New Delhi, Feb. 12: Khaki at the gates, crackdown inside.
Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), the Stalingrad of Delhi, heard the daylight knock this morning.
By noon, the raids began. Soon, JNU students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar was bundled into a police van – arrested on the charge of sedition.
The clampdown capped days of disquiet on the campus after a group of students held a march and raised slogans condemning the execution of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru, the charges against whom had triggered a widespread debate. Some slogans were also shouted in favour of separate nationhood for Kashmir.
The student organisations that took part in the march, which was originally scheduled as a Kashmir cultural evening, have said they did not raise slogans but took part in the march to protest the cancellation of permission, which amounted to “suppression of freedom of expression”. JNU officials have said the permission was cancelled because the nature of the event was changed.
Kanhaiya belongs to the AISF, the student wing of the CPI, which took part in the march along with several other organisations.
Yesterday, a BJP parliamentarian had written to human resource development minister Smriti Irani against what he described as “the anti-national event” on the JNU campus.
Campuses are known to express diverse opinions that may sometimes test legal limits but liberal societies nurture such free expression of thought.
In New Delhi, in keeping with the pattern of written complaints to the government triggering stringent action, the police registered a sedition case against Kanhaiya, punishable with life imprisonment.
Whether the HRD ministry pursued the complaint is not clear but an unequivocal order was issued by Union home minister Rajnath Singh.
This morning, the home minister tweeted: “If anyone shouts anti-India slogans and challenges nation’s sovereignty and integrity while living in India, they will not be tolerated or spared.
“Whatever has happened in JNU is extremely unfortunate. I have instructed Delhi Commissioner of Police to take strong action against anti-India elements.”
After attending an education event organised by an organisation linked to the RSS, Irani said: “I only want to say 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. The nation will never tolerate insult to Bharat Ma.”
Arrested, Kanhaiya has been remanded in police custody for three days by a court.
JNU, whose new vice-chancellor M. Jagadesh Kumar was associated with a Sangh-allied outfit, acted on a committee report and debarred eight students from academic activities, pending the outcome of an inquiry. The students will be allowed to stay in their hostels during the inquiry.
On the campus, the gates were sealed by the police who moved into Mahi Mandvi hostel, where JNU Students’ Union general secretary Rama Naga stays.
“Around 11.30am, five to six uniformed policemen and several plainclothesmen came in. They blocked the wing on the second floor where Rama Naga’s room 209 is, which was locked.
“The cops then went to the caretaker’s room and went through the hostel records. They then went to 211, the room of Suresh (an SFI member). That was also locked. The police and intelligence people questioned all of us for an hour and left after searching the rooms that were open,” a resident of the hostel told this paper.
He added: “While they were searching, some ABVP boys came and wrote on the wall – ‘Anti-Nationals Go Back’.”
Most senior leaders of the Left and Ambedkarite groups had gone underground after police commissioner B.S. Bassi’s car was spotted near the administrative block around midnight.
“The vice-chancellor gave names and details of 20 students whom the police had pictures of (from the march on Tuesday). Now this witch-hunt has started and the police are making a mockery of the law,” CPI leader Annie Raja told The Telegraph .
Police sources identified five students, including Kanhaiya, as “the most wanted”. Three belong to the AISF and the All India Students Association backed by CPIML (Liberation) while two were earlier with the far-Left Democratic Students’ Union.
Everyone went underground last night, except Kanhaiya – a political activist from his school days in Bihar’s Begusarai.
While the raids were going on, Kanhaiya was speaking at a protest meet on murdered rationalists Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and M.M. Kalburgi.
An hour later, when he reached JNU, he was shoved into a police van parked opposite Brahmaputra Hostel and driven to Vasant Kunj police station.
Around 3 pm, students and staff began to gather outside the administrative block.
The students and staff were joined by CPI leaders Annie and D. Raja and Pallab Sengupta. Aparajita, the daughter of the Rajas, was present on Tuesday as part of the Left contingent that shielded the Kashmir protesters from the ABVP.
By the evening, something “surreal” appears to have descended on the campus. Most students were reluctant to give their names to journalists – this, in a cradle of politics where affiliations are worn on sleeves like badges of honour.
Mukesh Kumar, an MPhil scholar and an exception, said: “The media coverage is horrible. Our president and the Left unions, which are against Kashmiri separatism, are being targeted even before the inquiry is over. The news channels are calling all of us terrorists. My mother has called me several times. Any of us can be detained, the VC has granted permission.”
A Calcuttan whose daughter is a final-year postgraduate student at JNU said she called him from her hostel around 7.30pm and said she had heard “what sounded like a gunshot” and that there was a lathicharge.
“I am extremely worried. I asked her not to venture out of the hostel room. She called me up a while later and said that police had entered the hostel and arrested some students. But teachers were there at the hostel and trying to stop the police,” the father said. “The last time I spoke to her, she said she had come out of the hostel and was somewhere on the campus with her friends.”
Political science teacher Mollica Dastider said she was appalled with the Twitter hashtag #ShutDown JNU.
“We are so keen to ape America. There, the President and the opposition are grilled everyday. JNU has topped the government’s accreditation ratings and now you want to call us all terrorists and shut us down. I can’t imagine what I am seeing – the police going around campus searching for students. Kashmir is a part of India. Is engaging with Kashmiris a crime?”
Around 7pm, 200 teachers came out of a meeting with the VC and held a news conference condemning the police action and asking for the release of all detainees. So far, the police have only presented Kanhaiya in court. The whereabouts of the other student leaders are unknown.
Teachers told this paper that the VC said he regretted having “anti-nationals” on campus and asked his colleagues to cooperate with the police.
“I’m sorry, I can’t tell you about the details of the meeting. We are obviously shocked at what’s happening. These are grave, very grave times we live in. We will meet again on Monday,” JNU Teachers’ Association (JNUTA) secretary Bikramaditya Choudhary told this paper before leading a march of around 200 teachers and 1,000 students around the campus.
“I actually voted the BJP last time (in the Lok Sabha elections). This was a chilled-out campus and everyone did their own thing. Look at us now, there’s trouble, there’s police. I don’t agree with the Kashmir guys but there’s no need for the police,” Snigdha, an undergraduate student who didn’t want to give her surname, said.
The marchers stopped at Ganga Dhaba, where expert theorists on anything under the sun are always on call.
After the marchers settled down, whispers replaced the usual ring of arguments, slogans and laughter.
The question on most lips was: ” Kal kisko pakdenge (Who will be caught tomorrow)?”
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