Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), one of the most prestigious educational institutions in India is currently in the middle of a raging controversy after the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar, the Student Union president for sedition.
The hullaballoo inside the JNU campus set off dragging the university into the spotlight even before the ruckus following the tragic suicide of Rohith Vemula had died down. A public meet that was organized at the JNU campus on February 9 on the death anniversary of Afzal Guru, the main convict in the Parliament attack case, to protest against his judicial killing was what triggered the controversy. Kumar was arrested for raising ‘incendiary slogans’ during the program which was attended by about 90 students. Home minister Rajnath Singh has seemingly taken the lead in trying to free the country from ‘traitors’. Singh on Sunday alleged that the protests by the students at JNU had the backing of Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the Lashkar-e-Taiba chief. Opposition parties have accused the BJP of trying to dangerously politicize a simple issue which was meant to be an ordinary campus event. With the students going on a strike from Monday till Kumar is ‘released unconditionally’, things are likely to worsen in coming days. JNU has been one of the top institutions in the world producing many intellectuals, bureaucrats and eminent personalities. An event that was supposed to be a routine program in the open ambience of political discourses inside the campus that permits the students to debate and discuss any topic under the sun to any extent is now being blowed up. Any activity akin to the betrayal of the nation should surely be stopped. Several programs that are ‘indigestible’ to the Left parties, extremists and Sangh Parivar forces are held in the campus. No issues or external interferences have occurred in the past as the discussions never went off track. It’s the Sangh Parivar forces and the Centre that tags along the right wing extremists that aggravate the simple events in the campus unleashing propaganda and initiating resistive measures to counter the ‘traitors’ present in the university and to protect the nation from them.
Legal experts point out that the operation executed with the help of the Home ministry was not worth the effort taken in the form of arresting students for sedition or passing on security alerts to the neighbouring states and airports. According to them merely raising anti-establishment slogans wouldn’t be seditious unless the spoken words or actions are aimed to incite a mob or crowd to resort to violence. The BJP as well as the ABVP has the responsibility to explain how the demonstrations against the judicial killing of Afzal Guru become a betrayal of nation. Not to forget is the fact that the BJP had joined hands with PDP, who sharply reacted towards the death sentence demanding the body to be sent to Kashmir. During the colonial era, raising slogans, either spoken or written, against the country or the government could land people in jail for life. The Supreme Court in 1962 had held that only words and speeches that were used to incite mobs to violent action would be criminalized and punished. The public event organized by Kumar couldn’t be seen as an act of crime as long as it doesn’t incite violence. The skepticisms over who raised the anti-national slogans during the program still remain. The experts warn that the students couldn’t still be arrested by forcing on them serious charges like sedition. It’s high time the Centre realize that such incidents would tarnish the image of not just a prestigious institution but that of the country as well.