Sedition and Suspicion at Aligarh Muslim University

Were BJP and its friends trying to create another JNU-like situation?

WrittenBy:Ayush Tiwari
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The sedition row swept Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) exactly three years and three days after it hit Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). Like JNU, the AMU controversy also involved saffron groups and the university student union. In both instances, the presidents of the respective student unions were slapped with 124-A (sedition) while facing charges of anti-India sloganeering.

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On Tuesday, February 12, two events rocked AMU. Between 1-2 pm, a fracas involving the university’s security personnel, students and a TV crew from Republic TV unfolded in the campus. The crew was escorted out of the campus and an FIR was lodged against a senior official in AMU’s internal security team. This controversy was reported in Part 1 of our ground report from Aligarh Muslim University.

The second event involved a violent altercation between two groups of AMU students, featuring a cameo by members of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM), the youth wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). This occurred around 4 pm. The altercation involved destruction of property and arson. There were allegations of pro-Pakistan and anti-India slogans being raised in the university and sedition charges soon followed.

Part 2 of this ground report will deal with the latter event—how it unfolded, its main characters, and its tense aftermath.

***

The century-and-a-half-old Aligarh Muslim University sprawls through many square kilometres in the northern part of the city, with lush green lawns, white-washed structures and wide roads lined with palm trees. The University Road veins through the campus, starting at the Bab-e-Syed gatea grand Indo-Islamic edifice made out of pink sandstone.

About 80 metres ahead of the Bab-e-Syed is the University Circle—a large chowk with roads spreading in all four directions.

On the morning of February 12, Ajay Singh Thakur, a law student at AMU and grandson of the local BJP MLA Dalveer Singh, staged a protest at the University Circle along with 20-25 men. The group was protesting the arrival of Asaduddin Owaisi, leader of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), to the university.  

Days before, the Aligarh Muslim University Student Union (AMUSU) had announced that it would host a congregation of leaders from various Muslim political parties in the campus on February 12. This was billed to be a larger and more influential follow up to a similar meeting held in campus on February 2. The student body felt that it was important to stitch together a combined political front that would advocate the interests of the “marginalised” Indian Muslims in the run-up to the general elections in April-May, 2019.

The parties at the meeting included the Rashtriya Ulema Council, Peace Party, National Aman Party, All India Muslim Majlis, Social Democratic Party of India, Parcham Party of India and Hindustan Tehreek-e-Insaf, among others.

It was to this gathering that Asaduddin Owaisi was invited. While a majority of students seemed to not mind his attendance, a slim minority opposed him tooth and nail. “Efforts are on to make an educational institute a political ground. These students are trying to hurt the sentiments of the Hindus by inviting Owaisi,” wrote BJP’s Aligarh spokesperson Nishit Sharma in a letter to Union HRD minister Prakash Javadekar.

Responding to Sharma, AMUSU vice-president Humza Sufiyan shot back: “They are not authorities to stop anyone’s entry and if they make such an attempt it will be unconstitutional.”

The AMUSU would later try to play down its invitation to Owaisi, even deny it. However, in his above response to Sharma, quoted in a February 10 report in The Times of India, Sufiyan does not deny AMUSU’s invitation to Owaisi.

Given the overtly political nature of the meeting and the protests against it, the local police was stationed at the University Circle to deter any untoward incident.

All this turned out to be much ado about nothing. Owaisi did not turn up. Citing busy schedule, he declined the invitation. “Why would he waste his time on all this useless stuff anyway?” a university student told me.

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The University Circle at AMU, where the protests by Right-wing groups were initially staged. The local police was present too.

***

By 3 pm on February 12, tempers were volatile at AMU. Only an hour before, a mob of students had ousted a Republic TV crew from the campus when one of the channel’s reporters had abusively browbeaten the students, allegedly calling them ‘terrorists’ and ‘wild animals’. Videos of the incident show the journalists being escorted out by security officials with an angry crowd behind them shouting ‘Republic go back!’

