Late Sunday evening, reports emerged from Jawaharlal Nehru University about armed goons entering hostels on the campus and unleashing violence. Multiple videos were shared of masked men and women, wielding hammers, rods and other objects, storming hostels and unleashing violence.
One element of the saga was a WhatsApp group that was allegedly used to plan these attacks by members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Screenshots of conversations happening in the group were shared widely on social media and even reported by news outlets, to show the planning done by the ABVP.
The Indian Express did a story suggesting multiple WhatsApp groups were used, indicating that the attack was planned. However, we found that the most screenshots on social media were all coming from the same group, just that the members kept changing the group’s name rapidly, making it seem like they were different groups.
Our investigation was focused on the administrators (admins) of the WhatsApp group. In all, the group had 14 admins. We found that 10 admins were associated with the ABVP. Interestingly enough, two of these ABVP admins also ended up in AIIMS, complaining of injuries.
Of the other four admins, two are on the Adhoc Panel list of Delhi University’s Political Science department. The third is a research scholar at JNU. Newslaundry was unable to establish his connection with ABVP or any other political group. The fourth admin is unknown. So, now that we know who the 14 admins are, let’s start from the beginning.
Three Newslaundry enthu-cutlets managed to enter the group using a link that started circulating at about 8 pm on January 5. It was a simple matter of copying the link, putting it in a URL, and using the invite to enter the group.
We entered the group at 8.30 pm and watched the activity till 10 pm, when group admins started leaving, one after the other.
At 10 pm, we took a chat export of the entire group and got to figuring out who the admins were. We also found certain elements within the group who were trying to bond with the ABVP members, pretending to be on their side.
Based on the chat export, we found that a group called “Unity against Left” was created at 5.28 pm by a person named Yogendra Shaurya Bharadwaj. Yogendra is a student at JNU and was the ABVP’s joint secretary at the university in 2017-18. It is important to note that violence in JNU began at 6 pm.
Another curious thing. Notice the screenshot above of the “Friends of RSS” group.
Note the gentleman named Vikas Patel, who is talking about the entry point for DU students. Scroll found that Vikas is an executive committee member of the ABVP and former vice president of at the ABVP in JNU.
Now, onto the group “Unity against Left”, which is the focus for this report.
This group had a total of 14 admins. Of these, we were able to identify 10 who are associated with the ABVP or have declared affiliation to it.
The only activity we identified between 8.35 pm to 10 pm was by Onkar Shrivastava, Devendr Kumar, Anima Sonkar and Velentina Brahma before they all exited the group.
At 8.41 pm, Onkar asked the group: “Bhai iss group m bhi leftist aagye. Link kyu share kiya jara (Brother, there are leftists who have entered the group. Why is the link being shared)?” After that, he didn’t say anything until exiting the group at 9.51 pm.
Anima was active from 8.54 pm, when she started removing people from the group. We found a total of 11 such instances before she exited the group at 9.07 pm.
Velentina also began removing people at the same time and we found 12 instances of her removing members. She exited the group at 8.57 pm. Before exiting, she changed the group settings to “only admins can post” at about 8.55 pm.
Devendr tried to change the settings at 9.09 pm before he abandoned the group a minute later.
Yogendra Bharadwaj, Sumanta Sahu, Manish Jangid, Venkat Choubey, Ashish Gupta and Renu Sain were not active in the group in the timeframe we had access to it.
We were curious about two other admins, Renu Sain and Ashish Gupta, though. Our investigation found that Sain’s name was on the Adhoc Panel list of the Delhi University’s Department of Political Science in April, 2018 and Gupta’s name was on the Adhoc Panel list for 2017. The mobile numbers given in the lists match with the ones that were used by them as admins of the “Unity against Left” group.
The story doesn’t end here. Strangely, while we were investigating the group admins, our reporter, who was at AIIMS at that time, sent us a list of the names of ABVP members admitted in the hospital, complaining of injuries. And two names caught our attention.
These two were also admins of the group “Unity against Left”.
We spoke to Dr Harjit Bhatti, former president of the Resident Doctors’ Association at AIIMS, who was an eyewitness to the events unfolding inside the emergency room of the Trauma Centre.
When asked about the injuries sustained by ABVP members, Bhatti said, “Some alleged ABVP fellows with superficial injuries also got themselves admitted into the emergency and were making the other patients and doctors uncomfortable.”
Bhatti also said that JNUSU president Aishe Ghosh had received deep wounds on the forehead. Her treatment was interrupted by goons, he said, who were staring at the patient and the doctor while the treatment was taking place. It is unclear whether the “goons” were the same people named on the list.
Spies and subterfuge
So, we could not find any specific incriminatory utterances made by the admins themselves. In the time period we had access to the group, they were only engaged in managing the group’s settings, removing members and wondering why so many “leftists” were joining the group using the invite link. Safe to say, we infiltrated the group after the proverbial raita had phailoed.
However, social media is flooded with screenshots of this group where people have made the following incendiary statements that point towards some sort of “planning”:
#1. “Nahi. VC ne entry mana kiya hai. Apna VC hai.” (No. VC has disallowed them [Delhi Police] from entering. VC is ours.)
#2. “Agar jana he to Sabarmati hostel jao.. waha sab karykarta jama hai.” (If you want to go, go to Sabarmati hostel… there all our karyakartas have gathered.)
#3. “आइशी का सर फटा है। अभी सीरियस है वो.. बचेगी नही शायद.” (Aishi has a serious head injury. She’s serious… might not survive.)
