JNU campus row: Politicians join protests against sedition charge on student union leader

DELHI: The arrest and charges of sedition against the Jawaharlal Nehru University Student’s Union president, Kanhiya Kumar, saw an outpouring of solidarity from left organisations, and the backing of the Indian National Congress, when its vice-president Rahul Gandhi arrived on campus to speak at the protest meeting on Saturday evening.

As numbers swelled at the meet — roughly 1,500 people showed up — political bigwigs such as Sitaram Yechury, Rajya Sabha MP and CPI(M) member and D Raja, Rajya Sabha MP and CPI member, Ajay Maken of the Congress, spoke along with Gandhi, mincing no words against the central government’s actions against the university.

Kumar was arrested after a skirmish, Tuesday night, between the BJP student wing, the ABVP, and Democratic Students Union on campus, when the latter organised an event against the ‘judicial killing of Afzal Guru & Maqbool Bhat’. Alleged ‘anti-India’ slogans were raised during this event. Kumar was arrested, though the JNUSU claims that he was there to defuse the confrontation, and had nothing to do with the event.

Saturday’s meeting resounded with cries to free Kumar immediately and unconditionally. Before the leaders took the stage, the students made their demands clear — release Kumar, remove the Delhi Police occupying the campus and carrying stringent checks on students, end the witch-hunt carried out by the university authorities against the students. They called for a university strike starting on Monday, saying that till Kumar returned to the campus, the campus would not function.

Gandhi attacked the NDA government for cracking down on students, saying that everyone present at this meeting was fighting to make their voices heard. “We have no objection to the BJP and the RSS expressing their opinion, we welcome them to debate us here,” he said, adding that this is why the ABVP had the right to shout slogans during his speech and “wave black flags in my face”. Gandhi’s arrival, was marked by a disruption from the ABVP, when a small number of their activists demanded Gandhi leave the campus, and started altercations with other students. However, majority of the student body expected such disturbances from the ABVP, and maintained calm and order in the crowd. The JNU professors expressed their solidarity by forming a human chain that kept the ABVP group contained and away from the general crowd.

Referring to the current regime, and the small band still shouting slogans against him, Gandhi told the listeners “don’t let them bully you”. “What they don’t realise is that in crushing your voice they are making you stronger,” he said, “the most anti-national are people who are suppressing the voice of students in this institution.”

His points were validated by the actions of the university, as a handwritten order from the Registrar came at the beginning of the event, barring the use of the microphone due to lack of proper permission. Hence, the speakers had to make do without a mic, and the ABVP activists’ belligerent volume kept a chunk of the crowd from hearing them.

The political leaders also made references to the protests at the university of Hyderabad, after the death of Dalit student Rohith Vemula, bringing up the ABVP and the BJP’s role there. They also condemned the tag of ‘anti-national’ given the the JNU student body, with palpable anger from the speakers and the students directed against certain mainstream media for having propagated it. There were plenty of slogans asking the “biased” media to leave too.

Though the student body successfully asserted their right to protest peacefully, things were far from well on campus. An entry into the university was after a thorough check at the gates, for visitors, students and the media.

Students were still living in fear of raids by the police, and by certain student groups in their hostels, a union member told dna. A faculty member added that the ABVP had submitted to the university authorities, 20 names, eight of whom were among those who organised the Afzal Guru remembrance, and all other student leaders of left groups, to be cracked down on.

Chancellor visits varsity

Dr K Kasturirangan, Chancellor, JNU visited the University on the 13th February, 2016 and met with the Vice Chancellor, faculty members, senior officials, staff members and karmacharis.

He expressed concern about the unfortunate incident that took place on 9th February, 2016 in JNU Campus which led to disturbance of peace and tranquillity, affecting its academic programme. He appreciated the quick response by the Vice Chancellor and his team, in dealing with this matter in setting up the enquiry committee and also many other follow up actions. He emphasized the need for all sections of the JNU community to extend full support to the JNU Administration and expressed confidence that effective steps would be taken to restore normalcy on campus and to ensure that such incidents do not recur.