Why 14 years on, these 4 men want PM Modi to do an Advani

How NDA-I freed 6 students charged with sedition for protesting US invasion of Afghanistan.

Written by Ritika Chopra | New Delhi | Updated: February 26, 2016 8:50 am
Sunil Kumar, Shahzad Alam, Sunil Mandiwal and Naveen Chandra at Dyal Singh College. (Express Photo: Renuka Puri) Sunil Kumar, Shahzad Alam, Sunil Mandiwal and Naveen Chandra at Dyal Singh College. (Express Photo: Renuka Puri)

“JIS tarah ka maahaul abhi banaya jaa raha, woh tab bhi tha. Fark yehi hai ki inko Afzal Guru ka samarthak bataya ja raha hai, aur hamein Osama ka kaha jata tha (The environment created then and now are quite similar. The only difference is that they are being labelled as supporters of Afzal Guru, while we were accused of supporting Osama bin Laden).”

Over 14 years ago, Sunil Kumar (35) — along with five friends, four of whom were studying then at Delhi University (DU) — was accused of sedition by the Delhi Police. Apart from Kumar, Shahzad Alam, Sunil Kumar Mandiwal, Naveen Chandra, Jeevan Mehta and Gurmeet Singh were picked up from the Bhajanpura area on October 8, 2001, while they were protesting America’s invasion of Afghanistan.

The sedition law was invoked as they were also opposing India’s support to the United States. All six were then associated with the Democratic Students Union and the All Indian People’s Resistance Forum.

Having been through a similar ordeal as JNU’s Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid, Sunil Kumar has been following the latest sedition controversy closely. But Kanhaiya and Umar, he feels, are worse off, particularly because of the government’s aggressive posturing on the controversy.

While the government continues to defend the crackdown on JNU students, the NDA-I had dropped the sedition charges in less than two weeks in 2001. This was done at the behest of BJP leader L K Advani, the then home minister and deputy prime minister, after he met former DU vice-chancellor Deepak Nayyar.

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Nayyar, in a column written for The Indian Express on February 20, recounted how he, during a 15-minute meeting with Advani in October, 2001, had requested the then home minister to drop the sedition charges against the DU students. Following this, the home ministry instructed the Delhi Police to let all six youngsters go. This was after they had spent close to 10 days in Tihar jail.

“We were also more fortunate because we did not have the media running a propaganda against us like they are for Umar and Kanhaiya. TV channels have been playing their visuals on loop and labelled them gaddar (traitors) already. If and when these students are released, they are at risk of being attacked by the so-called ‘desh bhakts’,” said Shahzad Alam (32), who now teaches Hindi at Dyal Singh College affiliated to DU.

Alam was just 18 years old pursuing BA in Shyamlal College when he was accused of sedition.

“There is a stark difference in the approach of the two NDA governments. NDA-I was a coalition and hence it was difficult for the government to impose one thought or ideology on the country, which its second avatar is trying to do. I think (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi should follow Advani’s example and let the JNU students go as well,” said Naveen Chandra (35), who is a teacher at a private school in Janakpuri.

Chandra was also pursuing BA in Shyamlal College and was 22 years old when he was arrested and accused of sedition.

Their solidarity with the JNU students, however, is not just based on empathy. Four of the six people, who spoke to The Indian Express on Thursday, felt Delhi police’s case against Kanhaiya and Umar was weak on facts and proof.

“These students did not shout slogans ‘Pakistan zindabad’ or ‘Bharat ki barbadi tak jung rahegi’. Those videos are shot in the dark and it’s difficult to tell if the arrested students are shouting the slogans,” said Sunil Kumar Mandiwal, the oldest of the six, who is a professor of Hindi at Dyal Singh College.

“Moreover, these students had organised the event to discuss the hanging of Afzal Guru. What is wrong with that? Can capital punishment not be questioned?” he added.

