Any vibrant university campus with young minds on the threshold of a big bad world is center of debates, discussions and yes, dissent. It is also a place where, apart from the rush of attending classes and tensions about an impending career, student politics is a way of life. Anyone who has been part of higher education in India would know that.
And having been a part of the animated and pulsating Delhi University, I know that too. Seminars and cultural events and talk-shows were a part of our everyday activity and would be encouraged by teachers as well as administration. However, the fact is that in the name of debates and dissent anti-national activities and glorifying those who perpetrated war on India was unacceptable then and it is unacceptable now. Right to Freedom of Speech has its limits and no university should be used as a platform for activities that violate the Constitution and the laws of the land.
This is precisely the reason why it is sad and worrying when the famed Jawaharlal Nehru with its beautiful campus located amongst hills and forests, with its intellectual faculty and great infrastructure hits the headlines for all the wrong reasons. It does come as a shock when a bunch of students decide to hold a cultural event in the name Afzal Guru and eulogise the Parliament attack convict, someone who incidentally was found guilty by the apex court after due process of law.
Not only Guru, the “martyrdom” of Maqbool Bhatt (founder of JKLF and the man who masterminded the first hijacking of Indian Airlines plane in 1971) was also hailed and slogans such as (as per videos doing the rounds on social media and various news channels) - Kitne Afzal maroge har ghar se Afzal niklega; Afzal ki hatya nahi sahenge nahi sahenge; Bharat ki Barbadi tak Kashmir ki Aadi tak jung karenge jung karenge; Bharat ke solah tukrae honge; ladkar lenge Azadi, chheen kar lenge Azadi, Azadi Azadi, Pakistan Zindabad, Pakistan Zindabad – were raised.
The above slogans are disconcerting and have angered many, with the students, who hold Indian passports and who are studying on subsidy given by the government, being called anti-nationals. However, shocking as it may be, what happened recently is definitely not surprising.
JNU is known to be a place where Left ideology rules the roost and where a large section of students owe allegiance to Left parties like the CPI, CPI-ML and the CPI-M. But the Left parties don’t say that they do not believe in the Constitution or that they want to break up India. So there is no need to be intolerant of an ideology which may be contrary to the one that you and I may believe in, however much we may disagree with it.
But the flip side is that JNU is also a place where you may find a few who are so-called ‘Maoist sympathizers’ and who feel that the nation has not done justice to its poor and pushed them to such a limit that they were forced to take up arms. It is also a place where you may find a few who believe in plebiscite of Kashmir. If I may add, it is also a place where students are at times mentored and indoctrinated by a section of the faculty of the university and you will find some professors on the campus who can be called ‘extreme Left’. It is a well-known fact and having spent some time in JNU during my university days, I know this for sure.
Having said that it is imperative to point out that while the university administration must take necessary disciplinary action against those indulging in anti-India activities and while the police must act as per the law, it would be unwise to label the whole of JNU as a place which is infested with Naxals and where conspiracy to break the country is being hatched on an everyday basis. Given the culture and ethos of JNU, there will always be a motley group of students raising anti-India slogans and placing individual freedom above the interest of the nation. The onus is now on the administration to see that the freedom provided by the university is not misused by some sections.
But the government has to be careful when it slaps sedition charges (Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code) on someone. The Supreme Court had laid down in the Kedarnath case in 1962 that offence of sedition could only be committed if there was an incitement of violence or public disorder. Since the students who shouted anti-India slogans did not use any force and were not caught conspiring to break the country, are they guilty of sedition charges is the moot question?
On a different note, it was not surprising to see a host of politicians from various political parties making a beeline for JNU and making speeches to score brownie points over its opponents. While excesses, if any by the government of the day must be questioned, there are times when on the issue of integrity and unity of the nation, all political parties must speak in one voice and unequivocally.
In 2010, when members of Democratic Students Union (DSU) and All India Students Association (AISA) had allegedly organized a meeting to celebrate the killing of 76 CRPF personnel in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada by Naxalites and were reportedly shouting slogans like 'India murdabad and Maovad zindabad' in JNU campus, ABVP and NSUI had come together as one and had countered the march with a protest.
Sadly, in the case of the current controversy that has engulfed JNU this has been missing.