What fuelled the row:
On Afzal Guru’s third death anniversary on February 9, a cultural meeting titled “The country without a post office” was organized on New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus allegedly by ex-members of Democratic Students’ Union (DSU) to protest the hanging of the 2001 Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru.
Right-wing students’ union Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad (ABVP) intervened and demanded the withdrawal of the event as it was “anti-national”.
The DSU then allegedly asked fellow-students’ unions like Jawaharlal Nehru Students’ Union (JNUSU) and Leftist organization Students’ Federation of India (SFI) and All India Students’ Association (AISA) to support them hold the meeting.
As the meeting was held despite the university administration’s order to cancel it, a scuffle broke out.
ABVP activists alleged students raised “anti-national” slogans like “Bharat ke tukde honge hazaar” (India will be broken into thousand pieces) and “Bharat ki barbadi tak jung zaari rahegi” (The fight will continue until India’s complete destruction).
And all the hell broke loose.
JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested on February 13 on sedition charges for his speech at the event, allegedly in favour of Afzal Guru.
Supporters claim Kumar is innocent and even condemned those who raised the “anti-national” slogans. They demanded the nation should listen to Kumar’s speech to know the truth.
Most news channels refrained from showing Kumar’s speech. Few channels, however, telecast the entire speech that only contained criticism of the “divisive” politics of BJP and RSS.
Watch Kumar’s ”controversial” speech. Source: You Tube
On Monday, when Kumar’s bail plea came for hearing at a New Delhi court, around 50 “lawyers” in black coats attacked the JNU students and teachers outside the court accusing them of “anti-national” activities.
JNU students union vice president Shehla Rashid’s speech after Kumar’s arrest. Source: You Tube
A BJP MLA was seen thrashing a student as several policemen looked on. Even journalists covering the event were not spared. Students and teachers allege those who assaulted them were BJP workers in the garb of lawyers.
The political play:
The unfolding events have snowballed into a major political controversy with right wing political parties defending crackdown on the JNU campus while other political parties like Congress, Aam Aadmi Party, CPI and CPM alleging it to be a ploy to “saffronize” university campuses.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh said separatist leader and Jama’at-ud-Da’wah chief Hafiz Saeed is behind the event in JNU. “Hafiz Saeed supported what happened at JNU,” he said.
Singh also took to micro-blogging site Twitter to communicate his message to common people.
“If anyone shouts anti-India slogan & challenges nation’s sovereignty & integrity while living in India, they will not be tolerated or spared,” he tweeted.
“Those involved in anti-India activities or propaganda will not be spared and those who are innocent will not be harassed,” he added. Incidentally, some tweets attributed to a Hafiz Saeed handle were reportedly found to be fake.
Education Minister Smriti Irani said the nation will never tolerate any disrespect towards “Mother India”.
Shiv Sena alleged that the JNU campus has become a hub of anti-national agents.
In an editorial in the party’s mouthpiece “Saamana”, Shiv Sena said: “The JNU campus has become a hub of anti-nationals, as well as Pakistani and Chinese agents.”
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi slammed the ruling BJP and its ideological patron RSS and said they are trying to divide the people.
At a party meeting at Assam’s Sonitpur district, Gandhi said: “BJP and RSS find terrorism even at universities and whoever doesn’t agree with their views are branded as terrorists. They have no respect for India.”
CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury tweeted: “There can be no bigger farce than Godse-worshippers putting out certificates on nationalism.”
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar also slammed the Centre on the arrest of JNUSU president.
BSP president Mayawati alleged that Kumar’s arrest is a “political conspiracy”.
On Tuesday, opposition leaders took up the matter of growing protests on university campuses with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The issue might also dominate the Budget session of the Parliament.
Sreya is based in Kolkata. She is a Senior Editor of Big Wire.