At 3 pm, Ajay Singh Thakur and company shifted their anti-Owaisi protest from the University Circle to the Registrar’s office located inside the administrative block, which is midway between the Bab-e-Syed gate and the circle. They also had the gate shut. “Once they learned that Owaisi was not coming, their problem suddenly changed. Now they complained to the police at the University Circle about one of their friends getting beaten up in the hostel and then sat down for a dharna outside the Registrar’s office in the administrative block. They demanded that a complaint be filed against those who carried out this alleged assault,” says eyewitness Hasan Khalid, a local journalist who writes for the Urdu daily Inquilab.

Around 3:10 pm, students from the university reached the site of the dharna to talk to Thakur and gang. Khalid says that this meeting soon turned into a heated argument and there was an altercation between the two groups. At approximately 3:30 pm, the police stationed outside the campus took Thakur to the University Circle in an effort to quell the quarrel.

Khalid claims that Thakur jeered at AMU students gathered near the dharna site, i.e. the administrative block. By now, the news of the erupting violence had reached the campus. Captured footage shows a huge mob of AMU students running towards the University Circle, where a jeering Thakur is being restrained by his accomplices. At the helm of the approaching mob are AMUSU members led by secretary Huzaifa Amir.

Seeing the angry mob, the numerically-smaller protestors ran in the opposite direction, some jumping into a white Scorpio bearing a BJP flag. AMU students chased the car and tried to force open its gate to pull out the fleeing protestors. As the car is seen rushing, one can hear loud gunshots go out in the immediate area. Hindustan, a local Hindi daily, reported that a total of 4 rounds were fired at the site. All this happened in the presence of the police personnel.

Two university officials who were present at the spot to report disturbances to the administration claimed that it were the protestors—Thakur and company—who carried arms. Pictures taken at the University Circle also reveal a man wrapped with a saffron muffler near the Scorpio with a gun in his hand. He is Manoj Kumar Sharma, a party worker with the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM).

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Photo taken at the University Circle moments before the violence erupted between the two groups. The picture shows an armed man with a saffron muffler walking besides the white Scorpio (centre-right). He is Manoj Kumar Sharma. Witnesses allege that the person in question accompanied Ajay Thakur and his fellow protesters. Police officials can also be seen in the picture (left).

The white Scorpio car in the video bears a bullet mark in its rear. Mukesh Lodhi, owner of the car and also the Aligarh district head of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM), told Newslaundry that this bullet was fired during the University Circle incident, captured in the above video. The bullet pierced through two layers of seats within the car. Vinod Kumar, Station House Officer (SHO) of Civil Lines police station under whose jurisdiction AMU falls, told Newslaundry that the procured bullet has been sent to Agra for a forensic investigation.

Talking to Newslaundry, Lodhi and Thakur said that the bullet was fired by AMU students, since it were they who were chasing the car and were thus positioned to shoot at it from the rear. However, when seen in slow motion, the video also shows Manoj Kumar Sharma—seen armed in the above picture—running behind the car. The two university officials at the spot claim to have seen the CCTV footage from the nearby cameras allege that it was Thakur’s gang that fired the shots. According to them, it was done to disperse the raging mob of AMU students. “The cameras don’t lie,” they said, wishing to remain anonymous.

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Screenshot of the video showing Manoj Kumar Sharma (in saffron muffler) running behind the white Scorpio car.

Mukesh Lodhi told Newslaundry that Manoj Kumar Sharma is a party worker associated with the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM). He left Aligarh after the incident and cannot be contacted.

Eyewitnesses claim that after the car fled the scene, Thakur and others were chased by AMU students and badly beaten up. Their bikes were taken inside the campus and set on fire. Thakur was admitted to a nearby hospital after the incident. The next day, local media reported that journalists present at the University Circle were also assaulted by AMU students. Local channel Hindustan Live telecast a footage that showed BJYM worker Manoj Kumar Sharma fleeing the site in a disturbed state. He can be seen near the end of the following video:

After fleeing the scene, Mukesh Lodhi reached the Civil Lines police station. Around 4:30 pm, he filed an FIR against 14 university students and ‘other gathered AMU students’ under multiple sections of the IPC including sedition (124-A) robbery (392), rioting (147), attempt to murder (307) and promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language (153-A).

