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Rahul’s support to Gurmehar Kaur part of Cong attempt to reconnect with students

Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi’s support to Delhi University student Gurmehar Kaur is part of a well thought out plans to reconnect with the student community who had deserted the party in 2011

india Updated: Feb 28, 2017 14:09 IST
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Gurmehar Kaur,Delhi university,ABVP
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi addresses students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi during the agitation over the arrest JNU students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar. (PTI file photo)

Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi’s support to Delhi University student Gurmehar Kaur is a well-calibrated attempt by the Congress party to reconnect with the aspirational youth who had moved away from it in the wake of an anti-corruption movement launched by Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal in 2011.

The disconnect had contributed significantly to the party’s drubbing in the 2014 Lok Sabha and subsequent assembly elections.

From 2014 onwards, the Congress and its vice president have made several desperate attempts to reach out to the students by taking up their issues, in and outside Parliament.

In May 2015, Gandhi took up the cudgels with the BJP-led NDA government on behalf of the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle, a students’ group de-recognised by IIT Madras for allegedly fomenting “hatred” against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The institute had acted on a complaint by the human resource development ministry which had accused the group of instigating protests against the Centre’s policies by distributing provocative pamphlets and posters in the campus. The ban has since been revoked.

Gandhi had then attacked the Modi government over “centralisation” of power and asserted that his party will always stand against injustice done to students.

On July 31, 2015, Gandhi visited the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune on the invitation of the students who had sought his support for their agitation against the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as the head of the institution. The students had urged the Congress vice president to check the “assault on institutions of higher learning”.

The Congress leader also visited the Hyderabad Central University campus on January 18, 2016, a day after Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula committed suicide. Rohith and five other students were suspended by the university in connection with an alleged attack on an ABVP leader. Gandhi had then promised full support to their agitation.

On January 30, 2016, he joined a protest march past midnight at the university campus by students demonstrating against Vemula’s suicide. Gandhi later spent the night on the campus and also joined a mass hunger strike by the students.

The Congress vice president then visited the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus on February 13, 2016, a day after JNU students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested. Kumar was charged with sedition over an event hanging the of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru during which anti-national slogans were allegedly raised.

As protests over Kanhaiya’s arrest spread to many campuses across the country, Gandhi led a delegation to meet President Pranab Mukherjee to seek his intervention on February 18, 2016.

He also accused the Modi government of crushing students for opposing the RSS’ “flawed and dead” ideology.

Nationalism is in “my blood”, he had said, invoking the sacrifices made by his family.

His remarks came in the backdrop of not-so-veiled attempts by ruling party leaders to turn the debate over Kanhaiya’s arrest into a question of nationalism and patriotism and rally support against “anti-nationals” and those supporting them.

On Monday, Gandhi voiced his support for Gurmehar Kaur, whose post against the ABVP took the social media by storm, and attacked the Centre on the issue.

“Against the tyranny of fear we stand with our students. For every voice raised in anger, intolerance & ignorance there will be a Gurmehar Kaur,” he tweeted.

On Tuesday, senior Congress leaders, including Digvijaya Singh, are likely to attend the hunger strike by the National Students Union of India (NSUI).

First Published: Feb 28, 2017 14:09 IST