A lot has been said on the controversy that erupted in JNU recently and the country now seems to be divided with everyone taking sides and holding strong opinions.
What started off as an event that would have gone unnoticed outside of JNU Campus has now become the center of media attention and for all the wrong reasons.
Until recently, the name Umar Khalid would have meant nothing to most people outside the JNU campus but now has all attention focused on him for being the ‘mastermind’ of the controversial ‘cultural’ event ‘The Country without a Post Office’, which was organized outside Sabarmati dhaba.
The event, a brainchild of Umar Khalid, Banjyotsana Lahiri and one Awasthi, all activists of the far left Democratic Students Union (DSU), was touted as an anti-establishment cultural programme and was meant to express solidarity with those demanding self-determination in Kashmir and also engage in a discussion on government’s decision to hang Afzal Guru. Apparently, several such events had been planned across academic institutions in the country.
So who are Umar, Banjyotsana and Awasthi and what really was their agenda that evening that has left this nation so emotive and polarized? And where does Umar Khalid, who too faces serious charges including sedition, fit in?
Before we get down to Umar Khalid and his role, let us understand the sequence of events at JNU on that day.
Events as they unfolded
DSU activists, including Umar Khalid, took the lead in planning an event to mark Afzal Guru’s hanging and also to have a discussion on the right to self-determination by people of Kashmir. The cultural evening was called ‘The Country without a Post Office’, which actually is a poem by the late Agha Shahid Ali, an American poet of Kashmiri origin.
Posters that were put up around the JNU campus mentioned the three as organizers of the event and it was to commence at 1700 hrs. That day, a JNUSU office bearer and ABVP member, Saurabh Kumar, submitted a written protest against the event being organized, to the Vice Chancellor.
Based on this complaint and in order to avoid any clash between the students, the VC denied permission to hold the programme and this was intimated to the students just as the programme was to commence. The denial of permission enraged students from all political groups and affiliations in JNU and soon all active political groups such as SFI, AISA, DSF, BAPSA and AISF joined together to protest denial of permission and went ahead with the programme.
It started off with students reciting verses from ‘The Country without a Post Office’ and reading of poetry lines by Faiz and other poets. Soon a group of students and activists started sloganeering which was blatantly anti-India. This was objected to by a group of students from ABVP.
By this time, the police had been informed and were allowed by the VC to enter the campus.
As the programme got over with sloganeering from both sides, the students supporting the programme began marching towards Ganga Hostel. The ABVP students formed a barricade to stop them and this is where a scuffle broke out.
It was at this point that Kanhaiya Kumar, President of JNUSU, tried to intervene to ward off a clash between student groups. He denounced students of ABVP for obstructing the right of students to carry out their protest. On being prodded by ABVP students to take action against anti-India slogans being raised, the police moved in and arrested Kanhaiya Kumar and what followed is out there in the media.
JNU – Hub of the intellectual Left
It must be understood that the leftist movement has always held a romantic allure for young college minds and JNU has had a history of being a confluence of all leftist thought. So much so, that anyone with even the remotest pro-government stance is seen as a government agent and viewed as a non-conformist. But that has been a JNU tradition and has not come in the way of producing some of the best intellectual minds in the country.
To be fair, it has always provided a platform for all kinds of debate on all issues affecting the country and it is in this context that one must view the controversial event organized by Umar Khalid.
Umar Khalid – a die-hard Leftist or plain anti-national?
With Kanhaiya Kumar now in Tihar Jail with spectre of sedition charges over his head, attention has now moved to Umar Khalid, as he is supposed to be the main organizer of the controversial event.
Soon after Kanhaiya’s arrest, Khalid was seen on national TV defending Kanhaiya and the right of students to hold the anti-establishment protest without clearly naming Afzal Guru. After Kanhaiya, Khalid is next in line of police attention and he has since gone into hiding, making his case worse and suspect.
One must also point out here that all media and police attention is now focused on Umar Khalid, with little or no mention of Banjyotsana Lahiri or Awasthi, the other two organizer’s names in the posters. That is strange.
Who is Umar Khalid?
Umar Khalid is a student at the School of Social Sciences in JNU from where he is pursuing his PhD. His thesis work entails him to study and collect field data from Jharkhand. He has earlier completed his MA and MPhil from JNU and is known to hold strong leftist views. It is interesting to note that despite being a Muslim he calls himself an atheist.
So how does someone who calls himself an atheist with leftist ideology and hailing from Bihar, hold a strong sympathy for a Kashmiri called Afzal Guru, a man convicted and hanged for his participation in the attack on India’s Parliament?
Is Khalid really a JeM and Afzal Guru sympathizer, as media reports seem to suggest, or is he someone holding strong anti-establishment views but is certainly not anti-Indian? If it is the latter, then how does he explain the anti-India sloganeering and what did he do or not do about it?
These are questions for the law enforcement agencies to answer, but one thing is certain, JNU is not a hotbed for anti-India activity or propaganda. It has always been and will remain so, an academic institution which raises issues and questions the establishment. And if Umar Khalid is truly innocent of charges that are being levelled against him, it is for him to come forward and defend his words and action rather than go underground.
Meanwhile, it would be prudent for all to step back and let tempers cool down a bit, for the concept of India is far stronger and resilient than what a bunch of sloganeering radicals can threaten.
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