The 14 students named in Lodhi’s FIR include two former presidents of the Aligarh Muslim University Student Union (AMUSU), Faizul Hasan Khan (2016-17) and Mashkoor Ahmad Usmani (2017-18). Usmani was in Delhi when the incident took place. It also includes members of the current cabinet, including president Salman Imtiaz and secretary Huzaifa Amir.

Lodhi and Thakur alleged that there were also anti-India slogans raised by the same AMU mob, particularly ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ and ‘Bharat Murdabad’. All eyewitnesses that Newslaundry spoke to denied that such sloganeering took place. The claim is yet to be backed by audio-visual evidence.

Ajay Singh Thakur

Ajay Singh Thakur is the grandson of Dalveer Singh, the BJP MLA from the constituency of Barauli in Aligarh district. Dalveer Singh is one of the two long-standing Thakur political patriarchs in the constituency, locked in a decades-old rivalry with Thakur Jaivir Singh over the reins of Barauli. Besides a brief two year interlude, the two have taken turns to win the Barauli seat since 1991.

In the months leading up to the 2017 state elections in Uttar Pradesh, the Thakurs of Barauli ditched their respective parties—Dalveer snubbed RJD and Jaivir quit BSP—and joined the BJP. The calculation worked. Riding the Modi wave, Dalveer became the minister in the legislative assembly, and Jaivir a minister in the legislative council.

A local correspondent in Aligarh explained to me that although Dalveer continues to be the MLA, time is not his safest bet. Now 73, he is competing against a 58-year old Jaivir, whose wife, Raj Kumari Chauhan, has represented Aligarh in the Lok Sabha between 2009 and 2014. His son Arvind Kumar Singh was the youngest candidate to contest a seat in the 2014 general elections. That Dalveer needs a scion is no secret in Aligarh. And that’s where Ajay comes in.

At the Thakur household in a posh Aligarh colony, Ajay lies flat on his back, wounded. “They did this to me just a couple of days ago. Thankfully, I wasn’t shot,” he groans. The room is adorned with huge portraits of his grandfather, and a growing number of young men who would eagerly corroborate his claims throughout our conversation.

“In 2017, I ran for the president’s position at AMU. I even said assalam walekum during my speech and was careful to mind all manners. But they did everything they could to make sure that a Hindu does not become president. I lost by 9,000 votes. Can you imagine?” he remarks. “And this is a reality here—the way non-Muslims are treated. There’s no space for celebrating our festivals—Holi, Diwali, anything. I took out a Tiranga yatra two days before the Republic day this year and the university objected to it. When I took out a march after Vajpayee’s death, they said he’s an RSS man so you shouldn’t pay homage to him in the university,” he adds.

In December 2018, Thakur pushed for the construction of a temple within the campus premises. Meant to account for ‘sentiments of Hindu students’, his campaign received support from the likes of BJYM head Mukesh Lodhi, who threatened that if the temple was not constructed, he’d have an idol installed inside the campus.

“They single me out on every count, all because I fight for the rights of the Hindus. They think that makes me Hindutvawadi,” he says, almost complaining.

The conversation then moves to the events of February 12. “How could they allow someone as communal as Owaisi to turn up at the university? That’s what we were protesting against. In fact, when I learnt around 11:30 am that Owaisi wasn’t coming, I left. What made me return was when my friend Manish was beaten up inside the hostel. And that’s what happens here: Hindu students are beaten up way more than others,” Thakur alleges.

Describing the assault near the University Circle, Thakur says that it happened because of the Proctor’s support for communal Muslim students. “My friends were beaten up. 14-15 of our motorbikes and scooters are missing,” Thakur claims. Eyewitnesses at the circle claimed that only two motorbikes were set alight by AMU students.

Does he know that Manoj Kumar Sharma, who was spotted at the University Circle, was armed? Thakur pleads ignorance. When egged by others in the room, he suddenly recollects: “He wasn’t armed. The gun in his hand has been photoshopped.”

