On Kanhaiya: It is Time to Stand Up and Be Counted
By Siddharth Varadarajan on
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From fabricating a case to resorting to violence and peddling forged ‘evidence’, all those who have worked to ruin a young life must be brought to account.
Let Kanhaiya go! Protestors march in central Delhi on February 18. Credit: Shome BasuMake no mistake, this is one of those moments when your children and grandchildren are going to ask you where you stood when cynical politicians, mercenary police bosses, thuggish lawyers, callous university administrators and rotten, corrupt journalists ganged up to destroy the life of a young man, Kanhaiya Kumar.
If this scenario sounds familiar, I have two words for you: Rohith Vemula. The country failed that student, driven to suicide by the false cases foisted on him by the corrupt men and women in authority who oversaw his life. The national remorse we felt then has evaporated in the heat of our present hyper-nationalist grandstanding.
Not satisfied with tormenting a student by helping to pin a concocted case on him, or by inciting vigilante violence against him with their incendiary coverage, Zee TV, NewsX and other channels like India News have gone a step further and broadcast a clearly doctored video clip purporting to show Kanhaiya shouting slogans in favour of Kashmir’s independence.
Most of us had never heard of Kanhaiya before the Delhi Police arrested him for sedition on February 12. He was charged with one of the most serious offences on the Indian statute books for an incident involving nothing more than the shouting of slogans on campus: An incident in which he played no direct role. An incident that a self-confident, democratic country should never have turned into a police matter.
Since then, Kanhaiya has been vilified by the Home Minister of India, by official spokespersons of the Bharatiya Janata Party, by the Delhi police and black-coated thugs who masquerade as lawyers – and by television anchors. He has been violently assaulted inside court premises. “We have all the evidence we need,” Delhi police chief B.S. Bassi declared, while Rajnath Singh went one step further and sought to connect Kanhaiya to Pakistan-based terror groups on the basis of a Tweet from a parody account.
A young man India can be proud of
Those of us who tried to look for evidence of these grave charges against him, instead, discovered a vibrant young man who is anything but the “anti-national” of the Home Minister’s description.
I challenge you to watch video recordings of his speeches and not come away with the feeling that young Kanhaiya has better political sense and greater command over language than most of our national politicians and journalists. You don’t have to agree with his unabashedly left-wing politics and his pungent criticism of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh to recognise his passion and commitment to the people of India.
As a member of the All India Students Federation – the oldest extant student organisation in India, and an affiliate of the Communist Party of India, which has fought more general elections than any other party other than the Congress – he obviously could not support the demand for the “azadi”, or independence, of Kashmir. But he has the wisdom and political skill to know how to converse with advocates of that cause, and to seek to channel their demand for azadi into the wider struggles for dignity of the people of India. His azadi is the freedom for which all of India’s people yearn: azadi from hunger, azadi from feudalism, azadi from communalism.
Like Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who put aside a narrow constitutionalism in order to talk to the advocates of azadi in the Hurriyat Conference when he was prime minister, Kanhaiya’s politics on campus embraces insaniyat (humanity) and insaf (justice). He is a patriot who knows his India is not so fragile that it will break into pieces because a handful of people on campus shout provocative slogans.
Listen carefully to Kanhaiya in this clip from a speech he made at JNU a day before the police arrested him:
I don’t know what is driving the Modi government’s insane persecution of this vibrant young man. Some argue that his arrest was, initially, the result of sheer incompetence. This theory is comforting, but the facts that have emerged since then make it harder and harder to believe.
Fabrication to forgery
Plainclothes ‘sleuths’ from the Delhi police were present at the February 9 meeting where Kanhaiya allegedly performed his seditious acts. Despite having been alerted by a complaint from the ABVP, the policemen noticed nothing untoward and took no action.
The next day, someone on campus provided cell phone footage of the slogan-shouting which had taken place to Zee TV, which went to town. The channel’s owner, Subhash Chandra, is very close to the RSS. Zee TV’s lead was quickly followed by Times Now and NewsX. For two days, the TV channels whipped up a frenzy; and on the morning of February 12, Rajnath Singh tweeted, “Whatever has happened in JNU is extremely unfortunate. I have instructed Delhi CP to take strong action against the anti-India elements.”
Later that day, Kanhaiya was arrested and charged with sedition. This is when Rajnath Singh tried to link Kanhaiya to the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and a section of the media, presumably egged on by faceless intelligence officials, made wild allegations against another young left-wing student, Umar Khalid, claiming that he was working for the Jaish-e-Muhammad.
All this while, the Delhi Police – which had acted under political pressure and done no proper investigation of its own – was frantically trying to obtain footage of the incident from TV channels, hoping to find a video clip on which they could hang their absurd allegations. They found nothing.
The blatant partisanship of Bassi became evident on February 15, when a BJP MLA, OP Sharma, was filmed viciously beating a CPI leader outside the Patiala House court, and a pro-BJP lawyer, Vikram Singh Chauhan, was also found attacking students. Instead of filing charges against them, Bassi claimed that the MLA had been attacked first. Sharma’s astonishing statement that he was even prepared to shoot dead someone accused of being “pro-Pakistan” has been endorsed by Sudhanshu Trivedi, the BJP’s national spokesman on live television. To date, no BJP leader has sought to distance the party from Sharma’s words and deeds, and no prosecution has been brought against Sharma for incitement to violence.
Two days later, despite clear instructions from the Supreme Court, the police allowed thugs to go on the rampage at the Patiala House court. Section 124A of the IPC defines sedition thus: “Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Government established by law in India,” commits sedition. The courts are a vital part of the Indian state and indulging in violence inside a court certainly “brings into … contempt” the government established by law. Yet it is Kanhaiya who faces sedition charges despite the absence of any evidence.
In order to salvage his tattered reputation, Bassi has been claiming that the police now have clinching evidence of Kanhaiya shouting anti-national slogans. Predictably, this ‘evidence’ soon found its way to TV channels like Zee, NewsX and India News, whose anchors triumphantly rushed to broadcast it:
Times Now’s anchor, Arnab Goswami used the convenient device of asking BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra to show it on air:
As ABP News pointed out on Thursday, this clip is an edited version of the original clip we saw at the beginning of this article. Kanhaiya’s call for azadi from bhukhmari, samantvad, sanghvad etc. has been cleverly converted into a call for Kashmir’s azadi – something he never said.
When Kanhaiya is eventually released from jail and the charges against him are dropped – as they surely must – the Supreme Court must set up a Special Investigation Team to root out the criminals who fabricated this “evidence” and put it into circulation. The politicians and policemen responsible for this false and malicious prosecution must be arraigned and brought to justice. No one, not even Bassi, must be spared, if it is found that they played a role in the fabrication or its dissemination. The lawyers and BJP leaders who attacked students and teachers and journalists and others inside and outside the Patiala House court must be prosecuted. The lawyers should be debarred for life.
There is no criminal law that readily applies to the journalists who for the past ten days have engaged in the character-assassination of Kanhaiya Kumar, putting his very life in danger. Some of them have sons and daughters who are Kanhaiya’s age, and yet felt not a twinge of guilt in feeding a young man to rabid dogs. Let our contempt for them be their punishment. They are a disgrace to journalism—and to India.