New Delhi: JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar walked out of Tihar jail to a rapturous welcome today, three weeks after his arrest on sedition charges that had unleashed widespread outrage with a combined opposition mounting a spirited attack on the government, accusing it of crushing dissent.
The 29-year-old Kumar’s release in the evening came even as a Delhi government-appointed magisterial probe did not find any evidence of him having raised anti-India slogans at a flashpoint event at the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus on February 9. The report said “nothing adverse” could be found against Kumar and that no witness or video was available to support allegations against the JNU students’ union president.
Kumar, a PhD student at the prestigious university, was released from the prison at 6.30 pm and accorded a spirited welcome by a group of students and teachers on being handed over to them. Jubilation at the university campus – which erupted after Kumar was granted bail yesterday by the Delhi High Court – acquired a new momentum with the students, agitating since his arrest, taking out a march shouting slogans like “Jai Kanhaiya lal ki” (“Long live Kanhaiya”).
On campus, Kanhaiya gave a rousing speech to a crowd of several hundred of students in which he praised the university community for standing up for democracy. He said he would not comment on the court case against him since the matter was sub judice. “But those who believe in the constitution, and who want to realise Babasaheb Ambedkar’s dreams, I am sure they will understand what I am saying.”
He said the charge of sedition had been used as a political tool against the students and attacked Modi for misleading the people with his promises in the last election. If you criticise the government, a special cyber-cell will make doctored videos against you, he said. He denounced BJP leaders and prime time TV debaters for using the sacrifice of soldiers on the border to condemn the students of JNU. The soldiers dying on the border are the sons of farmers, he said, and farmers are dying inside the country as well. He said he has been criticised for using the word ‘azadi’, or independence. Who do you want independence from, they ask. India does not deny anyone their freedom. “We don’t want freedom from India”, Kanhaiya said. “We want freedom in India.” From hunger, corruption, poverty, casteism.
Right after his release, Kumar maintained that he’d never raised any anti-India slogans, asserting the truth would prevail. He was arrested on February 12 in connection with a protest against the hanging of Parliament-attack convict Afzal Guru on his third death anniversary, during which anti-national slogans had allegedly been raised. Kumar was granted interim bail for six months by the Delhi High Court on Wednesday on the condition that he would cooperate in the ongoing investigation.
Earlier in the day, a city court issued Kumar’s release order after he furnished a bail bond. Jail officials said the papers for the release of the JNU student leader were received at around 5 pm and that he was released about 90 minutes later. Five other students – Umar Khalid, Anirban Bhattacharya, Rama Naga, Anant Prakash and Anirban Bhattacharya – had also been named by the police in the case. Umar and Anirban surrendered to the police on the night of February 24 and were subsequently arrested in connection with the sedition charge. The police have also questioned Ashutosh Kumar, another JNU student, twice.
Kumar’s arrest was seen as an attack on the university by its teachers, students and alumni who were supported by students from across the country – as well as international scholars including Noam Chomsky and Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, among others. Moreover, almost all the ppposition parties had come down hard on the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre, accusing it of stifling free speech and trying to impose RSS-backed ideologies. For this reason, Kumar’s arrest had also triggered a debate on nationalism.
Anticipating a possible attack on Kumar, the Delhi police had resorted to elaborate measures to ensure that he wouldn’t suffer “even a scratch” on his way from jail to the JNU campus. Once he was out, he stepped inside an SUV arranged for by his counsel; while the car was secretly driven out through the staff quarters in the backyard of the prison complex, three other vehicles, including an ambulance, were used as decoys. All this even as a posse of media personnel was camped outside a gate nearby to see the student leader finally out of jail.
Kumar and the persons accompanying him were instructed to reach Hari Nagar police station near Tihar jail, from where he was provided with an escort comprising officials of Delhi Police’s west district. At one point, the escort team changed and officials of south district finally ensured he reached the varsity’s campus safely, sources said.
Report of district magistrate
According to the findings of the Delhi government-appointed magisterial probe, anti-national slogans were raised at the campus and the JNU administration has already identified a “few faces” who were “clearly” heard shouting them. The probe panel said their whereabouts must be found out and their role must be investigated. It said seven videos of the event on February 9 to protest Afzal Guru’s hanging were sent to a Hyderabad-based forensic lab, and that three of them were found to be doctored.
The probe was headed by New Delhi District Magistrate Sanjay Kumar and was ordered by the city government on February 13 following widespread outrage over Kumar’s arrest on charges of sedition. The report cited claims of some of the JNU security staff that, “possibly”, Umar, Anirban and Ashutosh had raised slogans protesting the hanging of Guru and in favour of Kashmir.
Many outsiders of Kashmiri descent, with their faces covered, were ‘seen’ in videos shouting anti-India and pro-Afzal Guru slogans and that their identity and role needs to be investigated, the document added, apart from observing that the police had had “doubts” about incorporating the ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ slogan in the FIR registered in connection with the case in the absence of any substantive evidence.
The fourth chapter of the report – on the ‘sequence of events’ – stated that local police performed its task “nicely” by first coming in civilian garb to understand the situation without unnecessarily “aggravating” it with their ostentatious presence.
“Later on, when [the] situation was [getting] out of control, police entered and allowed the completion of the event without using any force or letting the situation go out of their control,” it said.
(with inputs from The Wire staff)