HOURS AFTER Home Minister Rajnath Singh and HRD Minister Smriti Irani denounced the raising of alleged anti-India slogans in JNU, Delhi Police on Friday arrested the university’s students union president on charges of sedition and criminal conspiracy.
Kanhaiya Kumar’s arrest evoked strong reactions from JNU students and teachers, past and present, and Opposition parties even as the RSS’s students wing ABVP “thanked” police for arresting the “anti-nationals”. The arrest of Kumar, a member of the CPI’s students wing AISF, was made a day after BJP MP from East Delhi, Maheish Girri, registered a complaint with police.
Kumar was remanded in police custody for three days after he was detained from the JNU campus for questioning by two policemen in plainclothes. Police had sought custody for five days to determine his alleged links with terrorist groups in Pakistan and Kashmir while claiming that he had visited Kashmir in 2012.
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“I dissociate myself from slogans that were shouted during the event. I have full faith in the Constitution of the country and I always say that Kashmir is an integral part of India,” Kanhaiya told the court.
Later in the day, the university administration also debarred eight students from academic activities. “Considering the seriousness of the incident and in order to enable a fair enquiry, the committee has debarred eight students from academic activities with immediate effect during pendency of the enquiry. …they will be allowed to stay in their respective hostels as a guest,” read a statement from the JNU administration.
Registrar Bhupinder Zutshi told The Indian Express that this was only an interim measure and could be overturned after the probe is complete.
“As of now, they are not going to be counted as students. They will not be eligible for scholarship, and they won’t be allowed to attend classes or give their exams. However, if after the probe some students are let off the hook, we’ll take back the suspension,” said Zutshi.
Apart from Kumar and Khalid, the students who have been suspended include Anirban Bhattacharya, Ashutosh Kumar, Rama Naga, Anant Prakash, Aishwarya Adhikari and Shweta Raj. Ashutosh Kumar, Naga, Prakash and Raj are members of the Left-backed All India Students’ Association (AISA).
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The university had formed a proctorial committee to probe the protest in question.
The alleged anti-India slogans were reportedly raised during a protest march on the campus on Tuesday against Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru’s hanging. The protest was staged even though the JNU administration had revoked permission following a complaint from the ABVP.
Kumar’s arrest came after Home Minister Rajnath Singh said, “If anyone raises anti-India slogans, tries to raise questions on the country’s unity and integrity, they will not be spared. Stringent action will be taken against them.”
Singh said he had asked the Delhi Police to take “strongest possible action” against those who were allegedly involved in the episode.
Soon after, HRD Minister Smriti Irani said the “nation” would not tolerate any “insult to mother India”.
“I want to say this much, that today is the day of worship of Goddess Saraswati. Saraswati blesses every family that whatever they speak is for progress and strengthening the nation. Let mother India be praised. Nation will never tolerate insult to mother India,” she told reporters.
Addressing the All India Principals Conference earlier in the day, Irani said she was satisfied that there are teachers who teach children to pray for the nation and “not anti-India slogans.”
The JNU Students Union (JNUSU) condemned the arrest of Kumar, saying they are being “witch-hunted”.
The JNU Teachers’ Association (JNUTA) also expressed its “strong opposition” to the attempts being made to use law and police to conduct a “witch hunt” in the campus.
The JNUTA said, “The teachers of JNU always stand for upholding the Constitution of India and values enshrined therein and are opposed to any unconstitutional activity in the campus or outside. This very sentiment makes us express our strong opposition to attempts to use the law and police to suppress democratic dissent and conduct a witch-hunt on our campus. The fact that JNUSU president is first to be arrested establishes it.”
Meanwhile, the administration said the varsity was not a platform for activities that violate constitution after barring entry to outsiders. “While the JNU community upholds the right to free debate on campus, the university strongly condemns its use as a platform for activities that violate the Constitution and the laws of the land. However, there could be aberrations where fringe sections misuse the freedom provided,” the newly appointed Vice-Chancellor Jagadesh Kumar said.
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi took to social media to criticise the crackdown on students. “While anti-India sentiment is unquestionably unacceptable, the right to dissent and debate is an essential ingredient of democracy. The Modi government and the ABVP bullying an institution like JNU simply because it won’t toe their line is completely condemnable,” he posted on Twitter.
CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury posted on Twitter: “What is happening in JNU? Police on campus, arrests and picking up students from hostels. This had last happened during Emergency.”
The CPI, too, decried the police action against students. CPI general secretary S Sudhakar Reddy said: “CPI demands the immediate release of Kumar and other leaders and withdrawal of police from the university campus.” The party’s national secretary D Raja visited the campus to express solidarity with JNU students and met V-C Kumar.
Addressing protesters there, Raja said the CPI would take up the issue with the Home Ministry and also during the upcoming budget session of Parliament.
(With inputs from Aneesha Mathur, ENS/Delhi)