Delhi University lecturer SAR Geelani was arrested on Tuesday morning for sedition and other charges in connection with an event here in which anti-India slogans were raised.
“Geelani was arrested around 3 AM at the Parliament Street police station under IPC sections 124A (sedition), 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 149 (unlawful assembly),” DCP (New Delhi) Jatin Narwal said.
Geelani was called to the police station on Monday night where he was detained and questioned for several hours, and later arrested. After his arrest, he was taken to RML Hospital for a medical examination.
So why was he arrested?
Geelani’s arrest comes amid the raging row over the arrest of JNU students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar over sedition charges in connection with an event on February 9 against the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru. At a Press Club event on February 10, in which Geelani was present on the dais along with three other speakers, a group allegedly had shouted slogans hailing Afzal Guru. Taking suo motu cognisance of the matter, the police registered a case against Geelani and other unnamed persons on February 12.
Police had claimed that Geelani was booked as he is presumed to be the “main organiser” of the event. “Request for booking a hall at the Press Club was done through Geelani’s e-mail and the nature of the event was proposed to be a public meeting, which did not turn out to be so,” a senior official had said.
Following the registration of the FIR, the police questioned for two consecutive days DU professor Ali Javed, a Press Club member, under whose membership number the hall for the event was booked.
In 2001, Geelani was arrested by Delhi Police in connection with the Parliament attack case but acquitted for “need of evidence” by the Delhi High Court in October 2003, a decision upheld by the Supreme Court in August 2005, which at the same time had observed that the needle of suspicion pointed towards him.
Students protest in thousands
Meanwhile, outrage over the arrest of the left-wing student leader, who had organised a rally to mark the anniversary of the execution of a Kashmiri separatist, has led to demonstrations in at least 18 universities.
In the largest protest, thousands of students and academics at New Delhi’s prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) boycotted classes and erected barricades for a fourth day in an escalating conflict with the authorities.
“The government does not want students to have a say,” said Rahila Parween, vice-president of the Delhi unit of the All India Students’ Federation, a left-wing student union. “It wants to dictate what students think, understand and say.”
The incident marks another flare-up in an ideological confrontation between Modi’s nationalist government and left-wing and liberal groups that is prompting critics to compare it with Indira Gandhi’s imposition of a state of emergency in the 1970s to crush dissent.
Members of Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accused the student leader, Kanhaiya Kumar, of “anti-India” sentiment. One BJP lawmaker said the university, which has a tradition of left-wing politics, should be shut down.
“I can assure you that every action we take is to protect our country. Any anti-India activity will not be tolerated,” BJP President Amit Shah, one of Modi’s closest allies, said at party headquarters.
Protests spread when Kumar was arrested last week for sedition, after giving a speech questioning the hanging in 2013 of Mohammad Afzal Guru over his role in the 2001 attack on parliament.
Activists have long questioned Guru’s conviction, and the Supreme Court has described the evidence against him as circumstantial.
Scuffles erupted outside a New Delhi courthouse between lawyers and students where Kumar, 28, was to appear before a judge on Monday.
A leader of the student group that is aligned with the BJP said freedom of expression should not be misused to justify acts that could harm the country.
“You cannot be an Indian if you celebrate the death anniversary of a terrorist,” said Saurabh Sharma, joint secretary of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (All India Student Council).
Home Minister Rajnath Singh has, meanwhile, faced ridicule for citing a fake tweet to say that the JNU demonstration had been backed by Hafiz Saeed, a Pakistani militant accused by India of being behind the 2008 attack on Mumbai in which 166 people died.
Delhi police circulated the fake tweet at the weekend in a warning to students “not to get carried away by such seditious and anti-national rhetoric”. A spokesman did not answer calls to his mobile phone on Monday seeking comment.
At least 18 university campuses witnessed protests on Monday. Students in Kolkata burnt an effigy of Modi and left-wing groups in Odisha planned state-wide demonstrations.
Analysts said the student protests were the most widespread in India since the self-immolation of a young Indian in 1990 after the government ruled in favour of providing affirmative action to the lower castes in higher education.
“We are witnessing liberal India, particularly young people who are usually more idealistic, fighting back,” said Satish Misra, a political analyst at the Observer Research Foundation.
(With input from agencies)