Those covering politics in Aligarh believe that Thakur’s recent slew of jingoist rhetoric—demanding a temple in campus, taking out Tiranga rallies, petitioning for spaces for celebrating Hindu festivals, alleging discrimination against Hindus—is simply a tactic to ideologically outflank his father’s BJP rivals in Barauli and assert his rightful succession as a scion in the constituency. Thakur denies any such ambitions.

While such speculations may overstate the case, my conversation with Thakur revealed another strain of insecurity in the young rabble-rouser: a shame and guilt for losing the university elections for the presidential position by a humongous margin. That probably also explains why he has very few good things to say about AMUSU president Salman Imtiaz, and why he wants the current AMUSU dissolved.

The protests

On February 13, Aligarh’s District Magistrate (DM) passed an order for a district-wide internet shutdown between 2 pm and 12 pm on February 14. “Following violence, destruction of property and arson between two groups at the Aligarh Muslim University on February 12, 2019… internet services by all mobile carriers is terminated with immediate effect to maintain peace and communal harmony,” the order said.

On the same day, the university also suspended eight of its students: this included Thakur and his three friends including Manish Kumar, who claimed to have been assaulted in the university hostel, and four other students who were his alleged assaulters. “The aforementioned students disturbed the peaceful atmosphere of the university by creating law and order problems…[and] also disrupted the communal harmony of the campus by involving the non-students for their vested interests,” read Thakur and gang’s suspension memo.

The suspension order left many in the AMUSU flabbergasted. The student union had demanded rustication for Thakur. They believed him to be the funnel through which saffron politics seeped into the campus and disturbed its supposed Hindu-Muslim unity. For AMUSU, not only had the rustication demand been half-fulfilled, but four Muslim students were scapegoated. The union believed that this was done for the sake of political correctness.

On February 13, protesting and speechmaking acquired fresh energy at AMU. The student union now demanded revocation of suspension for the four Muslim students, rustication for Thakur and his ilk, and the withdrawal of sedition charges against the 14 students. Night and day, six to seven dozen students would gather at the Bab-e-Syed gate and listen to members of the student union with intrigue and follow them briskly around the campus. Classes were stopped.

This reporter got access to a video showing Salman Imtiaz, the president of AMUSU, barging into a classroom and asking students to stop classes at a time when the university was going through a crisis. “Are we the only ones supposed to fight? Do you not have a responsibility?” he can be seen shouting.

The speechmaking at AMU often turned crass. At an open mic at the Bab-e-Syed, a student called Prime Minister Modi ‘impotent’ multiple times, adding how he couldn’t take care of a wife and raise children. Most of the AMUSU leadership was not present at the scene at this point. When this correspondent later confronted AMUSU secretary Huzaifa Amir about these remarks, he denied that it ever happened. “But I was there and you weren’t,” I said. He didn’t budge. When one of his own friends intervened and confirmed that such remarks were indeed made, there was a flash of nervousness and Amir said that the AMUSU condemns the speech outrightly.

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Student gatherings at the Bab-e-Syed to protest the sedition charges on AMU students on February 12.

Salman Imtiaz

AMUSU president Salman Imtiaz was probably the busiest man in university throughout this affair. Tall, well-built and with keen eyes, Imtiaz met me inside the president’s office in one the university’s hostel complexes around midnight. Over a cigarette, Imtiaz laid out his grievances and made AMUSU’s case.

“To be frank, we don’t feel safe under this government,” said the 29-year-old research scholar. “They’re trying to saffronise the campus and we won’t let it happen. This is our home. I’ve been here since 2009. It’s an institution meant for the minorities. That’s a constitutional fact,” he added.

The Aligarh Muslim University Act (1920) states that AMU has the power “to promote the study of the religions, civilisation and culture of India” and to also “promote especially the educational and cultural advancement of the Muslims of India”.

