Just a little over two weeks ago, we were debating whether an as yet unidentified object was the first meteorite recorded to have killed a human by its impact in Madurai. Then on February 12, Jawaharlal Nehru University Student Union president Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested on charges of sedition for allegedly chanting slogans in support of Afzal Guru and against India.
The days since have brought one boggling event after another.
Lawyers attacked JNU faculty and journalists twice outside a court house. A BJP MLA from Delhi OP Sharma, who himself assaulted a student at the court said that he had no regrets and called for those chanting slogans against India to be shot. Journalists marched in protest for the first time in almost two decades. Rajnath Singh and BS Bassi claimed that the entire affair was orchestrated or supported by Jama’at ud Da’wah head Hafiz Saeed. Noam Chomsky wrote in support of JNU’s students. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case of contempt against the students for their perceived criticism of a judgment of the court. After students named in a chargesheet went on the run, the Delhi police used it as an opportunity to conduct free-range surveillance of anyone contacting any JNU students.
While developments in Chhattisgarh (where the police is hounding out dissidents) and Haryana (where the Jats are violently demanding OBC status) have been alarming enough to get front page coverage, there are other events that would have made it to the headlines in less fraught times.
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Two states have been facing a leadership crisis over a month now. Arunachal Pradesh has been in turmoil since December, when 21 MLAs from the ruling Congress party, along with 11 BJP and two independent MLAs voted to impeach the speaker of the Assembly outside the house itself. On January 26, the centre imposed President’s rule in the state and dismissed its chief minister Nabam Tuki. On February 18, the Arunachal Pradesh governor swore in dissident Congress leader Kalikho Pul as the state’s ninth chief minister. Pul has the support of the MLAs who had moved against the speaker. On Monday, the Supreme Court refused to intervene in the formation of the new government.
Jammu and Kashmir has also been without a chief minister since the death of Mufti Mohammed Sayeed on January 7. Sayeed’s daughter Mehbooba Mufti has since been reluctant to assume the post, giving rise to speculation that she was unhappy with the PDP’s current alliance with the BJP. On Sunday, she hinted that she was inclined to continue with the present formation.
Frazzled foreign affairs
A three-day encounter at Pampore near Srinagar finally ended on Monday afternoon. Nine people, including three Army para commandos, one civilian and three terrorists were killed. Jat protestors demanding reservations in Haryana inadvertently blocked Captain Pawan Kumar’s body on its way back home.
India’s relationship with Pakistan continues to be hostile after the attack on Pathankot in January. The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry had to cancel an exhibition planned in Lahore, even as India delayed a visa approval for Pakistan’s high commissioner Abdul Basit for a three-day visit to Chennai.
High-level Nepal visit
On the international front, Nepal’s new prime minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli is visiting India for six days on his first foreign trip since he assumed the post in October. Five months of Madhesi protestors blocking routes between India and Nepal to demand constitutional rights have left relations between the two countries uneasy. While in India, Oli is expected to sign two memorandums of understanding for promises made before the constitutional crisis erupted.
In normal times, the week leading up to any session of Parliament, and particularly the Budget session, is full of speculation on the debates and laws to be introduced. This time, very little has been said about it at all.
Despite the BJP’s efforts to hold talks with the opposition to build consensus before proceedings begin, the session is likely to be dominated by opposition protests over the centre’s handling of the protests about Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide at Hyderabad University, JNU and terror attacks. For its part, the government is likely to attempt to push through the GST and real estate bills.
Reform of educational institutions
Perhaps the height of incredulousness during the JNU protests was reached when a conference chaired by education minister Smriti Irani announced that all centrally funded universities would be obliged to fly 30-kg flags from 207-foot tall flag poles to promote nationalism. What slipped past in that furore was that the conference of 46 central university vice chancellors was convened to suggest reforms to tackle institutional discrimination in the light of Rohith Vemula’s suicide.
Apart from calling for all universities to appoint anti-discrimination officers, the conference was silent on the recommendations of the Sukhadeo Thorat Committee that was the first to ever study caste-based discrimination in higher education. It instead recommended new courses of study, professional counselling and steps to increase enrolment.
National Herald hearings
After the Supreme Court refused to quash the National Herald case against various Congress luminaries including Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, a trial court in Delhi on Friday granted Sam Pitroda bail. The case relates to accusations of cheating and misappropriation of funds in a deal involving the now-defunct National Herald newspaper. In compliance with the apex court’s order, it exempted the Gandhis, Motilal Vora and other accused from personally appearing in court. It also kept documents from central ministries in a sealed cover until petitioner Subramanian Swamy is able to prove their relevance to the case.