New Delhi: While the Delhi Police has claimed yesterday that Left organisations and students were behind the violence at Jawaharlal Nehru University on January 5, one hour later, a television channel aired a ‘sting operation’ in which a volunteer with the BJP’s student wing, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) admits to having organised the attack on Sabarmati hostel.
The Delhi Police’s “hurried” press conference on Friday only referred to the January 4 disruption of the server room of the university. There was, however, no reference to the violence a day later, in which the university campus was terrorised by masked men and women armed with lathis and other weapons, which has led to outrage and protests across educational institutes in India.
The ‘sting operation’, aired by India Today channel on Friday, showed two students of BA (French) at JNU, one of whom claimed to be from the ABVP, testifying to their involvement to the violence on January 5. ABVP has disowned both the students as being part of their organisation.
Akshat Awasthi is neither an office bearer, nor a karyakarta of ABVP, as claimed by @IndiaToday. This is a smear campaign run by India Today to deviate everyone from the facts put forth by @DelhiPolice proving #LeftBehindJNUVoilence.
– National General Secretary @nidhitripathi92
— ABVP (@ABVPVoice) January 10, 2020
India Today also produced a photograph published on the front page of a national newspaper to prove that Akshat Awasthi was identified to be at the helm of an ABVP rally.
As per the India Today investigation, Awasthi showed the video to the journalists which depicted him with his face covered and rushing through hostel corridors.
“What did you have in your hand?” an India Today undercover reporter asked Awasthi.
“It was a stick, sir. I pulled it out from a flag lying near [the] Periyar [hostel].”
“Did you hit someone?” the reporter asked.
“There was a man with a flowing beard. He looked like a Kashmiri. I beat him up and then broke the gate with my kicks.”
Awasthi claimed that the attack was in reaction to an assault by Left students on Periyar hostel the same day. “It was a reaction to their action,” he said.
The first-year student recounted that mobs smashed vehicles and furniture on the street facing Sabarmati hostel. “All students and teachers standing there ran away when the attack happened. They had no idea that the ABVP would ever retaliate like this,” he said.
As per the video, Awasthi claimed that he was behind the entire planning. “I can tell you that I did all the mobilisation. They don’t have that much mind. You know you need to act like a superintendent or a commander. Why it’s to be done and where exactly. I guided them about everything – where to hide, where to go. I told them to do everything systematically. I didn’t have any position or a tag. Still they listened to me carefully,” the student claimed.
He added that the not only did he mobilise the mob, but he also channelled their anger in the right direction.
India Today also found another student, Rohit Shah, who stated that he had given his helmet to Awasthi. “It [a helmet] is a must for safety when you smash glass,” Shah said. He also claimed to have identified rooms of ABVP affiliated students. “I told them [the masked persons] it’s an ABVP room and they walked away”.
Shah added that he was proud of what had happened in JNU on Sunday evening. “If it [the attack] hadn’t been carried out the way it was, they [the Left] would not have realised the ABVP’s strength”.
Akshat Awasthi had also claimed that a police officer encouraged them to retaliate. “They [police] were inside the campus not outside. I had called the police myself after a student was injured at Periyar [hostel during an earlier attack]. He met Manish [a student] and said, ‘hit them, hit them’.”
When asked about street lights being switched off at the time of the attack, Awasthi admitted that it was done to hid the mobilisation by ABVP.
Reporter: Who shut down the street lights? You guys?
Akshat Awasthi: Admin… I think police.
Reporter: Why did the police do that?
Akshat Awasthi: They did not want [anyone] to see that the mobilisation was happening.
Reporter: So, the police helped you, the ABVP?
Akshat Awasthi: Whose police is it, sir?
The Jawaharlal Nehru University has so far only fired a First Information Report (FIR) over university servers being damaged on January 4. The administration has claimed that the violence of January 5 has roots in the destruction of the server room on Saturday.
Meanwhile, India Today also aired another video showing former JNUSU president and AISA member Geeta Kumar admitting to being involved in disrupting the server room.
“None of our demands have been met, he [the JNU VC] didn’t even meet us, so we decided to close the server room,” she said.
“Our VC does everything online, sends love letter [slang] online, sends Happy Near Year online, sends warnings online, so we thought that he has exceeded everything, there are no exams, none of our demands is met, he didn’t even meet us, so we decided to close the server room so that the administration does not function,” she said.
After the ‘JNU Tapes’ went on-air, Geeta Kumari defended her actions and said that she has nothing to hide.
“JNU VC increases our fee a thousand time. He sends punishment letters for demanding the right to education. I myself have received countless such letters. We are fighting for our rights. We are in civil disobedience. That’s what I have said. Nothing to hide,” she said.
Kumari later tweeted justifying her actions.
JNU VC increases our fee a thousand time. He sends punishment letters for demanding right to education. I myself have received countless such letters. We are fighting for our rights. We are in civil disobedience. That’s what I have said. Nothing to hide. #JNUTapes @IndiaToday
— Geeta (@GeetaJnu) January 10, 2020
When the Indian Express contacted Kumari, she said, “How can the reaction to this incident be ABVP’s violence on us? We accept admin work had stopped because of our protest. Then they should have come and talked to us; who is the ABVP to come and hit us?”
ABVP vice president Nidhi Tripathi has denied that either Awasthi or Shah were associated with the student organisation. “They are not holding any position within the ABVP. Anyone participating in ABVP or JNUSU events cannot qualify to become their members automatically. Police are investigating the entire case. Anyone involved in violence at the JNU should be prosecuted. We will fully support the police in their investigation,” she said.
Even BJP spokesperson Amit Malviya has insisted that ABVP has no office-bearer in the first year of any degree program in JNU, as per India Today.
However, the TV channel has never claimed that Akshat Awasthi is an office-bearer, neither did the student in the video. However, Awasthi had claimed in the India Today video to having organised ABVP members towards the end of rampaging through Sabarmati hostel.
The Delhi Police also took notice of India Today’s investigation and said the ongoing probe would cover all angles of the case. “We will include all aspects in our investigation, including the investigation done by India Today,” Delhi Police spokesman M.S. Randhawa said.
The Indian Express reported that the Delhi Police’s press conference that linked nine students showed that the police investigators have “relied heavily on videos and photos circulated by ABVP over the last five days”.
DCP (Crime) Joy Tirkey listed four Left outfits — SFI, AISF, AISA and DSF — and said seven of the nine students belonged to them, but did not mention ABVP, even though the remaining two students belonged to that group.
The newspaper also pointed out that the photo and text released by police had a couple of errors. The photo of ABVP’s Shiv Poojan Mandal was used in place of Vikas Patel – and it was changed only after the error was pointed out.
“Police also stated that Patel was pursuing a course called ‘MS’ Korean, though there is no course in JNU with the abbreviation ‘MS’,” said the Indian Express report.
During the press conference, Delhi Police also called SFI (Students Federation of India) as Student Front of India, multiple times. They also mis-identified Sucheta Talukdar as a member of SFI, even though she is a JNUSU councillor from AISA.