Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Tuesday alleged that certain forces in Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi were “waging a war against India”. She added that such elements were “seen with [the] elected representatives of the institution’s students’ union”. Her comments come two days after a United Left alliance swept the students’ union elections.

“The kind of things happening in last few years have not been encouraging at all,” Sitharaman, an alumnus of the university, told journalists at the Indian Women’s Press Corps. “It is very different to have a party whose ideology I may not agree [with], but the way in which they have probably got led by forces which are anti-India – when I say anti-India, definitely it is a stated position they are waging a war against India in their pamphlets and their brochures. Such people leading the JNUSU or JNUSU members openly participating with such programmes…you do not need to hesitate to say anti-India forces led them.”

The JNU Students’ Union said it was “deeply dismayed” by Sitharaman’s statements, and asked her to retract her “irresponsible and baseless” statement immediately and issue an apology. “As a former student of this university and as a senior minister, such statements calling JNUSU members anti-India and ‘waging a war against India’ are utterly baseless and condemnable,” it said in a statement.

JNU Students’ Union President N Sai Balaji said the government wants to divert attention from controversies over the Rafale deal and Jio university, and rising unemployment. “They want to end public-funded education and encourage corporatisation while the common man talks about nationalism and anti-national elements,” PTI quoted him as saying.

‘Government is not downsizing Army’

The defence minister said the government was not considering any proposal to downsize the Army, reported PTI. She said a government-appointed committee had recommended steps to make the Army a lean and powerful machine. Army Chief General Bipin Rawat has been meeting his top commanders on the matter, she added.

“There is no such proposal before me to cut troop-level in the Army,” she said. Reports have suggested the Army may cut over 1 lakh troops in the next five years as part of a restructuring process. The current strength of the force is around 1.3 million personnel.