Talking about the February 12 incident, Salman stated: “It was done to ignite communal violence. The elections are just around the corner. This government has done nothing on the economic, educational, or agricultural fronts. Now what are they left with? Polarising Hindus and Muslims. Ajay Thakur lost the election not because he is Hindu, but because he is from the BJP,” he said matter-of-factly.

“Our demands are simple: quash the sedition FIR against us and arrest Ajay Singh Thakur and his cohort under the NSA act,” he said. “People like Thakur allege that the university opposes Hindus. That’s nonsense. If that were indeed the case, why would Nishant Bhardwaj be in our AMUSU cabinet?”

Nishant Bhardwaj is an exemplar-in-chief at AMU. That he is a non-Muslim cabinet member in the student union seems to be everyone’s card against the allegation of non-Muslims facing discrimination in the university. From the PRO to the president, he’s everyone’s example of AMU’s secularism. To make this very point, Imtiaz mentions Bhardwaj’s example no more than four times.

“So are you the token Hindu in the AMUSU?” I cheekily asked Bhardwaj during a conversation. He smiled. “I’ve been an accomplished debater and leader throughout my student life. I think that’s what got me to the cabinet position,” he said firmly.

Sedition

Vinod Kumar is the SHO at Aligarh’s Civil Lines police station where the sedition charges were filed. Seated in his police jeep at the heavily deployed University Circle, he asked his driver to move to the backseat. “Now you sit here and ask your questions,” he told me. I duly obeyed.

Does the police know who fired the rounds at the University Circle on February 12? “We don’t know,” Kumar said tersely. “But it’s probable that the students fired,” he added. How, I asked. “The car was driving away from the students. They were just behind it. There’s a bullet at the back of the car. That’s why. But there is no clear evidence yet.”

What about the slogans that are the basis for the sedition charge? “We don’t have any evidence yet,” he said. Have you checked the CCTV footage, I inquired. “We’ve obtained the footage but some of the files aren’t opening. We’re trying,” Kumar said.

Why did he register the sedition FIR without prima facie evidence? “If someone alleges something, we file the complaint. That is simply our job. Like that Republic TV lady [journalist Nalini Sharma]: she came and said she’s been harassed by the students. Now we don’t know what happened, but we have to register an FIR in any case,” he stated.

But isn’t sedition too serious an allegation to be registered like other complaints? “It might be, sir. But we have to register it anyway. All I can state right now is that the investigation might take a month or two, but it’ll be free and fair,” Kumar said.

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The state police personnel and the Rapid Action Force (RAF) at the University Square on the morning of February 14.

***

The Aligarh Police put on a partisan display when it came to filing FIRs after the February 12 violence. Whereas Mukesh Lodhi’s sedition FIR was lodged within half an hour after the incident, the complaints submitted by the university administration and the AMUSU weren’t. It was only on February 15 that Aakash Kulhari, Aligarh district’s Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), confirmed to Newslaundry that both those FIRs were registered.

The university filed an FIR against Ajay Singh Thakur, Nishit Sharma, Manish Kumar and three others including ‘rest of the gathered student and political leaders’. They’ve been charged with IPC sections 147 (rioting), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt) and 504 (insult intended to provoke breach of the peace). AMU’s Muslim students—who were involved in perpetrating assault—have not been named in the FIR, demonstrating that the FIR is simply meant as a counter to Lodhi’s sedition charges. It also lends confidence of conviction to those who allege that the university discriminates against Hindu students. Strangely, this FIR has been filed in the name of Azeem Akhtar, who himself is the subject of an FIR filed by Republic TV reporter Nalini Sharma.

While the university administration did receive a copy of the FIR as per procedure, the AMUSU did not. As of February 20, it still has not.

On February 14, the local Hindi daily Hindustan quoted SSP Kulhari saying that “many AMU students are involved in criminal activities”. When asked about this blanket statement, Kulhari told Newslaundry that “there have been 56 cases against AMU students in the last 10 years.” But that hardly makes any major point. Given the current campus population of about 20,000 students, an estimate 40,000-50,000 students must’ve resided in Aligarh during their education in the last 10 years—of them 56 having FIRs in their name is hardly a statistic to elicit such a comment.

