years now and there is no love lost between them, admitted a Left leader. “Once Khalid and Bhattacharya get out of prison, they will start sniping at us again,” the leader said.

However, Kavita Krishnan, senior All India Students Association (AISA) leader, made an impassioned plea for the release of Khalid and Bhattacharya. Krishnan also denounced the government for seeking the names of Kashmiri students in different educational institutions and compared the move to the targeting of Jews in Nazi Germany.

A DSU sympathiser noted that the main issue was that the DSU’s brand of politics, often believed to be sympathetic to the Maoist guerrillas fighting against the State in the jungles of India extending from Jharkhand to Bastar to Andhra Pradesh, made the mainstream Left uncomfortable and even hostile to it.

“They know that once Khalid and Bhattacharya come out, they will again start raising issues like Kashmir and Northeast,” the DSU sympathiser added, noting that the mainstream Left’s position on these issues was “hardly very radical”.

Others also noted the lack of debate on contentious issues like Kashmir, not only at the rally yesterday but even during the classes held in JNU for the past month or so. “We need to speak about Kashmir, sooner than later,” said a protester.

Khalid and Bhattacharya moved a plea for bail yesterday despite having their judicial custody extended by two more weeks.

Around 3000 people attended the rally which also saw an address by well-known author Arundhati Roy. However, the star of the show was Kumar whose speech drew the maximum applause and attention. There were three separate attempts by his detractors to disrupt his speech and even slap him but he retained his composure and managed to keep the crowd in check. His speech was mostly directed towards highlighting the incompetence of the central government. “He knows how to convey his views well by expressing them in broad terms,” another protester told me.

The police once again tried to delay the buses that left from JNU for the protest venue, a protester who was a witness to the police’s tactics informed me. However, they finally allowed the students to join the rally.

I also spoke to Kumar’s professor S.N. Malakar who said that the proposed move to rusticate five students, including Kumar, Khalid and Bhattacharya, following the report of the enquiry committee could be revoked by the Vice-Chancellor if he wanted. He added that other than the five students, the others issued a show-cause notice– 21 in total – have been fined and not rusticated.

Malakar also told me that as of now, the JNUTA was not making much progress on its earlier intention to contest the Sedition law in the Supreme Court.

887274_10154109865812780_3199231899901176715_oThe rally also saw the presence of Shahid Kamal, one of the organisers of the recent event in Muzaffarpur in support of JNU students, which was allegedly disrupted by right-wing forces. The event was attended by Malakar and Krishnan as well.

“On the 13th, we had a programme to discuss issues related to JNU and HCU. We were allotted the hall some fifteen days ago, by depositing Rs. 13,000. However, on the day of the programme, we saw a notice pasted outside the hall that the permission had been revoked,” Kamal said. When he and other organisers went ahead with the programme, they faced stone-pelting by local right-wing political activists. “Two of our comrades had their heads split open. Kavita’s hand was injured too,” he said. According to Kamal, a complaint has been lodged with the police in this regard.

Naheed Taban, daughter of famous poet, journalist and Padma Shri awardee Gulam Rabbani Taban, was also present at the rally. In her old age now, a silver-haired Naheed told me that there was every reason for her to join the rally “since everyone in my family is a Communist”. “Injustice has been committed against Kanhaiya and other students who are in jail now…I have never seen such religious fundamentalism before in this country as under this present government. People are being killed due to food habits, Dalits are being killed,” noted Naheed, panting due to the long walk.

Taban also emphasised that the government was targeting an institution like JNU which has benefitted the country a lot. She also defended the students saying, “Those who are in possession of such intellect can never be anti-national.”

As a closing question, I asked Taban what she thought of Nivedita Menon’s position that India was occupying Kashmir unfairly. “Please don’t trap me in a controversy,” she parried with a smile but added that the JNU professor was “not wrong” in stating the same.

Images posted by Subin Dennis on Facebook.

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