Rahul Gandhi on Saturday accused the National Democratic Alliance government of "suppressing" students' voice as he visited the JNU campus to express solidarity with them, a day after the arrest of its students' union president Kanhaiya Kumar in a sedition case.
The Congress vice president, who had on Friday accused the Modi government of "bullying" the institution, scaled up the attack saying "most anti-national are people, who are suppressing the voice of students in this institution".
Accompanied by Delhi PCC chief and former Union minister Anand Sharma, Rahul interacted with the agitating students and lauded the university for representing free voice.
Drawing parallel between the actions against students in JNU and events leading to the suicide of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad University, he said the question is why a student is "not allowed to say what he believes in".
Noting that India is progressing because more and more people are raising their voice, Rahul said that everybody has a right to disagree.
Making repeated reference to Vemula's suicide and targeting the government especially HRD Minister Smriti Irani on the issue, he said, "A youngster expresses his views and the government says he is anti-national. Later, the minister turns around and says you are not even a Dalit."
In his speech marked by frequent disruptions, Rahul said that he will be happy to see even people from RSS and BJP express their opinion.
"We respect voices that are raised in front of our voice. We also respect what is raised behind our back," he said.
Training his guns on the government, he said, "They will not understand that in crushing you, they are making you stronger."
The Congress vice president had on Friday tweeted "Modi Govt & ABVP bullying an institution like JNU simply because it won't toe their line is completely condemnable.
"While Anti-India sentiment is unquestionably unacceptable, the right to dissent & debate is an essential ingredient of democracy."
Kumar was arrested over an event at the JNU campus against hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru, sparking massive outrage among students and criticism from non-BJP parties which dubbed it as an "Emergency-like" situation.
Invoking Adolf Hitler, Rahul said that suppressing voice by the Nazi ruler left Germany in rubbles.
"We do not have problem if RSS and BJP want to express their opinion. We just want to tell them if they will listen to us, they will be convinced by us... they are simply crushing voices," Rahul said.
His visit was opposed by members of ABVP, who waved black flags when he spoke. Taking note of it, he said, "People who showed black flags on my face, I feel proud that in my country they have the right to show black flags."
Kumar was arrested on Friday and later remanded in three- day police custody by a local court, a day after police filed a sedition and criminal conspiracy case against him on complaints from BJP MP Maheish Girri and ABVP members.
Union ministers Smriti Irani and Rajnath Singh had on Friday advocated strong action against those involved in the alleged "anti-India" act even as the students continued with their protests on the campus for the third day, saying they are being "witch-hunted".
Rahul had joined protests over the suicide of Vemula at the Hyderabad University last month, an issue that had led to outrage over campuses of several universities in the country.
"This govt is anti-JNU & wants to shut down the Univ. They're using this as a trigger to target Left-liberal & progressive forces," Congress spokesman Manish Tewari tweeted.
In an apparent reference to the arrest of Kumar, he said, "Law of sedition is very clear & they'll never be able to substantiate charges under the sedition law."
Tewari insisted that "freedom of speech and expression is circumscribed by reasonable restriction".
Amid the raging JNU row, the home minister on Saturday asserted that no innocent will be harassed but the guilty "will not be spared" as Left leaders met him questioning the police action against students including arrest of JNUSU leader.
"We met the home minister and apprised him about the tense atmosphere in JNU at present. Delhi Police has released a list of 20 students in connection with the event, which also includes D Raja's daughter, but we are asking are they seen in the video shouting slogans," CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury told reporters after the meeting.
"They were present because they are members of students union or groups but that does not mean they were involved in it. We have demanded that Kanhaiya be released and the home minister has assured us that no action will be taken against any innocent student," he added.
Yechury, who was joined by CPI National Secretary D Raja and JD(U) spokesperson K C Tygai, alleged, "the new Vice Chancellor is acting on the instructions of the government and allowed the police to go ahead with a crackdown. This is happening across all universities that VCs are being removed and the government is appointing persons who are then acting on their instructions."
"This is a very serious matter and the way all students are being branded anti-national, we have raised all the issues with Rajnath Singh," he added.
Image: Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi addresses students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi on Saturday. Photograph: Kamal Kishore/PTI Photo