Vendetta claim after sedition charges for Indian students

BJP accused of appeasing Hindus before election with legal action over 2016 protest
Vendetta claim after sedition charges for Indian students

Former JNSU leader Kanhaiya Kumar (left) and Gujarat Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani attend an event on Dec. 26, 2018. Kumar has described sedition charges against him and nine others as an election ploy. (Photo by Kuntal Chakrabarty/IANS)

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been accused of a political vendetta after police filed sedition charges against 10 student leaders in a three-year-old case.

BJP critics and the student activists have questioned the timing of the charges. They said the move, so close to national elections, was politically motivated to help the BJP-led government, whose five-year term ends in May.

Police on Jan. 14 filed sedition charges against 10 student activists over a protest on Feb. 9, 2016, inside the campus of the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya are accused of organizing the protest to condemn the hanging of Kashmiri Muslim militant Afzal Guru, who was convicted of attacking the Indian parliament on Dec. 13, 2001. 

At the time Kumar was president of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students' Union (JNSU), which was supported by students from left-wing parties. 

BJP leaders and Hindu groups campaigned across the country and accused the protesters of shouting anti-India slogans. They also demanded stern action against the students' union for facilitating the protest.

Kumar and the other student leaders were arrested briefly on charges of sedition but were set free due to lack of evidence.

However, three years later, the police's anti-terrorism wing has filed a 1,200-page charge sheet in a New Delhi court against 10 student leaders including Kumar.

"It is an attempt to silence opponents. Everyone is aware that those who have been charged were actively opposing the BJP's pro-Hindu policies on public podiums," said E. Peter, a youth activist based in New Delhi.

Ahead of national elections due in about three months, the BJP wants to silence student leaders leading a campaign against the BJP in universities and among India's youth, Peter said.

Mehbooba Mufti, former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, described the charges as an election stunt. She told reporters in Srinagar on Jan. 15 that the BJP was making the student leaders "a scapegoat."

"It is nothing but part and parcel of the poll strategy of the BJP," Mufti said, adding that the charges would also appease some pro-Hindu groups.

Kumar has termed the charges a "diversionary ploy" by the BJP and demanded evidence against him and others be made public. "We want to see the videos that have been placed on record as evidence by the police," Kumar told media in New Delhi on Jan. 15.

Police claim to have video clips and witness statement to prove that Kumar led a procession and supported seditious slogans inside the campus in 2016.

The charges filed "after a hiatus of three years" were "a clear case of a vendetta and well-planned instruction from the prime minister's office," JNUSU said in a statement.

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Rakesh Singh, a youth activist in Uttar Pradesh, told that Indian politics had stooped too low now that the ruling party was targeting students in a bid to garner votes.

"What were the police doing for the past three years and why have charges been filed now when the campaign for the national elections is already on?" Singh asked.

He said such measures only reflected how the BJP has failed to deliver on its promises.

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