Rising spirits

Print edition : April 15, 2016

JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar with Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, celebrating Umar and Anirban's release on bail, on the JNU campus on March 18. Photo: VIJAY VERMA/PTI

The JNUSU believes that the bail granted to Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya vindicates its stand that the Delhi Police had no evidence to implicate them in a sedition case.

ABOUT two months back, the frequent slogans for justice and freedom seemed to be missing from the leftist students’ movement in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). Soon after Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya were arrested on charges of sedition and criminal conspiracy, a cloud of anxiety prevailed over the campus. Even as the Sangh Parivar’s shrill campaign to portray JNU as the hub of “anti-national” activities grew, support for the university among liberal-democratic forces soared.

The “nationalist versus anti-national” debate that ensued, with JNU at its centre, has at one level intensified the anti-establishment students’ movement and, at another level, helped the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) deflect public attention from burning issues such as price rise, the agrarian crisis and rising unemployment to a Hindu majoritarian cultural nationalism.

The students were enthused by the wide support that they drew for their agitation against what most of these groups saw as authoritarian and illegitimate action by the Union government. As a result, chants of “azadi” became the order of the day again.

JNU became the site of daily open classrooms, where renowned intellectuals, activists, poets, and political leaders spoke on different academic interpretations of nationalism in a show of support to JNU, which strengthened the movement further.

In this context, Kanhaiya Kumar’s conditional bail in the first week of March came as a vindication of the students’ movement.

On March 18, the bail granted by the Patiala House sessions court of Delhi to Umar Khalid, who was profiled continuously as an Islamist, and Anirban Bhattacharya boosted the JNU Students Union morale further. The union now plans to intensify its campaign against what it calls “a divisive agenda” of the government.

The JNUSU believes that the bail granted to Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, who were the organisers of the controversial cultural event on February 9 highlighting military excesses in Kashmir, is a vindication of its standpoint that the Delhi Police had no evidence to implicate them in a sedition case.

The bail order

Granting a six-month interim bail to them on a surety amount of Rs.25,000 each, the judge, Reetesh Singh, noted that there was no previous criminal record against them and that “nothing has been brought on record which could indicate that they are likely to abscond from jurisdiction of the court”. He said: “Although the allegations levelled against Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya are per se serious in nature, but as claimed by police themselves, the video footage of the incident has been sent to the forensic science laboratory. Its analysis and final report will certainly take some time.”

Many students believe that the inability of the Delhi Police to provide enough evidence in support of their charge proves that students were falsely implicated in the case. A Delhi police officer whom Frontline talked to said that the charges of sedition were made on the basis of prima facie investigation. “It may take a few months to concretise all the evidence,” he said. Clearly, what the police said in court is starkly different from what former Delhi Police Commissioner B.S. Bassi said umpteen times to the media. Bassi went on record many times to say that there was substantial evidence against the JNU students. However, the police could not provide any evidence except the eyewitness accounts of Sourabh Kumar Sharma, Akhilesh Pathak, and Sandeep Kumar, all Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) activists and political opponents of the arrested students. Remarkably, the Delhi Police brought sedition charges against six students on the basis of just a video, whose authenticity it could not vouch for in court. The public prosecutor argued that the allegations against Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya were not the same as those against Kanhaiya Kumar. But the judge noted : “It does not appear that the role attributed to Kanhaiya Kumar in the statements of these witnesses is any different to the allegations made against the present accused/applicants.” The bail order also states: “No submission has been made to the effect that both the applicants Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya have been involved previously in any criminal case. No record has been placed by the state regarding any such past conduct of both these persons.”

Inquiry report

Meanwhile, the high-level inquiry committee instituted by the university administration submitted its report to the Proctor of the university. The committee, which many teachers feel acted undemocratically, found mostly procedural lapses such as students not following rules while applying for permission for the event, and so on. However, the committee believes that these lapses were deliberate and meant to mislead the administration. JNU students have vehemently denied the allegation. The report states: “It is most unfortunate that the organisers allowed the event to be taken over by a group of outsiders who created a charged atmosphere by raising provocative slogans. This act by the outsider group has brought disrepute to the entire JNU community.”

The committee, in effect, accepts that the controversial slogans were raised by outsiders and not the students themselves, a proposition that contradicts the ABVP’s claims. A JNU student told Frontline: “The report relies completely on the versions of a few ABVP activists and security staff. That is why we feel that the report is a one-sided effort to implicate the students. Why were other students who were present at the venue not asked about what had happened? Why were accused students not given a chance to defend themselves?” As of now, notices have been issued to around 21 students for having violated university rules. The university is yet to take action on the basis of the students’ replies.

The report has opened up another can of worms. Students who felt that the attack on JNU was pre-planned by the ABVP and the BJP were shocked by the committee’s observation that police were present on the campus before the controversial event started on February 9. The report notes: “As per deposition of Mr S.S. Palni, JNU Security Inspector, police in civilian dress was present at Sabarmati grounds (the venue) during the event. Police along with the ACP [Assistant Commissioner of Police] and the SHO [Station House Officer] were present at North Gate. When the procession moved from Sabarmati ground to Ganga Dhaba (towards the north gate), police was called in by the security and joined and accompanied the procession from Godavari (hostel) onwards.”

A student said: “The police presence on the campus means two things. One, the police had planned the attack even before the slogans were shouted. Two, the university administration, acting at the behest of the ABVP, decided to call the police after the ABVP leader Saurabh Sharma complained about the event. What are we supposed to believe? The university administration should come out clean on why it allowed police inside the campus for a cultural evening.”

The JNUSU believes that the report also points to the collusion of select television journalists and the ABVP, an allegation that the JNUSU has been making since the controversy erupted. The report states: “As per the deposition of Mr Saurabh Kumar Sharma, Joint Secretary, JNUSU stated [ sic] that he got to know about the event at 12 p.m. on 9 February and took a photograph of the posters and printed it out and submitted in writing to Vice-Chancellor, Proctor Office, CSO, (Chief Security Officer) Registrar and DOS (Dean of Students) stating that some students are planning to host an ‘anti-national event’ in the evening at Sabarmati Dhaba. He immediately also informed the police and the media about the event. As per the North Gate entry record ANI and Zee News TV crew came to the campus at 4:45 p.m. and 5:20 p.m. respectively (Annexure V). ANI left campus at 5:48 p.m. and Zee left at 7:20 p.m.”