New Delhi: Asserting that the February 9 campus meeting at Jawaharlal Nehru University which led to sedition charges being laid against students union president Kanhaiya Kumar and five others “has an international impact” with the involvement of “foreign elements”, the police on Wednesday urged the Delhi high court to deny bail and instead hand Kanhaiya over to their custody for 15 days to “complete the investigation.”
The claim about a foreign hand – “the presence of foreign with mouths covered elements”, to use the precise language used by the police – was made by the police in its status report to the high court.
Kumar’s bail plea was supposed to be heard in the high court on February 24 and the expectation on campus was that he was likely to get bail the same day. However, the hearing was deferred till February 29 at the request of the prosecution, which said “new evidence” may emerge now that two other students, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, whom the police have also charged with sedition, had surrendered themselves. Accepting that the changed circumstances would have to be taken into account, the court said it would take up the plea for bail on Monday.
The police also took offence to the use of the phrase “judicial killing” in pamphlets that were circulated at the February 9 event to describe the execution of Afzal Guru for his role in the December 2001 parliament attack. It said this was “contemptuous” of the Supreme Court. In fact, the phrase is commonly used by experts – for example in this article by a former director of the Central Bureau of Investigation – to describe the court-sanctioned extinguishing of life, in contrast to an ‘extra-judicial killing’.
In its status report, the police said Kanhaiya should be denied bail because it had so far not been able to unearth “the source of finance for all the activities” that led to the commission of the alleged seditious act of slogan shouting on campus on February 9. It also needed more time to investigate whether there was a “wider criminal conspiracy” behind the February 9 event and “the activities which are going on after the arrest [of Kanhaiya]” – presumably a reference to the protests in JNU and elsewhere in India and the world against the police action.
In a sign that it has further widened the case from one of ‘sedition’ to looking at all non-academic activities on campus with suspicion, the police said in its report to the high court that Kanhaiya should be denied bail because it was “investigating as to the persons and organisations behind such non educational activities in the [JNU] campus and the object behind it in the larger national perspective.”
Kanhaiya is currently in judicial custody. The police said they will be seeking to exercise their statutory right to 15 days of police remand for an accused person. The high court has ordered the prosecution to give the student leader’s lawyers advance notice if they will be seeking police remand so that the defence can oppose it, including the grounds for remand and when and where they will be applying for it.
Umar Khalid, Anirban surrender
Late at night on February 23, two students, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya surrendered to the police. To ensure their safety, they were driven to the JNU west gate by the university’s private security company and picked up by the police from there. According to a PTI report, they were first questioned for five hours and then arrested under sedition charges.
Three students from JNU – Khalid, Bhattacharya and and Kanhaiya Kumar – are now in custody while the police is seeking the arrest of another three.
Khalid and Bhattacharya, as well as the three other students, were in hiding from February 11 until Tuesday night, because they feared a “mob lynching” if they exposed themselves. They resurfaced on campus late on 21 February. The next day, they appealed for protection in the high court and expressed their willingness to surrender. While the court did not take a call on their protection plea, their first concern was that the students surrender and follow the “due process of the law”.
Anant Prakash Narayan, Rama Naga and Ashutosh Kumar, the three other students who resurfaced on the same night as Khalid and Bhattacharya, have filed for anticipatory bail in the high court.
Lawyers, MLA out on bail
Meanwhile, the lawyer Yashpal Singh, who was caught on camera assaulting journalists and JNU students at Patiala House court, was arrested on 23 February with respect to this case and another case where he allegedly hit a Sonepat-based lawyer. He was released on bail a few hours later. Om Sharma, another lawyer whose role in the violence has been seen in videos and photographs, was similarly arrested and released on 20 February. Lawyer Vikram Singh Chauhan, who has admitted to organising the lawyers’ protests, appeared before the police today after ignoring multiple summons.
BJP MLA OP Sharma, seen on camera assaulting CPI leader Ameeque Jamai outside Patiala House court, was also granted bail within half an hour of his arrest on 18 February. A case has been registered against him under sections of “causing hurt”, “wrongful restraint” and “affray”.
Petition against JNU faculty dismissed
The high court also heard a civil writ petition on February 23 demanding the “immediate arrest” of the five students who emerged from hiding on February 21, and asking the court to give orders allowing the Delhi Police to enter the JNU campus. The plea also sought action against JNU faculty members for allegedly trying to “obstruct the process of administration of criminal justice system and assisting for violation of law of lands”.
When it came up for hearing, the petitioner asked to convert the petition into a public interest litigation. The judge responded to this by saying that a new petition should then be filed, and the writ petition was dismissed.
The budget sessions in both houses of parliament have seen the effect of the ongoing JNU issue and the suicide of a Hyderabad University student, Rohith Vemula. While the Rajya Sabha had to be adjourned six times, the Lok Sabha witnessed a heated debate between the government and opposition parties.