The elite JNU finds itself engulfed by a fresh round of violence. This time the flare-up seems linked to the brewing friction between the ruling Left-led students' union and other groups over a hostel fee hike and an under current of the contrary stands taken by rival factions on the CAA issue.
If it was Jamia Millia Islamia on Sunday, December 15, it was Jawaharlal Nehru University’s (JNU) turn a few weeks later on January 5, again a Sunday, to erupt with student violence, though the reasons behind the separate incidents at the two campuses were completely different. A masked mob, armed with sticks and rods, attacked students, teachers and security staff and left at least 34 people injured on JNU campus in an attack that has sparked a nationwide protest and even evoked support from Bollywood personalities like actress Deepika Padukone
The brazen assault on JNU students was said to be linked to the on-going protest against fee hike by the Left-led students' union on the campus over a delay in semester registration. The shocking JNU incidents, which left several students and teachers, with bandaged heads, arms and legs came within three weeks of violence in Jamia where Delhi Police cane-charged violent students opposing the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA).
JNUSU president Aishe Ghosh of the Left groups was among the nearly three dozen students injured, along with five teachers, by the masked men in a flare up which Ghosh described as “near lynching”. The violence pitted students affiliated to the Left and the Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the RSS, against each other with both sides blaming the other for unleashing the attack. The incident got international media attention too. The New York Times reported that attackers at JNU had raised chants of "Jai Shri Ram", a claim that was promptly denied by the Narendra Modi government.
University authorities said the incident was linked to the on-going agitation over fee hike. Students opposing the hike wanted to disrupt the admission registration process and there had been clashes and vandalism two days before the big fracas on Sunday. On Sunday, students against the registration process beat up those in favour of it before the police could reach, the registrar said in a statement.
After the four-hour-long mayhem, the police registered two FIRs and named JNUSU president Aishe Ghosh in connection with the violence that had preceded the assault by masked men. With a bandaged head, Ghosh addressed media and claimed that she had no role in violence and police would not be able to prove anything against her. "I have not done any violence. The police first need to have proof against me to take action," she said, even as Delhi Police claimed that Ghosh and 26 other students vandalised the university's server room twice - on January 1 and 4 - and attacked security guards to disrupt registration of students for the winter semester as part of their agitation against the fee hike.
A day after the masked men went on the rampage in JNU hostels, nationwide protests were organised in support of students who were targeted by the stick-wielding assailants. There also were gatherings outside the Delhi Police headquarters to protest against the violence.
Amid counter charges over who started the JNU violence, several videos made it to the social media in which both the sides claimed that supporters of the other camps were seen wielding canes on the campus. Faced with Left allegations, the ABVP denied its supporters’ role in the violence, saying that the images and WhatsApp exchanges were morphed. They blamed the attack on Left student groups which control the students' union.
ABVP leader Durgesh Kumar said students who were trying to register for the next semester were beaten up by hundreds of those who did not want the former to break away from the anti-fee hike agitation. About 25 ABVP supporters were attacked and when they took refuge in Periyar and Sabarmati hostels they were chased and thrashed.
Politicians could not stop themselves from commenting on the JNU developments with Home Minister Amit Shah seeking a report from Delhi Police and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi showing solidarity with students who suffered injuries. “The brutal attack on JNU students and teachers by masked thugs, that has left many seriously injured, is shocking. The fascists in control of our nation, are afraid of the voices of our brave students.Today’s violence in JNU is a reflection of that fear,” said Rahul.
Till late evening on the day of the incident, politicians reached the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. Left leader Brinda Karat, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi and BJP’s Vijay Goel converged at the hospital were the injured of the JNU clashes were taken – indicating the strong significance JNU incidents have on national political scene.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who is preparing for Assembly elections on February 8, also dived into the controversy by seeking immediate action against the culprits. “I am so shocked to know about the violence at JNU. Students attacked brutally. Police should immediately stop violence and restore peace. How will the country progress if our students will not be safe inside university campus?” he asked in a tweet.
Realising that the name of ABVP, an outfit from the saffron brigade, was being unfarily being maligned over the violent clash, the BJP took to fire-fighting with Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar training his guns on the New York Times for reporting that the masked JNU marauders had raised chants of "Jai Shri Ram". He had earlier slammed British daily Financial Times for referring to the JNU attackers as "nationalists" and even objected to the newspaper frequently predicting India's disintegration.
Students and Left organisations alleged laxity on the part of JNU V-C M Jagadesh Kumar, seeking answers on why university security personnel allowed outsiders and masked miscreants to enter the campus and go on the rampage. Kumar's absence from the campus during the whole episode also gave ammunition to his critics. A delay in the entry of police into the university campus to counter the violence and the switching off of streetlights on and around the campus were some other thorny issues which the Left students raised.
In a gesture for restoring normalcy, Kumar, in a statement, said, "Our heart goes out to all injured students. The incident (violence) is unfortunate. I would like to tell students that JNU campus is a secure place. I urge all students to come back to the campus. Let us put the past behind."
On questions why the Delhi Police waited for authorities' permission to enter JNU while it had opted to barge into Jamia Millia Islamia University without permission just three weeks ago, top police officers said in Jamia's case the protesters had attacked cops while in JNU's case the tension was between groups of students.
The JNU episode took a new turn when a fringe organisation, Hindu Raksha Dal, took "full responsibility" for the violence perpetrated by masked men. “JNU is a hotbed of anti-national activities. We can't tolerate this. We take full responsibility of the attack in JNU and would like to say that they were our workers," said Pinky Chaudhary of the Dal.
While Delhi Police are yet to confirm the claims of the fringe organisation, the JNU violence appears to have started overshadowing national and international attention from the CAA controversy – in what could be described as a brief breather for the embattled Modi government.
On the face of it, an internal fee-hike issue in the JNU has turned into a violent ideological battle over national issues and at the end of it all, there still are no clear answers on the identity of the attackers. The university's so-called tukde-tukde gang - groups of students who are often accused of being linked to efforts to divide the country – also found mention in the criticism of the JNU violence by External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar.
In the recent past, a premier university like the JNU has been in news for all the wrong reasons. The trend has been more visible since an event organised by some students, including former JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar, on the campus in 2016 against the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru. This, incidentally, was also the phase which significantly raised the interest of non-Left political parties, including the BJP and the Congress, in affairs of the university's students, lending a heavy political tone to most incidents occurring on the campus since then.
A knowledge and learning hub like JNU has always carried the legacy of intellectual debates and students' non-violent opposition to each others ideologies. However, the recent volatility on the campus seems to be harming academics due to larger political and national issues finding increasing mention in the campus discourse. It would be in everybody's interest, including the suffering students who are missing out on lectures, to restore peace on the campus at the earliest and punish the masked attackers, so that JNU gets back to focusing on its core objective of stimulating enriching socio-economic debate and moulding the future thinkers of the country.