Jahawarlal University student leader Kanhaiya Kumar, arrested for sedition, on Thursday moved the Supreme Court for bail as students rallied in support across the country and the opposition took the row to President Pranab Mukherjee.
A Supreme Court bench led by Justices J. Chelameswar and Abhay Manohar Sapre said Kumar’s plea will be heard on Friday morning.
His lawyer Vrinda Grover told the judges that the atmosphere in the Patiala House Courts, where the accused was allegedly assaulted by a group of lawyers, was not conducive for moving the bail application.
She said Kumar was invoking his fundamental right under Article 32 by moving the Supreme court for bail.
The bail plea came as the JNU issue – triggered by a meeting on Kashmir at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) – sparked student protests in Delhi, West Bengal, Bihar and Karnataka with protestors demanding Kumar’s release and dropping of sedition charges against him.
The 28-year-old student leader was arrested on February 12 for allegedly raising anti-national slogans at the JNU event three days earlier against the 2013 execution of Afzal Guru, the Kashmiri militant blamed for the terror attack on Indian parliament in 2001. Kumar has denied the charges.
Former Delhi University lecturer S.A.R. Geelani, also arrested for organising a similar meeting at the Press Club of India, was on Thursday sent to 14 days in judicial custody. Both Geelani and Kumar will be in Tihar Jail.
Kumar, the first president of the JNU Students Union from the CPI-affiliated AISF, drew support from the Congress, Left and Delhi’s ruling Aam Aadmi Party which denounced the government for “high handedness”.
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and other party leaders told President Mukherjee that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was trying to impose a “flawed” and “dead” ideology of the RSS on the student community.
“It is not the government’s job to destroy institutions. This nation will prosper because of our students’ imagination. Imposing an ideology on them will not benefit the nation,” he told reporters.
Gandhi said Kumar’s arrest for sedition and the violence witnessed at the Patiala House Courts here on Monday and Wednesday had sent out “bad signals” about India and damaged its global image.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal also met the president and blamed the central government for the violence in the Patiala House Courts.
Kejriwal said Delhi Police would not have remained silent during the violence if they were not directed to do so.
“Delhi Police is a uniformed force… If its master says don’t do anything, they won’t do anything. If the master tells them to shoot, they will shoot,” Kejriwal said. “Their master is (the) central government… This is the dictatorship of the prime minister (Modi).”
Delhi Police Commissioner B.S. Bassi, however, denied that Kumar was assaulted in the court on Wednesday and justified the sedition charge. He said police had evidence to prove this.
“Free speech does not mean you can violate the … constitution,” he told media.
The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) said the JNU Students Union didn’t organise the February 9 meeting where anti-India slogans were supposedly raised.
Calling Kumar’s arrest “an over the top reaction”, it said it was “a deliberate political intervention by the BJP government” as the RSS and BJP had always been ranged against the JNU, where Left student unions have for decades enjoyed huge support.
On Thursday, thousands of students from universities and colleges staged a massive protest in Delhi to demand Kumar’s release. Several teachers, lawyers, activists and theatre artists joined them.
In Patna, similar protests led to clashes between activists of the All India Students Federation (AISF) and Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the RSS student wing. Student protests in support of Kumar were also reported from Jadavpur in West Bengal and Bengaluru.