The arrest of a Jawaharlal Nehru University student leader on sedition charges snowballed into a political free-for-all on Saturday with Opposition parties likening the situation to the Emergency and the ruling BJP accusing them of speaking the language of Pakistani terrorists.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi joined protesters on the JNU campus demanding the release of student union president Kanhaiya Kumar while visiting Left leader Sitaram Yechury said the central government was looking for excuses to crack down on students opposed to it ideologically.
Concurrent with the police action administered by the home ministry, the Delhi government initiated a magisterial probe into the alleged shouting of anti-national slogans at a campus event. “There are claims that JNU student leaders shouted anti-India slogans and counter claims that ABVP activists did it. To find truth, Del govt is directing DM to conduct an enquiry,” chief minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted.
The BJP hit back at Rahul Gandhi for throwing his weight behind the protesters. “Rahul Gandhi and his friends are speaking in the voice LeT terrorist Hafiz Saeed who had tweeted in support of the anti-India event in JNU,” BJP national secretary Shrikant Sharma said.
Party spokesperson Sudhanshu Trivedi said efforts to give “ideological cover” to violence and anti-India activities could not be allowed. “The way foul language was used against the Prime Minister... a group of students is trying to damage the dignity of an institution like JNU in the name of cultural agitation,” he said.
Students and teachers held a public meeting demanding Kanhaiya’s release. Organising themselves under the banner of ‘Save JNU’, professors and former union members addressed students.
Before the event started, the university withdrew permission to use a microphone. Gandhi, who joined the students along with Congress leader Ajay Maken, said he was proud that he could be freely shown black flags, referring to a group of students affiliated to the ABVP protesting against his visit.
“People who showed black flag on my face, I feel proud that in my country they have the right to show black flag in front of my face,” the Congress vice-president said. “Only message to you from me: Don’t let these bullies push you around.” He said the most anti-national people were the ones suppressing the voice of the institution.
Yechury said the sedition law had been misused by the British. “Remember Bhagat Singh was hanged for sedition. I cannot believe that students, teachers or karamcharis can be anti-national,” he said. Yechury said he told home minister Rajnath Singh the present situation was worse than that during the Emergency.
The Aam Aadmi Party said the Modi government was anti-student even as Kejriwal said anti-national activity should not be tolerated.
“Some of the developments in the entire episode smack of an ABVP conspiracy behind it. A pattern is emerging starting from FTII to Rohith Vemula, and now JNU. The way the voice of students is being muzzled with the might of the baton, it mirrors the anti-student approach of the Modi government,” a statement from the party said.
“No anti-national activity shud be tolerated under any circumstances. Those who did it must be identified and punished,” Kejriwal tweeted.
Kanhaiya’s parents maintained that their son was not anti-national and was being victimised for his opposition to Hindutva politics.
“My son is not anti-national. There is no question of his following an ideology of anti-nationalism. He is a nationalist like hundreds of thousands of youths of his age,” Kanhaiya’s father Jaishankar Singh, who is suffering from paralysis, said.
“We are proud of his Left ideology. There is nothing wrong in it. He has been fighting against Right-wing politics and is now being targeted for it,” Kanhaiya’s mother Meena Devi said.
Ex-servicemen who are JNU alumni threatened to return their degrees, saying they “find it difficult” to be associated with an institution that has become a “hub of anti-national activities”.