No lessons learnt
Despite pleas from various quarters, a court hearing for the arrested JNU student Kanhaiya Kumar descended into chaos for the second time this week on Wednesday. The same mob of unruly lawyers involved in physically assaulting JNU faculty, activists and a random assortment of journalists on Monday directed their ire at Kumar, the president of the JNU Student’s Union, who has been charged with sedition by the Delhi Police for allegedly making anti-India comments on campus. Kumar was reportedly kicked and punched by the mob of lawyers, as he was rushed from a car into the court by police officials. Suffice to say, they did a rather shoddy job of protecting him with riot shields. What’s worse, the police failed to both intervene and control the ensuing chaos. It is a crying shame that such goon-like behaviour is allowed unhindered at the Patiala House court premises, despite prior warning from the Supreme Court. If a detainee is not safe in a court that is located only a mile from the Prime Minister’s Office, questions must be raised of the State’s ineptness and the mob’s brazen disregard for the law. Inaction by the Delhi police on the perpetrators of Monday’s violence has clearly emboldened these rabid elements. One of the lawyers, who faced no arrest despite being caught on camera attacking journalists, was once again at the heart of Wednesday’s chaos. In the presence of reporters, other members of this rabid mob bragged about beating the unarmed detainee—Kanhaiya Kumar. Not only is the attack a gross disregard of the law and basic decency, but also an act of sheer cowardice. Moreover, the matter is now in court. Let it adjudicate on the matter. Such mobs have no business assaulting the accused and strict action must be taken against them.
The Delhi Police, which is under the control of the Ministry of Home Affairs, has displayed remarkable ineptitude in dealing with the entire controversy. For starters, Central intelligence agencies have reportedly suggested that there is no video evidence with the Delhi police yet to show Kumar had raised “anti-national” slogans. They have also reportedly ruled out the role of terror elements on JNU campus, as claimed by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh. Oblivious to these reports, Delhi Police Commissioner BS Bassi remains confident that there is “adequate evidence” against the JNU student. However, the Delhi Police’s ineptness is only an extension of the manner in which the Centre has dealt with the entire incident. Despite the growing public opinion against the commemoration of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru on February 9 at the JNU campus, the Centre has lost the plot. As soon as the Centre got a whiff of the event, the MHA swooped in with remarkable alacrity and filed sedition charges against those involved in the event. As this column has previously stated, Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, which deals with sedition, has no place in a modern democracy. It is a provision that has been abused by not only the current NDA government but past Congress and regional party-led ruling dispensations as well. Noted jurists across the board have argued that sedition in India remains an offence only if the words, spoken or written, are accompanied by violence and/ or incitement to violence. Therefore, on the very first hurdle itself, the Centre grossly overreacted. It was soon followed by a clumsy presentation of “evidence” against the accused students, which was no less backed by an increasingly partisan television media.
Even if you are sympathetic to the Centre’s grouse against anti-national slogans, its use of the sedition law is unfortunate. Sedition is a non-bailable and cognizable offence and dissidents charged under it are guaranteed to spend a few nights in prison. This newspaper does not support or advocate violent anti-national statements. But to imprison protesting students and attack them through the barbaric and brutal acts of the police for merely voicing these sentiments presents a very disturbing picture of the Indian republic. Even if the Centre wanted to throw the rule book at these dissenting students, it could have used less draconian provisions of the law pertaining to defamation or hate speech instead of sedition. Seemingly unperturbed by its own gross political mismanagement, the BJP has reportedly decided to close ranks and pursue the JNU controversy “very aggressively” in the upcoming session of Parliament as they believe that there is no reason for the party to be “defensive” about the developments thus far. According to the Press Trust of India, the party is also launching a three-day “Jan Swabhimaan Abhiyan” (campaign for peoples’ self-respect) in which party members will try to build up public opinion against the alleged “anti-national” activities in the Central varsity. The Congress-led Opposition has closed ranks over the controversy. Many fear that the upcoming Budget Session of Parliament could turn into a complete washout, with key Bills like GST and Real Estate left at the mercy of a divided House. It would be wise on the BJP’s part to note the recurring pattern that follows every major controversy, starting with Mohammed Akhlaq’s murder to Rohith Vemula’s suicide. But it seems to have learnt nothing from events of the past 20 months. Once again, the BJP-led Centre has jeopardised its ability to pass important legislation through the Parliament.