News18 Rising India Summit: Rajnath Singh bats for student politics but warns against use of academic campus for political gains
On 9 February 2016, a bunch of JNU students allegedly raised anti-national slogans on the campus like ‘Shaheed Afzal Guru’, ‘Azaad Kashmir’, ‘Tum kitne Afzal maroge, ghar-ghar se Afzal niklenge during an event organised to commemorate the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru.
Without mincing any word, Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Saturday said that educational institutions and universities should not be politicised and the campuses shouldn’t be misused in the name of politics.
Singh, who was speaking at the News18 Rising India Summit in New Delhi, also added that anyone harbouring a different ideology shouldn’t be called a desh-drohi or a traitor, or an 'anti-national'.
So, is there a shift in NDA government's line towards ‘dissent voices’ like the ones at JNU campus and elsewhere after two years of 2016 JNU sloganeering incident?
The answer probably lies in Singh's address.
In reference to the ‘anti-national sloganeering’ incident on the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus in 2016, the home minister said, "Never politicise educational institutions and universities. They shouldn't be misused."
The sloganeering incident on JNU campus in 2016 rocked the nation’s political scenario as the opposition parties had accused the Narendra Modi government of gagging ‘liberal voices’. The incident also witnessed the rise of former JNU Students’ Union president Kanhaiya Kumar and he became a sought after students' leader overnight.
On 9 February 2016, a bunch of JNU students allegedly raised anti-national slogans on the campus like ‘Shaheed Afzal Guru’, ‘Azaad Kashmir’, ‘Tum kitne Afzal maroge, ghar-ghar se Afzal niklenge’ during an event organised to commemorate the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru.
Guru was hanged in Tihar Jail on 9 February 2013 during the UPA regime. The students had termed the hanging as ‘judicial killing’. They also expressed solidarity with the ‘struggle’ of Kashmiri migrants and advocated for ‘Azad Kashmir’.
As the incident gathered storm, the Delhi Police was quick in arresting JNUSU leaders Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya under sedition charges. Later all three were released on interim bail by the Delhi High Court. The JNU administration even rusticated Khalid and Bhattacharya. The incident became a national debate on news channels for weeks. Students and politicians got divided into ‘nationalistic’ and ‘anti-national’ camps.
Refusing to call those as ‘traitors, anti-nationals or ‘Desh-drohi’ who share a different ideology, Singh further emphasised, "We shouldn’t call anyone with a different ideology as Desh-drohi but if one's action hurts our nation, the law will punish the person concerned."
However, the home minister said that students' unions must exist. He indicated towards a healthy unionism on campuses. He said students' unions are breeding ground for future leaders.
"Students’ unions are not a nuisance. I’m a product of students’ union. Am I a nuisance?" asked Singh with a dollop of humour.
Though the right-wing students’ union Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) has failed to crack JNU so far, the Left bastion—barring in 2000, when ABVP had its one and only JNUSU president Sandeep Mahapatra—it’s gaining grounds in other campuses.
Mahapatra too shared a similar view with that of the home minister.
"The positive aspect of JNU is that it provides an atmosphere of free thinking to a student -- to discuss and debate, unlike in any other university. The student politics in JNU is different from elsewhere as JNU provides a wider worldview to its students on every issue. Here, students of opposite ideologies fight against each other on the basis of debates and intellectual deliberation," Mahapatra told Firstpost.
However, he too feels that like Singh that university campuses shouldn’t be misused for political gains.
Citing an example when he was a JNU student, Mahapatra said, "It was very tough at JNU, especially because the majority of the faculty members and heads are Left-affiliated, many are CPI/CPM cardholders and they exercise an immense influence on students who join the campus. It’s like either you follow them or be left out. Even in 1996, the CPI-ML affiliated All India Students’ Association (AISA) had invited Kashmiri secessionist leaders to speak in the campus because they think India is a country of multiple nationalities and Kashmir, Nagaland, etc. should be free from India. This is not correct."
Quoting Modi’s mission of making a ‘New India’, ‘Self-reliant India’ by 2022, Singh made it clear from the News18 Rising India Summit platform that despite different ideologies one may not be called a traitor, but the person can’t get away from law by misusing campuses to gain ulterior motives like giving calls such as Kashmir maange azaadi, ladkar lenge azaadi or Bharat ki barbaadi tak, jung rahegi-jung rahegi.
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