The Congress should be ashamed of Rahul Gandhi’s visit to the Jawaharlal Nehru University, BJP chief Amit Shah said on Saturday as he waded into a nationalism row sparked by sedition charges on student leader Kanhaiya Kumar.
Shah’s first reaction to the debate on free speech came two days after JNU students’ union leader Kumar was released on bail in the sedition case, slapped on him after anti-national slogans were allegedly raised by a section of students during a campus event last month.
The face-off between the Congress-led opposition and the ruling NDA alliance over the controversy, which dominated Parliament proceedings last week, is expected to extend to campaigning for elections in five states starting April 4.
“A strange atmosphere has been created. Anti-national slogans are being projected as freedom of expression...Congress should be ashamed that its vice-president goes to the campus and says these (slogans) should be heard as there is freedom of expression,” Shah told members of the party’s youth wing, the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM).
Taking on Gandhi and Kumar, the BJP president asked if slogans terming terrorists as martyrs “is freedom of expression then what is sedition?” and questioned Congress president Sonia Gandhi if she “endorsed” her son’s opinion on the issue.
The two-day BJYM meeting in Vrindaban started in the backdrop of one of its top leaders in Uttar Pradesh announcing a reward of Rs 5 lakh to anyone who cuts off Kanhaiya Kumar’s tongue. Aware of the offer’s potential to affect the BJP ahead of the polls, the BJYM expelled the leader Kuldeep Varshnay.
Almost simultaneously, posters appeared in Delhi in the name of a little-known organisation offering Rs 11 lakh to anyone who kills the JNU student leader.
In several interviews after his release, Kumar said the students’ movement he is spearheading will continue till the BJP-led government at the Centre is ousted from power.
He has also rebutted the charges of sedition saying that his icon was not Afzal Guru but Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula, whose suicide has been described by student groups and opposition parties a result of campus discrimination against lower castes.
Speaking at the BJYM meet, Union minister VK Singh also targeted Kanhaiya Kumar for calling Rohith Vemula his inspiration, alleging that the Dalit scholar had organised a meeting in support of Mumbai blasts convict Yakub Memon.
“I read in newspapers today (Saturday) that a JNU student leader says that he does not draw inspiration from Afzal Guru but Rohith Vemula. I told myself that Rohith Vemula too had organised a meeting for Yakub Memon. Are we with those people who encourage terrorism and who abuse India?” he said.
Another Union minister Mahesh Sharma said the JNU incident had tarnished the country’s image and affected the tourism industry.
Speaking at a rally in Assam, Rahul Gandhi raked up the JNU and Rohith Vemula issues saying that Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not reply to his pointed questions on the issues during a debate in Parliament.
“Modiji, in his hour-long speech, instead of giving a reply to these questions, quoted former prime ministers Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi and launched a personal attack on me,” Gandhi said.
(With inputs from agencies)