Be it during a lecture, or while eating at Students’ Centre or even whiling away time in the open grounds, Panjab University (PU) students are these days engaged in heated discussions over the sedition case against Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Delhi, students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar and all that happened before and after that.
This was, in the latest, reflected in the ‘azaadi’ (freedom) slogans raised by students protesting the fee hike, near gate Number 2 on the campus on Monday.
Via Kanhaiya’s post-bail speech, the very ideas of sedition, freedom of expression, student leadership, even nationalism are being debated here.
Students who are not active participants in the PU campus term it an “emotional”, if not “motivational” episode. A research scholar in the English department, Navchetan Benipal, said, “Kanhaiya is one of us, and the way he stood up for himself and gathered huge support from his entire university touched me. We have been having heated discussions over the issue in our department and I believe everyone is in complete solidarity with Kanhaiya. I want to know that if not at a university then at which place should a student go and share his ideology and opinions.”
Similarly Shagun Arora, a final-year master’s student in the economics department, said, “While this JNU issue was burning, the government faced another major anti-national incident where a large number of Jat protestors burnt schools, vehicles and several places. Why aren’t they called anti-national? Why were they allowed to do whatever they wanted for several days?”
Meanwhile, students’ organisations on the campus, including the Leftist Student Federation of India (SFI), Congress wing National Students’ Union of India (NSUI), the Society for Students (SFS) and Ambedkar Students Association (ASA), seem to have united over the Kanhaiya issue, leaving the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) in the opposition.
Majority of student leaders said that Kanhaiya who belonged to a humble background has “set standards” for them to come forward and raise more serious issues with regard to PU too.
A senior leader of SFI, Prabhpreet Singh, said, “Our University needs such an icon who can talk about the youth and can stir up a students’ movement which is not very strong in our varsity. It is sad but our campus president has completed seven months into the tenure already but he has done nothing to gather students’ support. I am sure our campus will also witness a new movement, inspired by Kanhaiya Kumar.”
Vijay Kumar, leader of ASA, said, “Kanhaiya’s arrest was a planned conspiracy by the BJP-RSS people. They wanted to overshadow Rohith Vemula’s death. However, this incident has triggered a change in the mindsets, especially talking about the Dalit and other backward students who would openly come up now to speak against unfair treatment. I will call this episode motivational.”
NSUI’s senior leader Brinder Dhillon said Kanhaiya’s speech was brilliant. “I was in JNU when he was elected president... Whatever he said in his speech now cannot be regarded as anti-national. The incident has left behind a new trend where even school students have started talking about freedom of expression and nationalism. Our campus needs this environment of discussion and debate. But, with time, Kanhaiya will also fade away, and the issue will be forgotten in another six months. We need to change this mindset,” he said.
Similarly, Sachinderpal Pali, member of SFS, was of the opinion that there was nothing wrong in Kanhaiya’s speech. “I think the problem lies within the system, where people who wish to work for the welfare of the country and speak in favour of the country are regarded as ‘anti-nationals’ for no reason at all. This incident has led our university to debate issues like democracy, even in terms of calling the police on campus,” he added.
But Harmanjot Singh Gill of the ABVP insisted that Kanhaiya and the whole JNU episode left a “negative impact” on the minds of young students “who are still developing their opinions”. He said, “Kanhaiya’s speech has led to instability in the country. He has proved that who all are nationals and who all are anti-nationals. But the whole incident has made the students sensitive towards this issue. The conditions are now such that even hostellers are seen discussing about ideologies of a students’ leader. There will be an ideological war instead of a politically motivated one.”
SOI’s Vicky Middhukhera said, “Students were sympathetic towards him as it was perceived that Kanhaiya had been made a scapegoat for political advantages by certain political parties. There was also a general opinion that those raising anti-national slogans must be dealt with strictly. Further investigations would sort out that issue. But, as of now, the Left has very little political space in PU; some sort of NGO activism only. Students of this university believe in work-oriented action rather than bogus propaganda.”