Scenes of protest that rocked the Jawaharlal Nehru University this week spread further across the country on Thursday, with students and teachers from cities including Bengaluru, Jaipur, Kolkata and Chennai joining in the demand for the release of student leader Kanhaiya Kumar arrested on sedition charges.
Kumar, whose appearance in court sparked an attack on journalists and fellow JNU students by a mob of lawyers, was taken into custody on Friday after alleged anti-national slogans raised on JNU campus led to clashes between student bodies attending the event. Kumar moved the Supreme Court for bail on Thursday.
Visuals of Kumar being lunged at by lawyers added to the outrage with students in at least 10 cities taking to the streets to denounce his arrest. Three JNU students also resigned from the BJP’s student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parisad (ABVP), over how the NDA government was handling the issue, and called for a fair trial of Kumar.
Students across various universities in Delhi joined protesting JNU students. JNU vice-chancellor Jagadesh Kumar appealed to participating students to reconsider their decision, citing “safety” reasons.
Police were put on alert in Kumar’s home district of Begusarai in Bihar where local BJP and ABVP workers have been agitating. Begusarai superintendent of police said a special team has been put on stand-by to protect Kumar’s family in case of any untoward incident.
ABVP activists were in the thick of things in Patna, clashing with members of the All India Students Federation (AISF). Police said a group of Communist Party of India-affiliated AISF, along with the student wing of Bihar’s ruling Rashtriya Janata Dal, took out a march in support of Kumar. They had also raised slogans against the BJP outside the party office before police resorted to lathicharge to control the situation.
In Kolkata, police were on alert as two groups of students held rival rallies in the Jadavpur University campus. Students affiliated with ABVP demanded strict action against Kumar and others who they accused of being anti-Indian.
In Chennai, police arrested 40 students for participating in a similar movement.
Soon after the protests began, home minister Rajnath Singh tweeted that anyone shouting anti-India slogans “will not be tolerated or spared”. He further sought “cooperation from all political parties and people to join in the fight against anti-national forces”.
Both Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who met president Pranab Mukherjee over the incident, condemned the attacks on Kumar. Both charged the central government for the violence, with Gandhi accusing the NDA of imposing their “flawed and dead” ideology.