Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Thursday took the battle on the Jawaharlal Nehru Universirty controversy into the opposition camp asking whether sedition and breaking the country into pieces can be called "free speech".
He also contended that the developments of February 9 on JNU when anti-national slogans were raised were "much more serious" as he read out from the pamphlets carrying anti-India material, which were circulated in the campus.
"Sedition has become free speech. Can hate speech ever be called free speech. Can sedition be free speech. Can you have a free speech to say I have the right to break the country into pieces?" he asked the opposition benches amid thumping of desks by the treasury benches.
Jaitley, an eminent lawyer, was referring to slogans in the campus which called for a war for destruction of the country and lauded terrorists who had been convicted by the highest judiciary,
"The core question is, are we going to give respectability to those whose primary ideology is that they want to break this country," the Leader of the House said while intervening in the debate on 'Situation arising out of recent incidents in institutions of higher education with reference to JNU and University of Hyderabad'.
He noted that being a mainstream party, Congress does not have the history of supporting the "fringe".
The minister also taunted the opposition for their attack on the government over the Patiala House court complex incidents in which lawyers attacked journalists, teachers, students and JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar.
"What happened in courts is condemnable," he said and added after a pause with sarcasm, "vandalism is condemnable but sedition is free speech."
Accusing the opposition of attempting to sidetrack the main issue by "going into bylanes", Jaitley condemned the violence in Patiala House but added the anti-Indian nature of the protest at JNU and also at the JadavpurUniversity was serious.
Jaitley agreed with Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad that two Congress Prime Ministers -- Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi -- had fallen to the terrorists' bullets and said "that precisely should have been the reason for you (Congress) to speak more vigorously against the offences in JNU."
He also referred to his support to the then Home Minister P Chidambaram when Maoists had massacred 75 CRPF personnel that he should not resign when everyone was demanding his head.
"At least I expect you (the opposition) to be with us on this," he said. Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Sitaram Yechury intervened to say, "Don't give us a lecture on nationalism. If the country breaks into pieces we will not be here. We have fought (divisive tendencies)."
Jaitley also trained his guns at Rahul, suggesting that his visit to the campus in the aftermath of the controversial protest amounted to providing "respectability" to a movement whose charter was to break India.
He also suggested that the Congress, along with Left parties, had jumped into the issue "without giving prior thought" in view of the upcoming assembly elections in West Bengal.
Jaitley defended the police entry into the JNU, arguing that the campus was not a "sovereign territory" like some foreign embassy.
Seeking to turn tables on Congress, he cited a Parliament Question of 1983 in which the then Indira Gandhi government had justified entry of police in JNU and arrest of 350 students, including 50 girls, after the vice chancellor was gheraoed.
Suggesting that Congress had done so in view of West Bengal polls, he quipped, "The tragedy of Bengal is that there are three Congress parties -- the Congress, the Trinamool Congress and Congress Marxist."
Trinamool Congress leader Derek O'Brien took objection to this, reminding that his party was separate since 1998. Jaitley asked opposition parties not to "camouflage" the offence at JNU, saying "its a very serious offence...One is jihadist, the other is Maoist. Its an alliance of the two. You have been in power for long, you should have thought before making a visit to the JNU campus."
"Just because West Bengal elections is round the corner, should the Congress party take a stand that police should not take enter University campuses," Jaitley said.
In an apparent reference to Rahul's visit to the JNU campus, the finance minister said that "some people think before they act but this was an incident in which Congress took their step first and thought about it later.
"....Had you thought before (about visiting JNU), you would not have gone into this situation," he said accusing the Congress of "indirectly or directly adding respect to a movement whose charter was to break this country."
He also answered questions by opposition over the BJP tying up with the People’s Democratic Party which had spoken in favour of Afzal.
Both the BJP and the Congress had realised that they have to work with mainstream parties of Jammu and Kashmir to fight separatists, Jaitley said, while pointing out that both the parties have had alliance with NC as well as PDP at some point of time.
He asked the Congress to take a clear stance on the matter, he said these are the issues on which all parties should speak the same language. Jaitley also invoked B R Ambedkar, saying the maker of Constitution had warned of threats country faces from the inside.
He said Ambedkar had also referred to people who wanted free speech to overthrow the state. Elements like Maoists wanted to use provisions like free speech to overthrow the system of Parliamentary democracy because they don't believe in it, he said.
Jaitley also criticised former Finance Minister P Chidambaram without naming him, over his remarks in a write up that the case of Afzal Guru, who was hanged after being convicted in the terror strike on Parliament in 2001 "was perhaps not correctly decided".
Referring to some of the slogans, he asked whether the police could have remained a mute spectator to the incident.
With regard to questions over slapping of sedition charge, he cited a Supreme Court verdict delivered during the Prime Ministership of Jawharlal Nehru when a Communist leader had been convicted for a speech made against the Congress party.
At one point CPI leader D Raja asked what was the basis for the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar, the Finance Minister said since the matter is sub-judice, he would not want to speak of the evidence against him.
Earlier several parties, including Congress had criticised the government saying that it had punished someone for the crimes of the other. Jaitley also asserted that free flow of ideas in Indian Universities is safe in India and that BJP did not believe that only one ideology should prevail.
He also emphasised that in case a student belonging to disadvantaged sections suffers mental disturbance, it needs to be addressed, comments made in response to opposition's concerns in the aftermath of Rohith Vemula's suicide.
Jaitley also made a reference to the protests earlier held in University of Hyderabad saying that while Yakub Memon had been lauded, though a picture of Ambedkar had been used in the background.
He also added that outsiders wearing masks had come to JNU when slogans against India were made.