Thursday, 18 February 2016

Common Man and the JNU row

Since last week, Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi has been on a boil after its students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar has been arrested on sedition charges for allegedly organising an event to mark the anniversary of the execution of Afzal Guru – convicted for attacking the Indian Parliament in 2001 by the Supreme Court of India.

This has now becoming a highly contentious issue notching up decibel debates in the public sphere and media. It has generated impassioned reaction about safeguarding ‘freedom of speech’, and the ‘right to dissent’, resisting the ‘forces of intolerance’ and upholding the ethos and sanctity of campus politics. The controversy reached new heights when political stalwarts like Rahul Gandhi joined the students to protest against the police action, alleging that there is a conspiracy to swamp campuses with right wing forces, that, they say, want to silent the critics of the government with coercion and intimidation. In the heart of all this, is the emotive and sparky issue of being ‘anti-national’ vs ‘state overreach’.

This week, there has been ugly scenes of furious lawyers assaulting journalists and roughing up students’ groups perceived by them as anti-nationals outside the court premises where Mr. Kumar, the arrested student leader, was to be produced. Meanwhile, in Kolkata the students of Jadavpur University atrociously chanted slogans eulogising Afzal Guru.

The highly disconcerting and appallingly thuggish behaviour of the lawyers in addition to the chain of events over issues, which by no means, warrant a crisis of this magnitude is highly condemnable, baffling and extremely sad for general public who are more concerned about proper functioning of the government, development and the economy. It was with this great hope that the majority of the people of India voted for a change and given a mandate to break the politics of coalition, and ushered in a stable government.

There are many narratives to the ongoing tensions, but let’s deal with a few factors just as a common observer.

Afzal Guru

We know he is a terrorist, who plotted the audacious attack on the Indian parliament. He was convicted by the highest court of the land, and had a fair trial. One fails to understand how can he be a celebrated at all.But then, Indian constitution guarantees Freedom of Speech, and by that virtue, it is accepted that a statement or a speech however distasteful it might be must be tolerated. And it is in line with this principle, this nation even tolerates people who idolise Mahatma Gandhi’s assassinator or even talk about building his statue. This is the greatness of India’s democracy. Try saying Hitler is great in Europe.  

Anti –India sentiment

There are big reasons to be worried about it. Any sane government will be concerned and take palliative action to stop any activity which is deemed anti-national or is seen as a potential threat to peace and stability of the country. It is more imperative in a country like India which has been one of the worst victims of unimaginable terror.

In the UK, for example,  government does appeal to the universities to keep eye of a number of students’ societies of universities suspected of indulging in activities that might be dangerous to public safety which includes potential act of terror. Same goes for JNU. If the government had credible information of ongoing anti- India activity in the campus and acted accordingly, that’s absolutely fine.

As a citizen of India, I would strongly criticise Umar Khalid’s action -   the man who conceived the idea of a cultural evening to mark the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru, and as per the the media reports had planned similar events across the country.  To me his action is highly reprehensible, but as a lay man we have to tolerate him and let the government judge through its intelligence if actions amount to anti-national activity. The polity of India is highly susceptible to anti- India elements may be insurgent separatists’ groups in the north east or the militancy in Kashmir. And government cannot go soft on it.

The police

Again, based on media reports, and eye witness accounts circulating in the social media, it seems the police has picked up the wrong person.  It is said that the student leader had gone to mediate between the organisers of the event and ABVP, the students body of the BJP, who opposed the event.

That was purely campus politics in action. Ideally, ABVP, could have done a counter rally. If the government and police had credible intelligence that event was anti-national, they should have been there before hand and arrested the organisers. But that is not how Indian system work. The police went in and made a mess of the situation leading to an explosion of the issue.

This is followed by irresponsible tweets by the Delhi police and the Home Ministry claiming that the event had was backed by Pakistani terror groups etc. Can there be any higher degree of immaturity as shown by the authorities? Where is the evidence?

The lawyers

They have shamed the nation, the judiciary and the legal fraternity. The anarchic situation that unfolded outside the court yesterday is shocking and despicable. If they don’t get the harshest of punishment, ordinary people have a lot of be concerned about


In this case, they themselves have been attacked hence it is in their interest to blow the issue up. Unfortunately, if there is one thing that needs reform in this country, it is the media itself.  Raging fire on the screen with the anchor and the handful of same faces across all channels and on all topics howling on the screen- this is what India media is. This privately owned, politically influenced, highly low paid industry thrives on a few faces and embody a character that undermines the cultural ethos of the country.


Without getting in much details, it must be noted from a common man’s perspective that this government was voted to power with a lot of hope.  But ever since it has been in power, there has been recurring incidents that threaten individual freedom and freedom of expression. Clearly, and very unfortunately everything India in has political angle and a motive and this incident is no different. The BJP government needs to rein in on unsavoury, radical leaders who make inflammatory remarks that potentially, could pose as a threat to the  harmony and peace in the country. Is that then not an anti-national activity? 

India will prosper as long it remains a liberal democracy. Coming back to politics, we hope that this issue will not stall the up coming session in the parliament and will see the passage of big ticket reforms including GST. The country cannot be held hostage by left leaning intellectuals and political groups or campus politics, just the way the right wing groups have no business in creating mayhem in the country.

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