A prelude to sedition: The ABVP’s Campaign Against Anti-National Activities at JNU did not occur overnight

21 February 2016
A flyer posted by the ABVP activists.
A flyer posted by the ABVP activists.

Since last week, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi has been the site of protests and clashes. On 12 February 2016, the JNU Students’ Union president Kanhaiya Kumar, was arrested under Section 124A and Section 120B of the Indian Penal Code that refer to sedition and criminal conspiracy, respectively. Kumar’s arrest was preceded by an event that was held on 9 February. This event, held at JNU, focused on the hanging of Mohammad Afzal, who was convicted for his alleged role in the 2001 terrorist attack on the Parliament. Although the organisers had originally received permission to conduct the programme, they were told—reportedly 15 minutes before the event was scheduled to take place—that the administration had withdrawn the permission. The administration appeared to have taken this decision a little after the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's (RSS) student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) had complained about the “anti-national event.” Subsequently, the participating students and those from the ABVP entered into an altercation and the police were later deployed on campus to restore order. It has since been revealed that the police had been investigating the campus for anti-national elements for some time. In a report submitted to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the police stated that the Democratic Student's Union (DSU) was behind the protest on 9 February. Along with DSU, the report also alleged the Democratic Student's Federation was involved in "anti-national activities" at JNU in the past. These activities included worshipping Mahisasur and not Durga during the Navratri festival and asking for beef in the hostel mess.

In August last year, I covered an ABVP protest at JNU that was targeted at the growing “anti-national” activity within the university. In hindsight, demonstrations such as these were already building the foundation for the ABVP’s stance this year.

On 3 August 2015, a small group of ABVP activists and students assembled outside the administrative block at JNU. They were holding a demonstration, according to the flyers they were passing out, “to pressurise the JNU administration to take strong action against [the] rising anti-national and terrorist activities within [the] university campus.”

Their vocabulary, in hindsight, would appear prescient. The words and phrases that the students from ABVP employed at this protest, were parroted by news anchors and journalists six months later. “There is a thin line between what dissent is and what is anti-national. What is dissent and what is sedition.” Gaurav Jha, the vice president of ABVP at that time, and current president candidate of the organisation said.

The protest was to begin at 2:00 PM but was pushed to 2.45 pm as most students had not turned up by then. In total, there were around 20 people gathered there. The group began with chanting “Vandemataram, bharat mata ki jai.” As a Muslim student walked past, these slogans changed to “Jo Afsal ki baat karega, Woh Afsal ki Maut marega”—Whoever praises [Mohammad] Afsal, will die like Afsal. Chants about the ABVP’s battle against “anti-nationalism” followed. These soon began referring to the university in particular, “JNU mein anti-national activities nahi chelegi—There will be no anti-national activities in JNU; JNU VC down, down ; JNU prasasham hosh me ao—The administration of JNU needs to come to its senses ; DSU ko ban karo—Ban DSU.”

Rahul M is an award-winning independent journalist based in Andhra Pradesh.

Keywords: students RSS beef Afzal Guru ABVP JNU protests