Mukesh Lodhi

Mukesh Lodhi puts up about six kilometres away from the Aligarh Muslim University. In a town with narrow, crowded roads and architecturally suspicious flyovers, six kilometres is not a small distance.

His humble house is couched within the snaking lanes of eastern Aligarh, and upon reaching there I’m directed to a modest living room. Portraits of Lodhi and Hindu deities occupy the walls. Like all my meetings in the city, I’m greeted first by a cup of tea and only later by the guest.

“I entered politics during the Anna andolan in 2012. Before that, I used to work for a mobile company. I quit once the movement kick-started and became part of the movement in Aligarh,” he claimed. “I was heavily inspired by Indian revolutionaries and their vision of free India. I wanted to cleanse off those who obstructed this vision, and I thought the BJP under Modiji was only party suitable for this. I joined the BJP in 2013,” he continued.

Lodhi is the district head of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM), the youth wing of the BJP. “The BJYM tries to give the right direction to the country’s youth, because if the young ones head in the wrong direction, then so will the nation,” Lodhi expounded.

Does BJYM work with the Hindu Yuva Vahini and the ABVP? He says: “We’re like the branches of the same tree. Our ideology is similar: to work for the culture and development of the nation. Our mode of operation might be different, but our objectives are the same.”

But does his organisation not fan communal tension and disharmony, as AMU students allege? “Look sir, we all know what Mohammad Ali Jinnah stood for. He partitioned the country. Cherishing his portrait in this country means only one thing: that you’re influenced by his ideas. What else can it mean? Second, these [AMU] students came out in defence of stone-pelters in Kashmir after Burhan Wani was killed. They took out a march in their favour. This is conclusive proof that they harbour terrorist mentality. Have they ever grieved for our own soldiers who die in the battlefield?” he asked.

If only Lodhi had said this to me a day later. On February 14, The Times of India reported that Salman Imtiaz asked PM Modi to ‘attack’ Pakistan. If he failed to do so, AMUSU would gherao his Delhi residence. The union also offered “to bear the educational expenses of children of all the 42 CRPF personnel killed in Jammu if they come to study at Aligarh Muslim University.”

Lodhi continues: “These are few people who spoil the name of the whole community. Some dirty fish that spoil the whole pond. I don’t believe these Hindu-Muslim distinctions: I have Muslim friends. It’s just that we want the bad ones prosecuted so that there is peace.”

Talking about the February 12 violence, Lodhi gets worked up and describes the scene: “There was a huge mob coming from AMU. Hundreds of them running towards the University Circle. I saw people who I know getting assaulted by these students. They didn’t see anything and just leapt at my car! They wanted to kill me. There’s a bullet hole piercing right through my Scorpio.” Lodhi’s brother takes me out and shows the hole in the car.

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Lodhi’s description of the February 12 incident broadly corroborates the narratives of other eyewitnesses. What doesn’t fit is his reason for being at AMU. “I was just passing by the university,” he tells me. If this is true, it must be an extraordinary coincidence that Lodhi happened to be near the university—six kilometres away from his home—when right-wing groups were protesting against Owaisi and the AMUSU. After all, Lodhi was also a part of Ajay Thakur’s tiranga yatra in the university and also opposed AMUSU’s invitation to Owaisi. He too rooted for a temple within the university. But yet Lodhi maintains he was just passing by.

Moving on, I asked Lodhi why he filed sedition against these AMU students? It is understandable that the FIR was filed under the relevant sections of the IPC alleging rioting and robbery—but were the students really acting to bring down the Indian state? “They were chanting ‘Pakistan zindabad’ and ‘Hindustan murdabad’—of course that’s sedition,” he says. Does Lodhi have any evidence of the sloganeering? He says he doesn’t.

As I left Lodhi’s residence, I realised that my internet around his home was working despite the shutdown. Was this just because I was six kilometres away from AMU, the focal point of disruption? I checked around the nearby mobile shops in Lodhi’s neighbourhood. “We haven’t been getting internet here. It’s because of the shutdown,” they told me.

