Senior journalist Siddharth Varadarajan had to be escorted out by police on Wednesday from the Allahabad University campus, after he was held hostage by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the right wing Bharatiya Janata Party, whose members alleged that the former editor of The Hindu was of a "communal mindset". Varadarajan is currently editor of The Wire.
Varadarajan had arrived at the AU for a seminar on ‘Democracy, media and freedom of expression’ organised by the Allahabad University Students’ Union (AUSU) chief Richa Singh, reported the Indian Express. The ABVP leaders had been on a hunger strike ever since Varadarajan had accepted the invite.
The ABVP had allegedly planned to ink the face of Varadarajan and throw eggs at him and Singh but ditched their plans at the last minute, said ABVP leader Vikrant Singh.
“A physical attack would have given them more publicity. We gheroed the V-C’s office,” Singh told the Express.
The university administration eventually caved to ABVP and cancelled permission for holding the seminar in the varsity’s Senate Hall fearing a confrontation between student groups. Singh decided to hold the seminar at the union building. But even that plan did not materialize.
“ABVP members locked the building this morning and did not let us enter. While we moved to another place outside the campus, they organised a religious discourse in the union building,” Singh told Express.
So in the face of ABVP's threats, the Allahabad Univ admin & city admin have forced the cancellation of my talk on freedom of speech!— Siddharth (@svaradarajan) January 20, 2016
I will, however, be going to the Allahabad University campus today to register my protest at this blatant intimidation— Siddharth (@svaradarajan) January 20, 2016
Just delivered my lecture on freedom of expression at a hall outside Allahabad Univ campus. Now going into campus. pic.twitter.com/qXHkDfHyho— Siddharth (@svaradarajan) January 20, 2016
Earlier, Vikrant Singh told the Express: "There are two reasons behind our protest. First, the union president did not consult us before planning the event. Secondly, Siddharth Varadarajan is a controversial man, who used to write pro-naxal and anti-national articles. Richa has invited a person who has a communal mindset while she herself had earlier opposed campus visit of BJP MP Yogi Adityanath last year, calling him communal.”
In an interview to Rediff, Richa claimed that the ABVP is "openly doing goondagardi in universities across India."
"At present I am sitting outside the vice-chancellor's office with Mr Varadarajan and the ABVP guys have surrounded the office and are behaving badly," she said.
Do you feel there is any connection between what happened to Rohith Vemula at Hyderabad and this incident at Allahabad University?
Richa claimed that the two incidents -- Dalit student Rohith Vemula's suicide and Varadarajan's gherao -- are connected. "The university administration in Hyderabad intervened because of politics and Rohith committed suicide. In the same way, central universities across India are facing the same pressures," she said.
Rohith, a Dalit student affiliated to the Ambedkar Student's Association, committed suicide after he, alongwith four other Dalit students, was expelled from the Hyderabad Central University following a clash with an ABVP student leader. A union minister had written to the university to take action against Rohith and the HRD Ministry followed it up with five letters, which is now seen as one of the factors that may have pushed Rohith to the brink.
Varadarajan eventually spoke at the Swaraj Bhawan, outside the varsity campus, reported Times of India. But soon after, when he, along with Richa, arrived at the VC office to meet him, they were gheraoed by a large number of ABVP members who started shouting slogans. Varadarajan was unable to leave the office for around half an hour, the report said.
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