To this one person responded with #4: “बढ़िया हुआ, अभी तो चुन-चुन कद इन देश द्रोहियो को मारना है.” (Good, now we have to identify and kill all these traitors.)
This is where the second part of our investigation commenced. We found out who said these things — and why.
First up, statements #1. This was made by an individual called Anand Mangnale, who entered the group at around 8:30 pm.
He made statement #1 at 8.41 pm, based on our timeframe data. Note that by this time violence in JNU had subsided. Based on Anand Mangnale’s Facebook profile, we found that he used to work with I-PAC, which is a political consultancy firm started by Prashant Kishore.
The chat logs show that he was removed from the group at 8.55 pm by one of the ABVP admins, Anima. After his number started circulating via the screenshots, Anand put out a public statement on his Facebook page saying that he was trying to ingratiate himself with the ABVP. He said, “This [his statements in the group] is to get more info about where these goons were. Asking questions, plans to warn students [sic].”
In the wake of these revelations, I-PAC’s onetime client, the Indian National Congress, had to put out a statement distancing itself from the controversy.
Statements #2 and #3 were made by someone called “Raees”, according to True Caller. Raees joined the group at 9.19 pm.
Statement #4 was made by an individual called Aman Pathan, according to TrueCaller. He joined the group at 9.35 pm. Newslaundry was unable to elicit a response from either Raees or Pathan.
Newslaundry tried to contact Yogendra Bhardwaj, the creator of the WhatsApp group, but couldn’t succeed.
Newslaundry also contacted the ABVP group admins to ask them why they were part of it. You can read their responses below.
Group admin Velentina Bramha’s statement
When questioned about her name appearing as the group administrator in the WhatsApp group formed by Yogendra Bhardwaj, she said, “I didn’t know who added me to that group. I went to AIIMS Trauma Centre after the attack. When I realised that I have been made group admin, I tried removing everyone from the group and closed the group so that other ABVP guys don’t fall into the trap. While I was doing that, they removed me as group admin after which I left the group. I didn’t go further to check who made the group and who made me admin.”
Velentina was not removed from the group. She exited it on her own at 8.57 pm.
Group admin Manish Jangid’s statement
Manish Jangid, another student and an ABVP leader, said, “I don’t know who made me the group admin, we haven’t formed any such group. I was not even aware about it yesterday as my phone broke during the attack on me. I was attacked in Periyar hostel and they also rammed into my room in Kaveri hostel. The people were from communist groups — some of them were students and some seemed to be from outside. They had their faces covered and were attacking students, I ran through the hostel to escape from the attack.”
Manish informed Newslaundry that he has sustained a fracture in his hand and has bruises on his neck.
Group admin Anima Sonkar’s statement
Anima Sonkar, a senior ABVP activist and one of the admins of the WhatsApp group, told Newslaundry, “The group was formed after the leftist student unions started doing violence in the university. They started the violence at Periyar hostel and were targeting ABVP activists. So, in order to mobilise the right-wing support, with the intention to safeguard students and activists of ABVP stuck at the wrong places.”
Anima said the group was formed by Yogendra and she was made an admin since she’s a “senior ABVP activist”. “The group was joined by many through the WhatsApp link, even from countries like Saudi Arabia and the United States. Many of us received threatening calls throughout the night and were asked why we are orchestrating riots. We also got threats like ‘you don’t know who you are messing with’.”
She added: “Unfortunately the group went into the wrong hands. People were changing the group names to ABVP-ISIS, RSS, etc and posting wrong stuff. Yogendra was the admin and he would have been held responsible later on, in case of an investigation, so he kind of left the group. All ABVP guys also left the group.”
Group admin Ashish Gupta’s statement
Newslaundry spoke to Ashish Gupta, who too was one of the administrators of the group. He said, “I was added in the group erroneously. The moment I got to know, I left the group. I am doing a PHD in international studies and I am not part of any student union including ABVP or leftist groups.”
Group admin Shubham Potdar’s statement
Shubham Potdar, an ABVP activist who was made group admin, said, “I was on the train and was on my way back from my home in Purnia to Delhi. It didn’t come to my attention that I have been made a group admin. But when messages reached up to over 150, I checked the group and various people posting objectionable messages in it. I was asked to leave the group so I left it. I didn’t post anything in that group. On checking the group it came to my notice that I was added at 5.36 pm. I left the group at 9.28 pm.”
Group admin Venkat Choubey’s statement
Venkat Choubey is vice president of the ABVP’s JNU unit. He told us: “I have no clue how I became an admin. I saw obscene messages by some people who were posting messages that they want to molest ABVP girls. Thousands of messages are coming on it. I left the group the moment I started seeing such messages.”
We will update the story as and when we get statements from other admins of the group.
So, what can we say conclusively on the basis of this investigation?
1. A WhatsApp group called “Unity Against Left” was created about half an hour before the violence in JNU broke out. This group was created by an ABVP member and most of its admins had some link with the ABVP.
2. Based on the chat logs that Newslaundry could access, between 8.30 pm and 10 pm on January 5, it is not clear if the ABVP members in this particular group had planned the violence, or when. However, if they so wish, the Delhi police can conduct a thorough investigation using technology and gadgets only the state has access to.
3. It would be incorrect to assume that the other people who joined the group, using the same public link we used, had anything to do with the violence in JNU, which ended at 8 pm. Simply put, you can’t retrospectively plan violence that happened at 6 pm at 8 pm the same day.
4. Public sharing of these screenshots has led to harassment of the people involved because their numbers have become public. Journalists should be careful when sharing WhatsApp screenshots in the public domain.
With inputs from Ayan Sharma.