HOURS BEFORE the Joint Action Committee (JAC) of Allahabad University students and activists was to host Liberty Festival to celebrate ideas enshrined in the Constitution in “times of increased violence and hatred”, the varsity administration on Sunday withdrew permission that was granted four days earlier. Titled “Jashn-e-Samvidhan”, the event was meant to “discuss and understand the fundamentals of Indian Constitution” by students, professors and civil society, and was to get under way on Monday noon. According to the organisers, Vice Chancellor R L Hangloo was to be chief guest.
Manish Kumar, a student who planned the event, said he was verbally told on Sunday evening that the Senate Hall will not be lent out for the festival, and the vice chancellor will not attend it. Hangloo on Monday told The Indian Express that university authorities were misled into believing that eminent persons, including Indian jurists, would be present at the event.
“In the letter seeking our permission to hold Liberty Festival, the students mentioned that, among others, the Chief Justice would be in attendance, and they included my name as chief guest without my knowledge. So we gave permission. But later we learnt that those eminent persons are not coming,” the V-C said.
In an open letter to the V-C which he later made public, Kumar wrote: “When I asked (during the telephone conversation) why was permission given in the first place, you mentioned that the permission was for holding this event anywhere in Allahabad…when I pointed out that the letter clearly mentioned a particular hall in the University, you mentioned that there was too much pressure from the Ministry of HRD and there was nothing you can do on this anymore.”
Stating that there is “no pressure of any sort behind withdrawing the permission”, Hangloo said that, among other reasons, “There are electricity costs involved in lending out the hall, and a part of the halls is undergoing repairs. Also, there is a Government of India (programme on) water conservation and another event to be held in the Senate Hall on Tuesday, so we could not give the students the hall on Monday.”
The JAC clarified they had specified they were calling former justice A P Shah but he could not make it due to a delayed flight. This, the JAC claimed, had been communicated to the varsity authorities on Sept 13 itself.
The students, on Monday noon, held an informal event, with none of the chief invitees in attendance, on the front lawns of the university. Among other guests were sociologist Prof Satish Deshpande, actor Maya Rao, singer Sonam Kalra, women’s rights activist Abha Bhaiyya.
The JAC alleged right-wing student groups launched a campaign to malign the organisers, guests and event by calling it “anti-national” and likening it to the event at JNU, which received national attention after azaadi slogans were allegedly raised there. “We decided to hold the event irrespective of permission being withheld because this intimidation and opposition to anything we wish to discuss is an attempt by the right (wing) to project progressive forces as anti-national,” said Sesh N Ojha, a research scholar and speaker at the event.