Mumbai: Hours before several masked men and women unleashed violence inside the campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), a link to a group on messaging service WhatsApp was being shared en masse asking people to “settle things for once and for all”. This group, until 7:30 pm, was named “Unity Against Left”.
As the link to the group circulated beyond the expected students’ circle and more and more journalists, lawyers and Left students joined the group, the demography of the group soon changed. Most right-wing supporters have since left the group and it is mostly a troll group now.
The following are a few messages that were shared on the group from 5:30 pm onwards on January 5, until 9.30 pm. The Wire has tried to get in touch with those who allegedly sent violent messages on the group. But most of these numbers have either been switched off since then, and the users’ Facebooks account deleted. Even names on Truecaller, an online application that enables the identification of mobile phone users, have been changed. Most Hindu-sounding names have now been changed to Muslim-sounding names.
The WhatsApp message exchanges, reflected in the screenshots that have been shared extensively, show clear participation from several persons belonging to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS’s) students’ wing, Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), from JNU and Delhi University.
One of the initial messages was shared by a young person who identifies himself as a student of JNU on his Facebook profile. His name reflects as “Yogendra Shaurya Bhardwaj” on the Truecaller. Bhardwaj’s message around 5:30 pm appealed people to join the group “for unity against Left terror”. “Ab pakadkrin logo ko mar lagni chahiye. Bas ek hi dawah hai (Now all of them should be thrashed nicely. This is the only promise),” he writes at 5:33 pm.
The person’s social media account identified him as ABVP JNU joint secretary from 2017- 18 and PhD scholar enrolled with the university. The Wire tried to call his number but it has been switched off after it was circulated widely on social media.
The immediate respondent to his messages was by another student identified as ‘Vice President ABVP JNU (2015- 16)’ on social media. This second respondent, identified as one Onkar Srivastava on Truecaller, can be seen asking people from Delhi University to enter from “Khajan Singh swimming side”. “DU ke logo ki entry aap khajan singh swimming side se krwaiye. Hum log yaha 25- 30 loh hai (DU guys can enter from Khajan Singh swimming side. We are 25-30 people here,” the message reads. Khazan Singh swimming academy is located within the JNU campus.
This particular number, which was switched on until late last night, has now been disconnected. But the mugshot on Truecaller is still that of the ABVP activist Srivastava from JNU and his Facebook profile continues to be active. His social media profile shows that he is an active member of the Delhi state executive committee of ABVP and originally hails from Bagaha in West Champaran, Bihar.
Whether these individuals were physically present on the ground attacking students and JNU faculty members is unclear. Since these numbers have since been switched off or are out of service, The Wire could not contact the individuals and get their version.
There are a whole bunch of messages calling for a “war” and also asking to beat up “commies” (those aligning with Left ideology). Details of most of these numbers have been changed several times on the Truecaller since the night of January 5. Some names now have been prefixed as “INC activist”, “Left Wing JNU” or simply changed the names to names of those from the Muslim community.
Like for instance, one such active participant on the group could be identified as an important functionary of ABVP in Delhi and the number on Truecaller identified him as a well-known person in the ABVP circle, one Hitesh Jain. But on December 6, the number was renamed as ‘Raies’ and it was now classified as a “business number”. When The Wire contacted the number and asked for details about the person as named on the Truecaller until yesterday, the person claimed it was a “wrong number”.
This person has an active “public figure” page on Facebook with over 11,000 followers and can be seen actively interacting with several BJP and other right-wing ideologues including Subramanian Swamy. The person can be found posing with several Bollywood actors and filmmakers and also various BJP functionaries in Rajasthan.
Another person who can be actively seen coordinating with people and asking about their whereabouts on the group was contacted by The Wire. He, however, claimed that he was on the group trying to find out “more information on the violence planned”. “Like me several others had joined the group and were posing as ABVP activists. We wanted to know the extent of their planning,” he told The Wire. He also requested The Wire to not identify him in any way since he feared for his life. “I stay on the JNU campus and I know these men (ABVP activists) will come for me if my identity is out,” he claimed.
Post 9:30 pm on January 5, the group was accessible to people outside the right-wing and the description had been changed too. Since several students from the Left and Ambedkarite movement could be seen to have joined the group later in the day, the ABVP tried to twist the narrative and accuse Left groups – the Students Federation of India, the All India Students’ Association and the Democratic Students Federation – of creating the trouble.