Jawaharlal Nehru University at the centre of storm after student leader’s arrest after “anti-India” demonstration.
Massive protests have paralysed one of India’s top universities in New Delhi after the president of the student union was arrested on charges of sedition.
Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested at Jawaharlal Nehru University in the capital on Friday over a protest condemning the 2013 execution of Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri convicted of an attack on India’s parliament.
Kumar, a left-leaning student leader, was arrested amid allegations that anti-India slogans were chanted at that protest. On Monday, several student groups called for a strike on campus and very few students attended classes.
Over the weekend thousands of students and teachers from several universities and colleges across India held protest rallies at the university.
The arrest came after a student faction linked to the ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party filed a police complaint against the campus event.
On Thursday, Home Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted that “If anyone shouts anti India slogan & challenges nation’s sovereignty & integrity while living in India, they will not be tolerated or spared”.
A day later, Delhi police entered the university, searched dormitories, demanded audio and video recordings of the pro-Guru demonstration, and arrested Kumar. He has denied making any anti-India comments, according to news reports.
Smriti Irani, India’s human resource minister, supported Kumar’s arrest, telling reporters: “The nation can never tolerate an insult to Mother India.”
Several political commenters said that the arrest was an attempt by the government to silence dissent.
“The arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar and the crackdown on political dissent at JNU suggest that we are living under a government that is both rabidly malign and politically incompetent,” Pratap Bhanu Mehta, the head of the Centre for Policy Research, a leading New Delhi-based think-tank, wrote in an opinion piece over the weekend.
The government reaction to the protests at the prestigious university, well known for its politically active student body, is seen by many as part of a rising tide of intolerance in India since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP came to power in 2014.
Over the past few months scores of artists, scientists and historians have returned government awards to protest against what they view as the government’s silence or complicity in creating a climate in which criticism is viewed as unpatriotic.