NEW DELHI — At a “press conference” on Friday, called to discuss the January 5 violence in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Deputy Commissioner of Delhi Police Joy Tirkey offered up a timeline of the horrific attack that took place, only to stop his narration at the moment that the worst of the violence broke out.
Over 20 minutes, DCP Tirkey spoke of scuffles between students on December 3, December 4 and the afternoon of December 5, 2019, but his account stopped right at the point when 50 masked goons armed with iron rods, crude hammers and heavy wooden batons entered JNU, bludgeoned students and destroyed several hostel rooms.
DCP Tirkey named four Left student groups in connection with his investigation — the Students’ Federation of India (SFI), the All India Students’ Association (AISA), All India Students’ Federation (AISF) and Democratic Students’ Federation (DSF), each of whom have a representative in the JNU Students’ Union — but stopped short of the moment when JNUSU president Aishe Ghosh, who is from the SFI, was struck on the head, and filmed as blood streamed down her face.
At the end of his presentation—the Delhi Police would take no questions at the “press conference”—DCP Tirkey held up a stack of 10 photographs of students whose roles in the violence are being probed: Eight of the students, including Ghosh, were identified as belonging to these four leftist student groups.
The slide, purportedly showing Ghosh standing with a group of people, was accompanied by the following caption that suggested DCP Tirkey had perhaps made up his mind before his investigation was over: “JNUSU President Aishe Ghosh with red bag is seen in the video of Periyar Hostel Vandalism. Leading her masked violent comrade gang in hostels.”
Two more students were also named, but DCP Tirkey appeared unaware of their political affiliation. The students, numerous media reports have noted, are members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student affiliate of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). An investigation by news channel NDTV suggests the police have misidentified at least one male student believed to be a member of the ABVP.
The BJP’s Home Minister Amit Shah is the ultimate in-charge of the Delhi Police, the organisation that employs DCP Tirkey. Shah, as it turns out, was a member of the ABVP in his youth.
DCP Tirkey also said he was investigating WhatsApp groups in which students, some of whom appear to belong to the ABVP, allegedly choreographed their assault on campus. One of the groups, DCP Tirkey said, was named “Unity Against Left”. DCP Tirkey did not mention the name of the other WhatsApp group that several media outlets have reported on: “Friends of RSS”, which included not just ABVP members, but also the Chief Proctor of JNU, Dhananjay Singh, a former ABVP member.
In his 20-minute address to the press, during which he took no questions, DCP Tirkey appeared unable to bring himself to mention the ABVP by name.
The selective nature of the Delhi Police’s investigation, DCP Tirkey said, was because the police had only just begun investigating the events at JNU and was yet to come to the First Information Report in which students from the Left student groups have accused the ABVP of arming themselves with rods, sticks and hammers to attack students on campus.
There would be more updates for the press as the investigation continues, DCP Tirkey said, but for now he seemed to have done enough to please those who control the Delhi Police.
“I would not take it very seriously,” said Vikram Singh, former Director General of the Uttar Pradesh, of the Delhi Police’s investigation on India Today. “It is unnatural to come out with premature disclosures before you have even begun the investigation. I don’t think it is very professional.”
Meanwhile, the JNU administration has announced an inquiry of their own. All faculty members on this inquiry committee, the Hindustan Times reported, are from the JNU Teachers’ Federation (JNUTF) — a faction of faculty who have publicly opposed the student body and thrown their weight behind JNU Vice Chancellor Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar, who has set up the inquiry in the first place.
It is now apparent that the first week of 2020 witnessed sporadic clashes between Left student groups and the ABVP over the JNUSU’s decision to oppose a fee hike at JNU. News reports, and HuffPost India’s own conversations with students and faculty members, indicate there were scuffles between students, and in at least one instance stone-pelting, over January 3, January 4 and the afternoon of January 5.
Student union members from Left unions have been accused of damaging the university’s server room on January 4 in an attempt to prevent students from registering for the next semester. ABVP members have issued a statement, and released photographs of their members who were injured in beatings allegedly administered by members of the Left student unions.
The JNU administration has sought to equate the violence on the evening of Jan 5 — when a mob of 50 masked goons, armed with iron rods, hammers, stones and wooden batons, swept through JNU campus — with everything that preceded it. This narrative was first put forward by the JNU registrar in a press release issued immediately after the violence; and was reinforced by DCP Tirkey in his evening press conference.
As everyone from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to US President Donald Trump has learnt, once a narrative has been mouthed by enough members of authority, the press has no option but to report contesting narratives as if they are equally plausible.
But the attack on the evening of January 5 differs in magnitude from everything that preceded it.
As HuffPost India reported the following day, the mob attacks inside campus were coordinated with groups that had gathered at the university gates and demanded that Leftists be shot and buried. Journalists who tried to take photographs of this mob were threatened, and in some cases hit.
An investigation by NDTV indicates that the masked mob was directed by members of the ABVP. Inside Sabarmati hostel, the rooms of ABVP members were spared while the rooms of Muslim and Kashmiri students were attacked.
Ultimately there is a big difference between vandalising an inanimate computer server and bludgeoning human beings. Even DCP Tirkey would probably agree.