The government indicated on Tuesday it was willing to discuss a raging political row over a police crackdown at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, but protests continued against right-wing violence and sedition charges levelled on student leaders.
Parliamentary affairs minister M Venkaiah Naidu said the budget session could discuss “all issues” after Opposition leaders raised concerns over growing campus protests at an all-party meeting called by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“The government is ready to walk the extra mile,” Naidu said, seeking to douse protests sparked by the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar, the JNU student union president accused of making a seditious speech on the campus where alleged anti-India slogans were shouted.
At the meeting, finance minister Arun Jaitley defended the police action against the students, offering to show Opposition leaders video clippings of “alarming” slogans shouted on the JNU campus, sources said.
When Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said the party would never support “anti-national” slogans, Jaitley offered to show a clipping of Rahul Gandhi’s speech telling JNU students that those who suppressed their voices were anti-national. Congress leaders rebutted that.
Responding to objections over sedition charges slapped on student leader Kanhaiya Kumar, a senior minister said whether it was sedition or incitement to violence “can be tackled later”, sources said. A senior home ministry official told HT the sedition charges may have been slapped out of “over enthusiasm” by police, indicating flexibility on the part of the government in defusing the crisis.
JNU teachers boycotted classes in support of striking students and hundreds of journalists hit the streets to protest Monday’s attack on reporters and teachers by lawyers linked to the BJP outside a Delhi court.
The journalists submitted a memorandum against the violence to the Chief Justice of India. Also, the Supreme Court will hear a plea against the attack on reporters on Wednesday, amid an outpouring of support for JNU from academics from around 400 foreign universities, including Harvard and Yale.
The police haven’t arrested anyone for beating up the journalists, despite cameras capturing Delhi BJP legislator OP Sharma hitting a CPI leader. Earlier in the day, the Delhi high court dismissed a petition seeking a National Investigation Agency probe into the sedition charges, saying it was premature.
The budget session is in danger of being overshadowed by rising political bitterness over the police’s and government’s handling of the JNU crisis that Opposition leaders say muzzles free speech. The government wants to push through reforms such as a goods and services tax.
“RSS people are being appointed as vice-chancellors in universities and reputed institutes. They are trying to suppress the voice of the youth -- be it in JNU, in Hyderabad, Lucknow and other places,” Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi said.
When Ghulam Nabi Azad brought up the JNU issue at the all-party meeting, finance minister Arun Jaitley countered him by saying there was another side to the story. “How can anybody endorse their views? You should have disapproved those remarks but instead, your leaders went there to express solidarity with the protestors,” Jaitley said.
The journalists also submitted a memorandum to home minister Rajnath Singh, urging accountability of Delhi police, who allegedly watched while the assault took place.
“As there were CCTV cameras where the incident of assault must have been recorded, we demand the perpetrators of the assault be brought to book at the earliest,” the statement said.
They criticised city police commissioner BS Bassi for describing the incident as a “minor scuffle”.
The striking students are ranged against supporters of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the group that first filed the sedition complaint, saying it was defending the country’s honour against “anti-national” elements.
The protesting students found support on several other university campuses across the country. Students of Jadavpur University in Kolkata took out a torch rally protesting against police atrocities on JNU students.
Outside the JNU campus, protesters from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal staged violent demonstrations, carrying saffron flags and demanding the shutdown of the “anti-national” JNU administration.
“We will not allow any anti-national activity,” said Kuldeep Kumar Sharma, 55. “The students are hiding behind those four walls. They should come out and face the nation.”