Azadi call from campus

A meeting on the JNU campus to commemorate the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru has sparked a full-blown controversy.

Comrade Pradeep ka Lal Salam,” shouts come from the crowd, as Pradeep Narwal, an ABVP leader who recently quit the right-wing group, addresses student protesters outside the JNU administrative block on Friday evening.

Students have been protesting since the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU) president Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested on charges of sedition, two days after he allegedly organised the February 9 event on the JNU campus against the hanging of 2001 Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru.

Police sought permission to “enter” the campus “stating that anti-national sentiments were voiced”, according to a JNU note on the row. Eight students have been put under academic suspension pending a disciplinary inquiry.

The vice chancellor’s move and Kanhaiya’s arrest have sparked protests from two warring camps – one led by Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad and the other by the Left student parties which has the backing from Congress’ National Students’ Union of India (NSUI). Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi is among the non-Left leaders to come out in solidarity with the students’ demand for Kanhaiya’s release.

Narwal, the former ABVP JNU unit secretary, who addressed Kanhaiya supporters, signed off saying, “Looking at the smiles on your faces, I think what I did was right and for the truth. I wouldn’t take much of your time. I can’t even speak for long, so I tell you all – Jai Bharat! Jai Bhim! Lal Salam! Vande Mataram!”

A day before, this postgraduate student of History was busy defending his resignation amid online rage that trended #shutdownjnu on Twitter. Such is the frenzy surrounding Kanhaiya’s arrest that a Delhi University teacher’s WhatsApp status reads: “Protest Against JNU”.

“Mera Facebook ja key dekh, bawal ho rakha hai (Check my Facebook profile, hell has broken loose),” Narwal says while answering a phone call, the morning after the day he resigned. “People are looking for me,” he then tells this reporter. “Someone told me this when I was coming up to my room this morning.”

Sitting in his hostel room on Thursday, Ankit Hans, another ABVP office bearer who recently quit, a Congress-affiliated National Students Union of India (NSUI) member and two other self-proclaimed “former ABVP sympathisers” argued that liberals are drifting away from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-affiliated student outfit after the controversial arrest of Kanhaiya.

Attacked for the second time this week in Patiala House court complex, Kanhaiya’s All India Students Federation (AISF), which fielded him as its only candidate in the last year’s JNUSU elections, says concern looms over his safety. He fears that he might be attacked by the fellow-prisoners in Tihar jail, as per the bail plea that Supreme Court transferred to the Delhi High Court on Friday.

AISF is student wing of the Communist Party of India (CPI), which a JNU student and blogger Harshit Agarwal describes as “mildest of all Left parties” with “no Maoist or secessionist ideology”.

Arvind, a research scholar who, like Kanhaiya, stays at Brahmaputra hostel, says Kanhaiya attended the February 9 public meeting and later addressed protesters. He adds that because of the noise he couldn’t hear what the JNUSU president said that day.

He recalls that the day after the Afzal Guru `commemoration’, he confronted Kanhaiya at the tea shop on the  hostel campus and asked him why he felt it was necessary to make a speech. Arvind has been a JNUSU election panel member for four years in a row up to the 2015 JNUSU elections.

“Kanhaiya is very polite. He may have political differences with other people, but he always counters them with argument,” Arvind says, claiming that Kanhaiya’s  association with AISF has been since his formative years as a student
activist.

Sipping tea in the hostel lawns, he argues that the BJP-led Centre wants to divert attention from Rohith Vemula’s case. The Hyderabad University scholar was a Dalit, while Kanhaiya is an upper caste Bhumihar, he says.

Arvind expresses concern over shift in the sedition debate from the controversial event to Kanhaiya’s arrest.

According to Harshit Agarwal, the ex-members of Democratic Students Union had called for a cultural meeting of a protest against “the judicial killing of Afzal Guru & Maqbool Bhat” and in solidarity with “the struggle of Kashmiri people for their democratic right to self-determination”.

A lot of Kashmiri students allegedly attended this meet, where Kanhaiya being
the JNUSU president was an invitee.

