Dear Mr Amit Shah,
At an election meeting in Uttar Pradesh’s Allahabad, where you are campaigning hard to wrest power from the SP – you came down heavily on ‘gundagardi’ (hooliganism). You, in fact, promised swift action, saying, the day the BJP came to power in the state, there would be no hooligan left because “The BJP will hang them upside down and set them right.’’
Whether the BJP wins UP or not will of course be known only on March 11 but you have been presented an opportunity of coming true to your words. Members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidya Parishad (ABVP) have been running riot in Delhi’s Ramjas College and their ‘gundagardi’ has been in full display for two days now.
The ABVP, essentially a students’ group, has every right to participate in campus activities but it did not come to Ramjas to attend the seminar being organized by the English department and the college’s English Literary Society. Young students were excited and looking forth to an engaging discussion on dissent in politics, state, literature and sexuality.
Instead, students were cowering in fear, because the ‘goons’ – the ABVP is affiliated to the RSS and participates in joint activities with the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, your party’s official youth wing – went out of control. At one point stones were thrown into the seminar room, shattering glass panes. The electricity too was turned off and everyone in the room was trapped in darkness. Students, organizers and speakers were forced to duck behind chairs because the only exit had been blocked by the goons.
Dear BJP President Sir, here are more details: the ABVP members forced their way in, shouting slogans, looking for ‘anti national’ Umar Khalid, a JNU student who was booked for sedition along with Kanhaiya Kumar. Firstly, the students’ group has no business doling out certificates on patriotism. Secondly – and you will agree -- Khalid is free to speak at a place of his choosing. The Delhi Police, in fact, has not even been able to file a charge sheet within the stipulated ninety days. A year has gone by since he was booked.
It is surprising that the Police did little to control the hooligans, who managed to show again the next day and this time roughed up students and journalists, including my colleague Heena Kausar.
Universities are temples of knowledge, where dissent can be voiced peacefully but no, the ABVP had neither respect for an idea exchange nor fear for the law.
There are many witnesses to the hooliganism you promised strict action against. The teachers and students can testify, as can journalists and the policemen who, in Delhi, report not to the Arvind Kejriwal government but to the home ministry.
The ABVP did not just take law into its hands. It stands guilty of transgressing other boundaries: stifling the freedom to expression and the freedom to dissent.
Finally, Mr Shah, it would be important to remember that hooliganism is an IPC offense. It cannot be viewed through the prism of political ideology, nor can state boundaries define or redefine its essential meaning. Hooliganism in UP is no different from ‘gundagardi’ in Delhi.
(The author tweets as @shammybaweja. The views expressed are personal.)