Many people have drawn parallels between the events that led to the suicide of Rohith Vemula, a student of the Hyderabad Central University (HCU), and the arrest of Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU) president Kanhaiya Kumar on sedition charges. HCU students’ union president Zuhail KP, who is currently in Delhi to support the ‘Stand with JNU’ movement, tells Aranya Shankar about the “fight to restore campus democracy”.
What do you make of the recent events in JNU?
It’s not just JNU… We have seen similar things happen on other campuses, including FTII and our own university. According to me, what’s happening now is a fight to restore campus democracy. I don’t support the slogans that were raised that day… but I don’t see what the problem is in organising events which question capital punishment.
What is your opinion about some students being called “anti-national” and some being charged with sedition?
The easiest thing for the RSS and its affiliates is to brand themselves ‘nationals’ and everyone who doesn’t agree with them ‘anti-nationals’, because it’s the easiest way to win support from the public. The fact is that we will never believe in their idea of nationalism… We should also question what sedition is… In Scotland, there was a referendum to determine whether they should secede and despite losing, politicians from Scotland were elected to parliament. That is the true meaning of democracy.
You have said there are similarities between what happened in HCU and the current row in JNU.
The first major similarity is the way in which the government interfered in a campus matter. In Hyderabad Central University, Rohith and the others were targeted after Union minister Bandaru Dattatreya’s intervention, and here it was BJP MP Maheish Girri who did the same. Similarly, in HCU, they had problems with a programme questioning the hanging of Yakub Memon, and here it was an event to mark the anniversary of Afzal Guru’s hanging. But the biggest similarity, according to me, is about the people they have chosen to target. Rohith and Kanhaiya were both very vocal about several issues, and by targeting them the government is trying to send us a signal that if you start speaking against us, this is what we will do to you.
The ABVP and its supporters have accused JNUSU and JNUTA of ‘politicising’ the issue. What are your thoughts about that?
They politicised the matter. I would have agreed with them and said it was a university matter had they not got their leaders involved in the first place… Now that they have got the Centre involved, this has become a political fight against right-wing forces.
There are apprehensions from some quarters that Umar Khalid is not getting as much support as Kanhaiya Kumar. Would you agree?
I think sedition charges against both of them should be dropped. Slapping sedition charges on any person is wrong.. Having said that, we can’t compare them because as we know, Umar was an organiser of the event whereas Kanhaiya was not. But Umar is not the first person to question Guru’s hanging… several top judges have done the same. So when they were not booked, why should he be?