Hours after Home Minister Rajnath Singh condemned the "anti-national" slogans that some people shouted during an event at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University on February 9, the Delhi Police swung into action on Friday. It raided a number of hostels at JNU and arrested Student Union President Kanhaiya Kumar, charging him with sedition.
For the last two days, the Bharatiya Janata Party's student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, as well as sections of the media, have been expressing outrage over the allegedly seditious, anti-India sloganeering at an event at JNU on Tuesday. The Delhi Police on Thursday registered a case of sedition against unknown persons after complaints by the Bharatiya Janata Party Member of Parliament Maheish Girri and the ABVP.
The cultural event, titled "The Country Without a Post Office", had been organised to "stand in solidarity with the struggle of the Kashmiri people for their democratic right to self-determination" and, among other things, to protest "the judicial killing of Afzal Guru", who was hanged in 2013 after being convicted in the attack on Parliament in 2001.
The Facebook page for the event promised an evening of "protest with poets, artists, singers, writers, students, intellectuals, cultural activists". An "art exhibition and a photo exhibition portraying the history of the occupation of Kashmir and the people's struggle against it" was also on the cards.
While the event saw representatives from most of JNU’s political outfits attending, it soon turned into a scuffle between those from the ABVP and the Left organisations after the slogans were shouted. Some students present said that the slogans included, "Bharat ke tukde honge hazaar" (India will be broken into a thousand pieces).
But all the outrage against Leftist leaders on the campus misses an important point: The JNU Student Union, as well as a number of Leftist campus outfits, had actually condemned the allegedly divisive slogans chanted at that event.
In a statement issued on Thursday, members of the JNU Students’ Union criticised the sloganeering and claimed that the slogans were shouted by people who were not some outsiders.
“At the outset, we condemn the divisive slogans that were raised by some people on that day,” the JNUSU statement said. “It is important to note that the slogans were not raised by members of Left organisations or JNU students. In fact, when such sloganeering took place, it was the Left-progressive organisations and students, including JNUSU office-bearers who asked the organizers of the programme to ask the people who were raising the slogans to stop slogans that are regressive.”
The university, meanwhile, maintained that it had been misled all through since the organisers had asked for permission for a “cultural programme”.
Now, with the FIR and police raid, things have changed. The authorities maintain that though they revoked permission for the event, the decision of the organisers to go ahead with the programme amounted to “indiscipline”. A committee headed by the chief proctor has been established to investigate the matter.
Student organisations, including the All India Students Federation, Students Federation of India and the All India Students’ Association, have been measured in their responses.
A senior leader of the All India Students’ Association, which is affiliated to the Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist), told Scroll.in on condition of anonymity that his unit had nothing to do with the event and the organisers had not informed him that there would be “separatist sloganeering”.
“We went there to support the programme since it’s our duty but we weren’t comfortable with the kind of slogans being raised there,” the student said. “The police has come to find and arrest these people now but we can’t go support them outright because we will also get arrested.”
Fear is palpable
The fear of facing police action is palpable across student outfits on the campus. In its statement, the Students Federation of India also condemned the slogans and said that the organisation does not support separatism.
“Such irresponsible slogans cannot be accepted at any cost,” the organisation pointed out in a statement. "We are against all kind of separatist tendencies." It added that “fascist” elements from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Samiti were using the incident as the excuse to target the student community. “We can’t allow fascist outfits to use the actions of some of the misguided elements to attack the entire university,” the statement said.
On Friday evening, several former deans of schools at JNU issued a statement expressing shock at the arrest of union president Kanhaiya Kumar. "The only previous occasion when the President of the JNUSU had been arrested was during the Emergency of 1975'-77, and the present situation on the campus brings back memories of the Emergency days," said the statement, signed by KN Panikkar, Utsa Patnaik, Prabhat Patnaik, Zoya Hasan and Mridula Mukherjee, among others. "We urge the Union government to take immediate steps to prevent the intimidation of students and to ensure that the normal functioning of the University is not disrupted in any way."