JNU: What happened on February 19? Why are Stalin and Annamalai at loggerheads over the issue?

JNUSU and ABVP members clashed, blaming each other for defacing portraits at the Students' Union Office on campus
JNUSU and ABVP clash draws TN CM's attention, creates a row | (Pic: EdexLive)
JNUSU and ABVP clash draws TN CM's attention, creates a row | (Pic: EdexLive)

Two student groups held two separate programmes in the Students' Union Office at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) on the evening of February 19. But the situation became tense and chaotic as the groups clashed with each other, with some students reported to have sustained injuries. Now the matter has even taken a political turn.

On the said day, JNU Students' Union (JNUSU) held a march showing solidarity for Darshan Solanki, a student from IIT Bombay, who died by suicide, but whose parents claim foul play and atrocities due to caste discrimination. After the march concluded, JNUSU held a meeting at Sabarmati Dhaba, located on campus. Meanwhile, a screening of the 1980s Bollywood black comedy film Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro was arranged by a student body called the Hundred Flowers Group (HFG) at Teflas, the Students' Union Office.

JNUSU alleged that during their meeting at the Dhaba, HFG asked for their help as Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) members were assaulting them at Teflas. On reaching the spot, JNUSU further alleged that it found ABVP to have vandalised portraits of Periyar, Bhagat Singh, Karl Marx and Savitribai Phule. The members also claim that slogans against them were painted on the walls.

The RSS-affiliated ABVP denies these claims. The student organisation counters that the portrait of Chhatrapati Shivaji which they had garlanded and mounted on the wall a few hours earlier that day in his birth anniversary programme was vandalised by JNUSU. ABVP further alleges that JNUSU threatened to damage the portrait every time it was mounted on the wall.

With both student groups blaming each other to have caused the tussle, the matter has drawn the attention of political parties in Tamil Nadu. A PhD student from the state Naseer Mohammad was allegedly attacked by ABVP members when he was being taken to the Safdarjung hospital after the clash. Chief Minister MK Stalin took to Twitter, stating, "Universities are not just spaces for learning but also for discussion, debate & dissent."

"The cowardly attack on Tamil students by ABVP & vandalising the portraits of leaders like Periyar, Karl Marx at #JNU, is highly condemnable and calls for a strict action from the Univ Admin," the tweet adds. Today, on February 21, Ruling DMK lawmaker TRB Rajaa shared a video on Twitter of Minister Udhayanidhi Stalin conversing with the injured student. 

According to a report by IANS, during the interaction, Stalin asked the student whether he was admitted to a hospital and if he had sustained head injuries. The student is seen informing the minister that he was attacked by ABVP students. Tamil Nadu BJP Chief K Annamalai, on the other hand, has accused DMK of spreading false narratives.

“As a responsible chief minister, one should advise the students of either side to learn to live in an environment with ideological differences and not fuel the fire," Annamalai writes. In a series of tweets, he claims that the left-wing Students’ Federation of India (SFI) first vandalised the portraits of Chatrapathi Shivaji Maharaj and Maharana Pratap, then resorted to abusing women ABVP members.

The JNU administration, in the meantime, has refused to comment on the incident, as per a report by the Indian Express. The report also mentions that the Delhi Police, who were called to the campus, stated that the scuffle had come to an end by the time they reached. However, the varsity administration has issued a notice to the effect that any programme being planned at Teflas will henceforth require permission from the Dean of Students (Dos).

JNUSU is upset with this notice. "The JNUSU demands that the notice be revoked within 24 hours. The JNU Administration should ensure that the repeated offenders and culprits who have been identified should be immediately punished," a press release from the student organisation states. ABVP has also issued a press statement today, which states that CM Stalin's "unfortunate" remarks would "challenge the integrity of the country."

According to the document, the newly elected Secretary of ABVP JNU Vikas Patel said, "We have filed a written complaint against the insult of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and Maharana Pratap to the JNU administration and the police and requested them to conduct a fair investigation in this matter and strictest steps should be taken to bring the culprits to book (sic)."

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