“When we were accused of sedition, we were protesting and distributing pamphlets outside our colleges. The JNU event was organised within the university premises. The institution’s authorities could have resolved this internally and not allowed the police to arrest its students,” said Alam.

“We weren’t anti-national then and the JNU students too are not anti-national. These students were talking about casteism, women empowerment and poverty. In fact, they are more nationalistic than those shouting ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’,” said Sunil Kumar, who is now a freelance writer.

Apart from dropping sedition charges, the four have another suggestion for the government. “The Prime Minister wants to scrap obsolete laws. Maybe he should start with sedition,” said Mandiwal.

Jeevan Mehta, who lives in Haryana, could not be reached for comment. Gurmeet Singh committed suicide in 2003 due to personal problems, said Alam.

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  1. I
    Feb 26, 2016 at 7:03 am
    What India Express and Ritika want to convey?! Are they want to let off these students who glorified a man who attacked our parliament!! Shame on Indian Express and Ritika Chopra!! What a moral turpitude by a news paper once headed by Ramnath Goenka !!!
    1. A
      Asif Ali
      Feb 26, 2016 at 9:36 am
      Fascist bjp won't do anything for India ...these goons has got mandate to bark in parliament and streets . Bjp,RSS have determined to destroy India . RSS who supported the British rule in India and never opposed the British fact,sanghi were puppet and sttoge of British India. RSS told that don't waste your time and energy in fighting British .Golwalkar said British is not their enemy . These rss man who loved british ,are now running the country and today they are giving us certificates of nationalism. I am giving guarantee that even if bjp rule for the 1000years ..dia will not move forward ,in fact India will go back to 5000years back in vedic age. India will never grow unless these sick fascist open their mind and stop thinking like Hitler . These fascist are making India like stan where everyday there is a war why because if you make religion as a tool of political capital ....then it means you are playing with fire.and the same is happening in India now where the game of religion is pla. So stop saying I am this ..iam that ...we are human and we will remain a human ...no religion ..no war.... Bjp# rss#congress stop playing religion card.
      1. B
        Feb 26, 2016 at 7:26 am
        What about sedition charges imposed by UPA on students of Meerut in 2014 ?
        1. S
          Sundar BN
          Feb 26, 2016 at 1:56 am
          Is it or is it not sedition, to, Not arrest those mull4hs in Pompore ?!
          1. J
            Feb 26, 2016 at 12:53 am
            One man says that "these students had organised the event to discuss the hanging of Afzal Guru. What is wrong with that?" .Other man says that" these students were talking about casteism, women empowerment and poverty."What a contradictory statement . The parents of the students of these teachers should be careful about their teachings
            1. B
              Feb 26, 2016 at 2:06 am
              In india students got arrested for protesting war against Iraq in us so many students and other civilian protested wsr against Iraq too but not a si
              1. A
                Feb 26, 2016 at 8:54 am
                Having taken a stand to support the students of JNU who have been accused of committing seditious acts you are committing errors after errors in trying to bolster up your stand. This is one such thing. The cases are in no way comparable. The students then accused have protested aga9inst an act of foreing government. Neither Osama had involved himself in sending terrorists to India to destroy it. They have not sought anything against the country and hence Mr. Advani could easily see the difference and had no hesitation in asking the police to desist from proceeding further. In the present case it is immaterial whether the concerned persons mouthed the seditious statements. They organised an event in which pamphlets have neen distributed inimical to the country as a w, confirmed terrorists who have harmed the country have been extolled, 'ant'i National slogans have been raised and 'anti'National sentiments have been whipped up. As organisers they have to be held responsible for it. Who are they or you to say the case is weak. Let the court decide it and let the forensic report arrive. In your anxiety you are crossing the line of a paper trying to present the case in its proper perspective to taking sides with 'anti' national forces. This approach will only harm you.
                1. A
                  Feb 26, 2016 at 9:02 am
                  This is similar to the Nehru families downward slide which is making their scion to side with 'anti' National elements.
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