NEW DELHI -- Following his meeting with President Pranab Mukherjee today, Congress Party Vice President Rahul Gandhi evoked his "nationalism," while lashing out at the Centre for crushing dissent at educational institutions, and accusing the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh of imposing its "dead" ideology on students.
Over the past few days, Bharatiya Janata Party leaders have accused Gandhi for expressing solidarity with students who raised anti-national slogans at the Jawharlal Nehru University on 9 February, and dubbed him as an "anti-national."
"Nationalism is in my blood, I have seen my family sacrifice again and again for the nation," Gandhi told reporters. "The RSS is trying to impose a dead ideology on the students of this nation. We won't let that happen."
Condemning the Modi government for failing to stop rogue lawyers from beating up journalists at the Patiala House Court, twice this week, he said, "Incidents like this are very very bad for India's image abroad. That is why the Congress Party has gone to the President of India."
Earlier in the day, Kailash Chaudhary, a BJP lawmaker from Rajasthan, said that Gandhi was a "traitor" who should be "shot and hanged."
The JNU row has sparked debate on the red line for free speech in India, and at what point does a student voicing dissent become a "traitor." The nation is deliberating whether praising a terrorist is covered by free speech, whether such an act invites a charge of sedition, who has a monopoly over nationalism and patriotism, and who is an "anti-national."
The more immediate threat is to Kanhaiya Kumar, a student from Bihar, who was arrested on charges of sedition for a speech which didn't have any "anti-national" material. He spoke following an event at JNU on Feb 9 to mark the third anniversary of Afzal Guru's execution. The Kashmiri militant was convicted of masterminding the 2001 attack, was sentenced to death by the Supreme Court in 2005.
According to BJP President Amit Shah, slogans raised at the event included, "Afzal we are ashamed because your killers are free,"War will continue until Kashmir's freedom," "Go India Go Back" and "Long live Pakistan," but it has been widely pointed out that Kumar's speech did not have objectionable material.
While Kumar moved the Supreme Court for bail today, students from opposing camps, along with a wide cross section of the public, carried out protests in Delhi, Bengaluru and Kolkata.
Following Gandhi's meeting, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal also met with the Mukherjee and raised similar concerns.
Kejriwal also noted the lack of evidence against Kumar, but questioned why the Delhi police had not apprehended the students who are accused of raising anti-national slogans. "If the government can't catch students who raised anti-national slogans, how will they catch the Pathankot attackers," he said.
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