On 20 December, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked students across India, who were protesting against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 and the National Register of Citizens, to stage demonstrations democratically. Modi urged students to “understand their responsibilities and precious time, and also value the importance of the institutions in which they are studying,” as he addressed an election rally in Jharkhand. “Students also need to understand that some political parties and the so-called ‘urban Naxals’ in the garb of intellectuals should not train guns over their shoulder for reaping political benefits,” Modi said. He claimed that his government “acknowledges every issue raised by students.”
It had been five days since a brutal police crackdown on students protesting the CAA at Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi and the Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh. On the day of Modi’s speech, the Uttar Pradesh police came down heavily on anti-CAA protestors across the state—18 people were killed and thousands detained. In the aftermath of the crackdown on these two universities—and police brutality against protestors in multiple cities and towns in Uttar Pradesh—campuses across the country joined the anti-CAA protests. Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Janata Party leadership spun a narrative that the protestors were ill-informed and instigated by vested interests. A day after the police action at Jamia, Amit Shah, the home minister, tweeted, “Some parties are spreading rumours and inciting violence for their political interest,” and asked students to read the act before protesting. The defence minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, followed suit and said that the student protests were instigated by “jihadists, Maoists, separatists.”
As the scale of the country-wide protests increased, the BJP doubled down on its strategy of delegitimising the student protestors, and using security forces to quell the protests. The BJP’s efforts at dismantling the student-led protests are also reflected in the tussle between students and their respective university administrations, which have been co-opted into the clampdown. On 29 December, Ramesh Pokhriyal, the minister for human-resource development, reinforced the BJP’s narrative on students protesting against the CAA and the NRC, during a press conference at the party’s headquarters in Delhi. “As the education minister, I am repeatedly appealing to the young people to not let educational institutions to turn into hubs of politics,” he said. “Those who want to do politics, let them do it.” Pokhriyal further warned students that “Modiji’s government will not tolerate this at all.”
Over the past two months, the administrations of several universities across India have disallowed protests, taken action against students participating in protests or supported the centre’s stance on the contentious legislation.
English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad