NEW DELHI —Former student activists have slammed the Delhi Police’s decision to charge them with sedition as politically motivated.
They also “thanked” Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government for pushing the police to file the chargesheet after the JNU row erupted in February, 2016.
Shortly after the Delhi police filed a 1,200 page chargesheet in the Patiala court on Monday, the former Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students said it was a ruse to distract the public from Modi government’s policy failures like demonetisation and to divide voters by raising the spectre of “anti-nationals”.
The chargesheet for sedition, unlawful assembly and rioting has been filed against ten students, including former JNU students, Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya ― who were prominently linked to the JNU row ― and seven other Kashmiri students.
They were accused of raising “anti-national” slogans at an event to protest the hanging of Afzal Guru, the Kashmiri militant, who bombed the Indian Parliament in 2001, killing twelve people.
Their arrest, a few days later, triggered public protests against the Modi government in the nation’s capital.
Kumar, who was the Jawaharlal Nehru Students’ Union president in 2016, told HuffPost India, ”This government is in panic mode because of major upsurge against them and they are using all their cards just before the election.”
Khalid told HuffPost India that he wanted the case to go to trial and prove his innocence.
“I hope the media trial in this country can come to an end,” said the former JNU student, who was falsely accused of twice visiting Pakistan on a news channel. “This government has nothing to show and that is why it is bringing all these bogus narratives.”
The police claims to have video footage, call records and oral evidence, The Indian Express reported, that “confirm anti-national activities followed by violence.”
While refusing to comment on the merits of the case, the former JNU students said they had only read about the chargesheet in the media, and had not received any official communication from the Delhi police as of Monday evening.
In a joint statement, Bhattacharya and Khalid, said, “We are yet to see the chargesheet, but if what is being reported in the media is true, then we want to say categorically that we reject the charges and will contest them legally.”
Shehla Rashid, who was the Jawaharlal Nehru Students’ Union vice president in 2016, has also been named in the chargesheet under column 12, which is for persons suspected for being involved in the crime but the police not having enough evidence against them.
Thirty six persons, including Aparajita Raja, daughter of D. Raja, a senior leader of the Communist Party of India (CPI), are named in column 12 of the chargesheet.
“Anyone who is a potential enemy of the government, anyone is who going to campaign against it, has been charged,” Rashid said.
Rashid, who led the protests against the arrest of her fellow college mates, says she was not on the college campus when students were allegedly shouting “anti-national” slogans at the event.
“This just goes to show how bogus their case is and how non-serious they are about the truth. It has been a bogus case from day one,” she said. “BJP’s war on students is continuing.”
Khalid, who was shot at in Delhi in August, last year, noted the chargesheet has been filed three month ahead of the national election.
If the Modi government had gone to trial in the months following the JNU row, Rashid believes, the matter would be done and dusted.
“The BJP government would not have been able to capitalise on it, she said. “The government wants to stall the case to reap maximum benefit for the election. The next installment will be when nominations are filed.”
Vikas Upadhyay, a Supreme Court advocate, said the law does not provide for any upper limit for filing a chargesheet in a case where the accused persons are on bail. “Although in cases where evidence is limited and direct, the chargesheet is filed within six months,” Upadhyay added.
While Rashid plans to campaign against the BJP in the national election, Kumar is contesting as a Communist Party of India (CPI) from Begusarai constituency in Bihar.
For the past three years, with the exception of Bhattacharya, the three other prominent faces in this controversy have emerged as vocal critics of the Modi government. They have traveled to different parts of the country to give speeches and attend rallies, while attacking the government on social media.
Three years on, Khalid said, he felt the public vitriol against him has reduced. “We have also had a chance to present our side. This government lies and people have started to see through them,” he said.
Bhattacharya, who is the least involved in politics at present, said, “No, I don’t feel caught in the middle. We were in it together in being framed and tarnished. And hence we will face it together.”
(This story was updated with comments from the Supreme Court advocate).