On the 9th of February, 2016, some student unions (including one which had been banned by the erstwhile UPA Government) held an event in the university premises to commemorate a condemned terrorist who had been hanged by due process of law.The function was held in defiance of the University authorities. “Very disturbing” and “deeply troubling” (according to a Member of Parliament, Sugata Bose)slogans were raised and posters put up at the event, which highly charged the emotional atmosphere amongst the general public and stirred the law & order machinery into action. Frenzied activity was witnessed on the roads the University,Courts (including the Supreme Court) in Delhi for the next few days and the matter also came up in both Houses of Parliament when the Parliament session opened on February 23.
The police treated the slogans as seditious. One of the student leaders was arrested from the University premises and charged with sedition. 5 other students wanted by the Police went underground and took their time to reappear in the University itself.
As was to be expected, the events gave rise to extensive debates and discussions in the media. The print media not only carried the outraged reactions of the common people (including some lawyers) but also lengthy articles and statements by responsible leaders of thought, including politicians, advocates, judges and eminent writers and thinkers.While all were unanimous that the slogans raised were highly objectionable and called for strong action, some tried to rake up issues of freedom of expression and speech and right to dissent which are guaranteed under the Indian Constitution. These people apparently did not recognise any limits to the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.
In the Parliament also, MPs from both the ruling and the opposition sides were unanimous in condemning the slogans but the opposition benches raised questions about the action taken by the police. Naturally, the reactions were on party lines (though in the opinion of lay men like me, such issues call for a more unified approach). Some of the learned opposition MPs used the occasion to express their thoughts about nationalism and quoted some great thinkers and laureates on the subject to reinforce their own views. But whether some of them were speaking from their hearts or just to uphold party lines is a point that struck me while listening to their speeches. The speech of Shri Sugata Bose particularly continues to haunt me. He introduced himself as a professor having taught in world class foreign universities trying presumably to convey that he was talking more as a thinker than as a politician. But having been elected on a party ticket (NCP), some of his observations made it obvious that the politician in him had the better of the thinker. For example, he observed that “we have a heartless government that refuses to listen to the cries of despair coming from the marginalised sections of our society”. This is a baseless charge that did not find echo even from the parties specifically representing such sections in the House, viz. Dalits/SCs etc.Again while “unequivocally condemning those slogans and posters” he strongly “opposed the attempt being made to portray the entire university as a hub of anti-national activities” This despite the fact that every govt. spokes- person including the Home Minister had repeatedly clarified in the House as well as outside that the Government held the university in high esteem. Again, he revealed the consummate politician in himself by eulogising the party that had
facilitated his entry into the Parliament and its top leader in conformity with the culture of the party.
Very few in Parliament or outside have raised the basic issue as to whether the students in the universities should concern themselves with such contentious political issues having a bearing on terrorist activities in the country and sensitive issues of integrity of the country. Few also showed appreciation of the fact that the matter had appropriately gone to the courts who, in this country, are known for their freedom and adherence to law and impartiality.