“Democratic Students Union (DSU) is an ultra-leftist group in the campus that believes in the ideology of Maoism. It's a very small group of very well-read students. They are not terrorists or Naxals by any means. I have been in the campus for more than two years and never have I witnessed or heard of them committing a terror activity as much as of throwing a stone, let alone overthrowing the state,” Agarwal says in his blog.

DSU has barely 10-15 student members, according to Arvind.
Addressing a news conference after the SC refused to hear Kanhaiya’s bail plea, JNUSU vice president and ultra-Left All India Students Association (AISA) member Shehla Rashid Shora expressed JNUSU’s resolve to fight sedition charges and academic suspension of students.


‘Hijacked meeting’
Later in the day, she accuses the ABVP of hijacking the JNUSU. She says the joint secretary Saurabh Kumar Sharma called a council meeting in the absence of the JNUSU president and general secretary. In the last year’s JNUSU polls, ABVP made an entry in the four-member central panel with Sharma’s win. AISF has one and AISA has two office bearers.

Even as AISA’s Shora dubs the call for council meeting as “political opportunism”, Sharma says the meeting resolved to “identify”, “isolate” and ensure “punishment” for those involved in the February 9 incident.

Two days after the incident, the ABVP’s JNU unit president Alok Singh, who lives opposite Kanhaiya in Brahmaputra hostel, had posted a purported video of the February 9 on Facebook, with allegation that “venom induced slogans” were again chanted in the campus. Singh had also urged JNU students to “identify” and “shame” the “anti-national faces”.

His hostel-mate, Arvind says the campus has seen protests against Afzal’s hanging before, but it was for the first time that he saw masked protesters shouting slogans. Insiders in the JNU administration allege involvement of Kashmiri youths from outside the JNU campus.

Singh tells DH that JNU’s “democratic” culture allows even “political adversaries” to live in proximity to each other. “Our differences are only political and not personal,” he says.

Unrelenting in his opposition to the “seditious” slogans, the president of the right-wing outfit says in an another Facebook post, “Watch full video carefully, you will listen... Tum kitne Afjal maroge, Har ghar se Afjal niklega... This was the slogan raised by all leftist organizations in JNU.”

Some JNU teachers are also outraged as the varsity’s teachers’ association president “illegally” passed a proposal to boycott classes to protest the arrest of Kanhaiya.
“I know the student. The student is naïve, very naïve. When Kanhaiya won I knew that he is just out of a village, a poor man’s home. He is a struggler, but suddenly he has got a big platform,” Amita Singh, chairperson JNU’s Centre for Law and Governance says.

“He was constantly being sidelined by the dominant party and on one occasion I told Kanhaiya to beware. I told him that they will trap you some day,” she tells DH.

The right-wing teacher faction and ABVP plans to organise a massive gherao of the university to demand action against the organisers of the controversial event. Around 4,000-5000 right-wing group members are expected to participate in the protest on Monday.

Narwal, who hails from School of Social Sciences, says the ABVP has alleged that he was persuaded by the dominant Left-teacher lobby to side with Kanhaiya. “Very few students on this campus think that Kanhaiya should have been booked for sedition,” he says.


The university appointed probe committee has to submit its final report by February 25, while the High Court is likely to hear Kanhaiya’s bail plea on Monday.

“The probe committee’s list of eight has no Kashmiri on it,” says an insider in JNU administration. JNU blogger Harshit Agarwal, however, is more direct in his allegations against the Centre. “The PDP with whom BJP formed a government in Jammu & Kashmir itself called Afzal’s hanging ‘travesty of justice’,” he says in his post on Quora.

“A lot of answers are here,” Agarwal says on Quora, commenting on what others have posted on the website.

“ The only weird thing is not one of them is from a JNU student or who witnessed what happened on that controversial day and yet everyone has such strong opinions about the whole incident from people calling everyone studying in JNU as terrorists, jihadis and naxals to asking for the university to be completely shutdown,” Agarwal writes.

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