Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Thursday said the government agreed that there should be freedom in universities, but questioned how can “vandalism” be condemned while “sedition” is called free speech.
“What happened in Patiala House (court) is condemnable. But vandalism is condemnable, and sedition is free speech? Nobody can subscribe to this ideology and least of all should Congress party subscribe to this ideology,” Jaitley said, intervening in the debate on unrest in JNU and Hyderabad University.
By “vandalism”, the minister meant incidents on February 15 of some students and media persons being roughed up at Patiala House courts complex where Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union president Kanhaiya Kumar was being presented before a judge.
“Of course vandalism should be condemned,” Jaitley said.
“We all know what Afzal Guru represented… He was not protesting against Manuvaad, capitalism, or Brahmanism that they will raise slogans against Manuvaad and capitalism on his martyrdom day,” the minister said, referring to the event organised on February 9 at the JNU where anti-national slogans were allegedly raised.
“This debate which is taking place is somewhere missing or sidetracking the real issue. Should we have universities where there is openness, there is freedom, there is scope for academic excellence? Of course, that should happen. Should we allow different ideas to clash and be created and further matured in the universities? Of course, we must do it,” Jaitley said.
“Can there ever be an argument in democracy like ours that there should be only one ideology and one idea which must emerge? Obviously not. Let us set this debate at rest; neither NDA, BJP nor this government ever subscribes to this philosophy that only one idea must grow and mature in this country,” Jaitley said.
“We are entitled to be criticised. I have no difficulty with that. If some student belonging to a weaker or deprived section of society suffers a mental distress that issue has to be squarely addressed and we can all speak in the same language because humanity demands our concern must be the same,” the minister said in a reference to the suicide of Rohith Vemula, a Dalit scholar of Hyderabad University.
“In universities youngsters do many things which upon growing up they realise were probably not an ideal behaviour at that time. Some amount of radical romancing can also take place in academic institutions… But the core question is: Are we going to give respectability to those whose primary ideology is to break this country?” said the minister.
“What has happened in this case of two persons alleged to be involved in terrorist action and convicted by the highest court,” he said, referring to Afzal Guru, the parliament attack convict, and Maqbool Bhat of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, whose deaths by execution were commemorated at JNU.
The minister said the Indian system is fair and the accused were given fair trials.
He also said “some outsiders” came into JNU wearing masks and anti-national slogans were raised by the crowd.
“You must realise the issue is not that some (university) course is being tinkered with and some politicisation is taking place. You have a situation where slogans against integrity of India is being raised,” the minister added.