It all started with an event organised on 9 February at Jawaharlal Nehru University. According to news reports, a handful of students in JNU held a meeting to protest what they called "the judicial killing of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhat". The students claimed the protest was held "in solidarity with the struggle of Kashmiri people for their democratic right to self-determination."
The gathering quickly turned controversial with some students raising "anti-India" slogans, including some demanding the secession of Kashmir. Sedition charges were slapped against the protesters and police arrested JNU students' union president Kanhiaya Kumar.
JNU has now become an epicentre of a political storm, the echoes of which are being heard across the country.
The predominant narrative being painted by the media and the right-wing parties is that JNU students are a homogeneous lot who harbour anti-national sentiments. However, such an inference is misleading.
According to a PTI report, security agencies have conveyed to the Home Ministry that even though Kumar was present at the event commemorating Afzal Guru's hanging, he did not raise any anti-national slogans. They also said that students from the Democratic Students Union (DSU) had raised the slogans.
Kumar belongs to the All India Students Federation (AISF), the student of wing of the CPI. The DSU is an extreme left group, with a negligible presence on the campus. The DSU members have claimed that the event was organised by ex-members of the union.
Here's a dummy's guide to understanding the politics of each of the student unions - and their stands on the 9 February issue in particular.
All India Students Federation (AISF)
Affiliation: Communist Party of India - CPI
JNUSU president, Kanhaiya Kumar, is an AISF member. The union's Delhi State Council member, Amit said that neither Kumar, nor the union had anything to do with anti-national activities. He said:
"In its history of 80 years in India, AISF has never been associated with any anti-national activities. Kumar never shouted any anti-national slogan and he (or AISF) was never involved in the organisations or speeches made during the event on 9 February. He was present on the spot as a the JNUSU president and actually came forward to pacify the matter when the protest aggravated."
"The government in our country is progressing towards fascism. The promises of the Centre have fallen apart and it is a conspiracy to dilute the grave issues in the country."
"The main idea behind this crackdown is to silence the student movement not only in JNU but across the country. A speech made against the government cannot be regarded as a speech made against the nation."
"We will continue the agitation and demand an unconditional release of Kumar. There should be an investigation into the matter by an independent committee that has to be constituted within the university."
Democratic Students' Union (DSU)
Affiliation: An ultra-leftist group that believes in Maoism; currently stands dissolved at JNU due to infighting.
A DSU student member hailing from the Delhi University unit spoke to Catch on the condition of anonymity. The student said:
"We have been organising protests for Afzal Guru after his judicial killing. We believe that due process of law was not followed in his case. Moreover, we condemn capital punishment."
"The government action in this incident is totally uncalled for. This is a witch-hunt mounted against the students especially targeting the communists - very similar to what happened with Narendra Dabholkar and MM Kalburgi."
"Slogans have been shouted before but unless they do not harm anyone, the person associated with them cannot be charged under law. Clearly, none of this happened in Kumar's case."
"The government has been forcing their representatives across universities - like what happened in the case of University of Hyderabad's Vice-Chancellor Appa Rao and the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as the Chairman at Indian Film and Television's institute."
"We fear that the government will now try to mount pressure on the judiciary in JNU's case."
All India Students Association (AISA)
Affiliation: Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation - CPI (ML)
AISA state president Anmol said the row was politically motivated and was an attempt to divert attention from other issues.
"We condemn the action taken against the student especially against Kumar. The whole incident is politically motivated. The idea is to divert attention from key issues like the Rohith Vemula suicide and UGC protests."
"Intensive debate and slogan shouting has been an integral part of JNU's culture but what happened on 9 February has been misinterpreted by the Centre and the police. There were no such slogans which were 'anti-national' or could be charged under sedition."
"The Supreme Court has given clear judgements in Sedition according to which slogan shouting cannot be charged as it was done in this case. Moreover, there is no proof that anyone including Kumar had raised such slogans during the event."
"We demand the immediate release of Kumar and withdrawal of charges against other people. The government should also withdraw the deployment of police from the campus which is creating an atmosphere of fear among the students. It is the matter of the university... let the university decide."
Students Federation of India (SFI)
Affiliation: Communist Party of India (Marxist) - CPI (M)
Sunand from SFI told Catch that the union was opposed to any anti-national ideas or slogans. The member also raised a few pertinent concerns.
"The Centre and police clearly took advantage to intrude the campus. Kanhiaya Kumar was arrested without any warrant."
"Now we are gravely concerned about the threats which the JNU students are receiving. They are being initimidated by unknown people. For example in Munirka and other adjacent places pamplets reading- 'Hinduon ek ho jao, deshdrohi JNU ke khilaf' (Hindus lets unite against the anti-national JNU).
"The constitution of the investigative committee by the University is also questionable. We believe it doesnot have a fair representation. How did the committee announced academic suspension of the students within 8 hours?"
National Students Union of India (NSUI)
Affiliation: Indian National Congress - INC
NSUI vice-president Anil Kumar alleged that JNU had been a target of the BJP and the RSS for a while now. He warned that varsities like Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Milia Islamia were next on the agenda.
"The government is aiming to divert attention from issues like the Anandiben's controversy in Gujarat and the Budget which does not seem to be promising at all."
"The police should identify the people who have organised the event instead of cracking down on soft targets like Kanhaiya Kumar who were never involved in the slogan shouting."
"BJP never took any action Masrat Alam who also shouted anti-national slogans against India in his rally as this would have impacted their alliance with People's Democratic Party."
"JNU has been a target of BJP and RSS for long. Malicious remarks made by Mohab Bhagwat and Subramanian Swamy are a proof of this hatred. They cannot simply stand any sort of criticism. We are sure their next target is Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia."
Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad (ABVP)
Affiliation: Constitutionally independent but ideologically close to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)
The secretary of the ABVP, Lalit, condemned the 9 February event and said that debate and discussion could not be conducted at the cost of anti-nationalism. He said:
"The incident which happened on 9 February puts the nation to shame. Debate and discussion is always welcome but not at the cost of slogans like - 'Desh ke tukde 100 tukde honge' (The nation will be divided into hundred parts) and 'Go India Go back'."
"Lack of video evidence against Kanhaiya Kumar does not mean that he has not shouted anti-national slogans."
"Every year, events condemning Afzal Guru's hanging are organised in the campus. This is shameful that we are in support of a person who targeted our Parliament. There is a clear attempt to break the nation in the name of such protests."
"If anti-national slogans are shouted in the national capital then it should be dealt with strictly. The police action, therefore, in this case, is justified."
"We cannot comment about the BJP-PDP alliance since we are not associated with BJP. We do not carry Narendra Modi's photo with us but follow Vivekananda's ideology and his teachings."
Edited by - Aishwarya Yerra