NITI Aayog member VK Saraswat on Saturday claimed that the suspension of internet services in Jammu and Kashmir did not have a “significant effect” on the economy as it was used to only watch “dirty films [gandi filmein]”, reported News18.
“Why do politicians want to go to there [Kashmir]?” he asked, while speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the annual convocation at Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information and Communication Technology, where he was the chief guest. “They want to re-create the protests happening on the roads of Delhi in Kashmir. And they use social media to fuel these protests. So what difference does it make if there’s no internet there? What do you watch on internet there? What e-tailing is happening there? Besides watching dirty films, you do nothing there.”
Later, he clarified: “I am saying that if there is no internet in Kashmir, then it does not have a significant effect on the economy.”
“The reason for shutting down internet in Kashmir is different,” Saraswat added. “If Article 370 had to be removed, and if Kashmir had to be taken forward, we know there are elements there which will misuse this kind of information in a manner that will affect the law and order situation.”
On August 5 last year, the Centre had amended Article 370 of the Constitution to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special constitutional status. It had imposed a curfew, detained political leaders and banned all communication services.
The Jammu and Kashmir administration on Saturday restored 2G mobile data services, but only for access to a set of 153 “white-listed” websites, in all districts of Jammu division and two districts of Kashmir division – Kupwara and Bandipora. Mobile internet services will remain suspended in the districts of Budgam, Ganderbal, Baramulla, Srinagar, Kulgam, Anantnag, Shopian and Pulwama. The administration had restored broadband services in institutions dealing with “essential services” on Tuesday night. Social media websites continue to be banned in the region.
‘JNU is a political battleground’
On the ongoing protests at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, Saraswat said the varsity was a political battleground, reported The Indian Express. “It is not an issue of increase of fees from Rs 10 to Rs 300,” he added. “Everyone was trying to settle scores. I will not name the political parties.”
Protests against the revision in hostel and mess fees had broken in November. The protests did not subside despite a partial fee rollback. On January 5, a mob – allegedly comprising Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad members armed with sticks and hammers – attacked students and teachers, injuring at least 34 people. The outfit is the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s student wing.
Saraswat, who is the JNU chancellor, however, said that closing down the university was not a solution. “We are a democracy and we have to resolve the conflict in a democratic manner,” he said. “Our government, education department and everyone associated with it — including me — are trying to resolve it in that direction. We cannot take such harsh steps. But, in the 1980s, when [former Prime Minister] Indira Gandhi was the Chancellor, JNU was closed for 45 days… for similar reasons, and at that time 800 students were jailed in Tihar.”
Saraswat praised JNU Vice Chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar for doing a “wonderful job”. Kumar has been widely criticised for failing to prevent the violence on campus.
Protests against CAA affect the economy
On the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, Saraswat highlighted “the man-hours lost” in the agitation. “How many factories remained shut, traffic came to a standstill, hospitals remained closed,” he said. “All this contributes to GDP… Work in JNU has been stopped since October last year… the losses are affecting the economy. We are giving people money, but there is no output from them. The government teachers are getting their dues, despite the strike. What is the output… All this affects the economy.”
At least 26 people died in last month’s protests against the citizenship law. Of these, 19 died in Uttar Pradesh, five in Assam and two in Karnataka. The protests, which began at the Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi, first spread to other prominent colleges, and then on to the streets. In Uttar Pradesh, the police were accused of using excessive force against the demonstrators, and even detaining and torturing minors.
The Citizenship Amendment Act, approved by Parliament on December 11 and signed into law by President Ram Nath Kovind on December 13, provides citizenship to refugees from six minority religious communities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, provided they have lived in India for six years and entered the country by December 31, 2014.
The Act has been widely criticised for excluding Muslims. In Northeastern states, demonstrators feel the Act will erode their ethnic identities by granting citizenship to foreigners on religious grounds.