The minorities of the ‘minority institution’

Given Thakur and Lodhi’s claims about discrimination against non-Muslim students at AMU, I sat down with two Hindu students to gauge their views about non-Muslims in the university. The two wish to remain anonymous. “There will be pressure from both sides if you publish our names,” one of them confessed.

So how has their experience at AMU been? “It has been quite good to be honest. We live here as a family and are never made to feel different from others,” the first student said. The second one added that he felt the same, but butted in: “I’ll give you an example. Since this whole issue has arisen, one of my Hindu friends is being pestered with calls by his family. They say you should come live with us until the controversy subsides. But he brushes it off and still puts up in the hostel. He doesn’t feel unsafe.”

Is there no inkling of fear or insecurity, I push the question again. “Not really,” says the second student. “The only problem we’ve been facing is that the classes are not taking place,” he said.

With regard to the February 12 incident, the second student added that the local press has been putting out confusing reportage. “One says there’s an Owaisi problem. The other says there’s a mandir involved. The third, newspaper makes a reference to some scuffle at the hostel. There’s very little clarity. This had happened during the Jinnah episode too, when the police forcibly entered the campus and didn’t go after those Right-wing groups who caused the trouble. One thing is clear: it’s all because of the bloody election that is coming up. Else these things hardly occur at AMU,” he stated.  

The first student agreed: “To be honest, it is the union which knows what exactly is transpiring. The students are living a normal life away from all this.” This is clearly not a convenient answer the two are throwing at me. When I bring up the sedition charges, they are clueless. They have no idea about it.

What do they think about Thakur and Lodhi’s call for a temple? “I hardly go to a temple. I couldn’t care less,” said the second student.

But if he can’t care less, why choose to remain anonymous for the interview? “When we express a view, some people like it and others don’t. These are the last few months of our university, and as students we’re not looking for any trouble,” admitted the first student.

Aftermath and Conclusion

During the early hours of Tuesday, February 19, local Aligarh dailies Dainik Jagran and Amar Ujala reported that the police had dropped the sedition charges against the 14 AMU students given lack of evidence. A cabinet member in the AMUSU confirmed this. “They’ve revoked the sedition charges, but it hasn’t been given to us in writing. The rest of the charges still stand. Also, the police hasn’t conveyed us the copy of our FIR that they claimed to have registered. We tend to not believe the police here,” he said.

On February 14, more than 40 Indian soldiers were killed in a deadly terrorist attack in Kashmir’s Pulwama district. Reacting to the incident, an AMU student named Basim Hilal tweeted: “How’s the Jaish? Great sir”, as a taunting reference to the Pakistan-based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammad, to which the Pulwama terrorist was associated. The university immediately suspended Hilal for the “highly objectionable comments on social media against our martyr soldiers”. He was booked under Section 153A of the IPC and Section 67 of the IT Act. Following the incident, the social media of students at AMU is being closely monitored by the police authorities.

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Tweet posted by Basim Hilal, a Kashmiri student studying Mathematics at AMU.

The violent showdown at AMU on February 12 was an eruption of simmering political tensions in the university. For many students, it brought back unpleasant memories of the Jinnah controversy that occurred at AMU in May 2018. A deep suspicion is palpable among the two camps. In my conversations with them, both sides seemed convinced that the other was out to get them.

However, this is not to put the two within the same equation. The BJP is in power in Uttar Pradesh. What transpired at AMU is broadly similar to the JNU fracas in February 2016. The burden of proof thus lies with the governing regime which needs to show that the political activism its foot soldiers advocate is meant in good faith, and not for ulterior ideological or electoral reasons.

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, who founded AMU in 1875, described Hindus and Muslims as the two eyes of a beautiful bride that is India. Given the current state of affairs at the university, those involved seem to be acutely aware that this bride can neither see too well nor too far.

Note: An earlier version of this story had quoted Ajay Singh Thakur as saying that he ran for the AMUSU presidential position in 2018. Thakur fought the election in 2017. We regret the oversight.

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