Finance minister Arun Jaitley invoked the assassination of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi to turn the tables on the Congress as sparks flew in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday during a debate on the Jawaharlal Nehru University row.
The minister mentioned the sacrifices of the two PMs who were killed by terrorists — cited also by the Congress to thwart rivals’ questioning its nationalism — and said, “That precisely should have been the reason for you (Congress) to speak more vigorously against the offences in JNU. At least on this issue, we expected you to be with us.”
The JNU campus was not a “sovereign territory” like a foreign embassy that police could not enter, Jaitley said. “Sedition has become free speech. Can hate speech ever be called free speech? Can sedition be free speech? Can you have a free speech to say I have the right to break the country into pieces?” he asked the Opposition benches.
In the Upper House, where the government is in minority, the Congress, Left parties, the NCP and other Opposition outfits lashed out at the government. CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, who cut his political teeth at JNU, charged the government with suppressing dissent on campuses to foist its idea of a “theocratic, fascistic Hindu Rashtra” on the country.
Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad compared the BJP’s bid to “teach” nationalism to a young bird that had seen snowfall for the first time and thought it to be the severest winter, despite the mother telling it that wasn’t the case.
Jaitley pointed to a Parliament question of 1983 in which the then (Indira Gandhi) government justified the entry of police in the JNU campus to arrest 350 students, including 50 women, as the vice-chancellor was gheraoed. The government has come under severe criticism for sending police to the JNU campus to arrest student leader Kanhaiya Kumar and slapping sedition charges on him.
Jaitley targeted Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and maintained his visit to the JNU campus after the controversial protest provided “respectability” to a movement that had the aim to “break India”.
“The core question is, are we going to give respectability to those whose primary ideology is that they want to break this country?” Jaitley said in an indirect reference to Congress leaders expressing support for protesting JNU students.
Defending Gandhi who addressed students at JNU, Azad said, “Nationalism is in his blood. Woh thodi hi naya naya mussalman bana hai ki pyaz khayega (He is not a new Muslim who has to eat onions to prove his faith),” Azad said, triggering peals of laughter in the House.
Yechury demanded a House committee be set up to examine the latest developments at various central universities. “Please do not castigate the entire student community and the institutions. Please stop this tirade for advancing your brand of nationalism,” Yechury said.
Azad also spoke about the “victimisation” of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula in great detail and said the atmosphere in educational institutions had changed after the BJP-led government came to power.