Home minister Rajnath Singh said on Sunday a programme this month at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University commemorating 2001 Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru had drawn support from Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) chief Hafiz Saeed, who India alleges was the brains behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
His remarks added to a swirling political controversy fuelled by the event and the subsequent arrest of the university’s student union leader, Kanhaiya Kumar, under sedition charges, as the Congress and Left parties asked the minister to back his claim with evidence.
“The incident at JNU has received support from Hafiz Saeed . This is a truth that the nation needs to understand,” Singh told reporters in Allahabad. “What has happened is very unfortunate.”
His comments came days after a series of tweets, purportedly by Saeed, appeared under a hashtag asking Pakistanis to support the JNU protests. Authorities are trying to ascertain whether the Twitter handle actually belongs to the LeT founder.
The CPI(M)’s top leader, Sitaram Yechury, accused the government of “scaring us off” and crushing dissent, after protesters attacked his party’s headquarters in Delhi.
On Friday, police charged Kumar with criminal conspiracy and sedition for organising a protest on the anniversary of Guru’s hanging three years ago.
This has become a hotly contested political issue, days before Parliament convenes for the budget session. Students who participated in the event allegedly shouted slogans in support of Kashmiri separatism and Guru, who was hanged on February 9, 2013.
Protesters were purportedly heard saying, “Kashmir ki azadi tak jung chalegi, Bharat ki barbadi tak jung chalegi (the fight will continue until Kashmir is free and India is destroyed)”.
The incident at JNU is the latest in a string of pitched political battles between left- and right-wing student groups on campuses.
In January, the suicide of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula at the University of Hyderabad, allegedly after a fight with right-wing activists, sparked countrywide protests. Left student bodies have accused the Modi government of emboldening right-wing student groups such as the ABVP.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and Left leaders Yechury and D Raja had visited the JNU campus to meet students protesting against Kanhaiya Kumar being accused of sedition.
In a series of tweets on Sunday, former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah said the home minister must go public with the evidence that enabled him to level the charge against the JNU students.
“That #HafizSaeed supported the #JNU protests is a very serious charge to level against the students. The evidence must be shared with all,” he said. “Cracking down on students & using #HafizSaeed to justify the crackdown is a new low, even for this NDA government.”
Dozens of students at the institute formed a human chain on Sunday and families of staff members living on the campus also joined the demonstration.
While the university teachers’ association, academics and opposition parties have united to condemn the police action inside the heavily politicised JNU campus, the government has said it would not tolerate any anti-national activities.
“JNU stands for inclusion and is a secular institution that stands against communalism,” said Ajay Patnaik, president of the JNU teachers association (JNUTA) at a press conference. “Whoever does not believe in this ideology is bound to make such a statement. Does the minister have any evidence to support this claim?”
BJP leader Sudhanshu Trivedi defended the home minister’s remarks, saying “sources and decisions of the government isn’t (sic) a subject of public debate”.
However, Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said the minister had made a “serious” claim and asked him to substantiate it. CPI leader Raja too said Singh should make the “evidence” public.
A statement from the home ministry said Singh’s comments were based on “input from different agencies”.