A day after Home Minister Rajnath Singh warned against “stringent action” against those who organised a protest at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) where allegedly anti-India slogans were heard, police on Friday cracked down on the campus and arrested the President of the Students’ Union, Kanhaiya Kumar, on sedition charges. The arrest sparked protests by students as well as teachers who marched in the campus late into the night.

Kumar, a member of the CPI’s student wing All India Student Federation (AISF), was produced before Metropolitan Magistrate Lovleen where the police sought his custodial interrogation for five days to ascertain alleged links of the accused, including those who are allegedly absconding, with terrorist groups.

The action came after the BJP-backed Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) protested against a cultural event titled The Country Without a Post Office was organised in the campus. It featured an exhibition and a protest march against the “judicial killing of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhatt”, and in solidarity with “struggle of Kashmiri people for their democratic right to self-determination” at the varsity’s Sabarmati dhaba. BJP MP Maheish Girri and the ABVP filed a complaint against the organisers, demanding that they be charged for sedition. The case was registered under Section of 124 A (sedition) and 120B (criminal conspiracy) of IPC against unknown persons at Vasant Kunj (North) Police station following the complaint. Delhi Police Commissioner BS Bassi said “some objectionable things” were said during the event held in JNU campus and an FIR registered in this connection.

“Whosoever breaks the law will come under the purview of criminal law. During that day’s sloganeering, some objectionable things were said. Those were transgressions of the Indian Penal Code, for which we registered an FIR,” he said. Kanhaiya told the court that he was neither shouting any slogan nor saying anything against integrity of the country and said he had rushed to the spot only to prevent a clash between ABVP workers and students organising the event. He said the case was politically-motivated and that he was being framed by the police as he had defeated the ABVP candidate in the presidential elections of the JNU students’ union (JNUSU).

The arrest led to agitated students gathering outside the Vice-Chancellor’s office demanding his intervention on the issue. “The police are mindlessly patrolling the campus and the students are being demonised for doing nothing. What is the proof that Kanhaiya was there among those raising anti-India slogans? Has he been spotted in any picture or video? Why are all JNU students being given ‘anti-national’ certificates,” said JNUSU Vice-President Shehla Rashid Shora.

The BJP “welcomed” the arrest of the JNUSU President. HRD Minister Smriti Irani asserted that the “nation will never tolerate insult to Mother India”.

“I only want to say that today is the day of worship of Goddess Saraswati. Saraswati blesses every family that whatever they speak is for progress and strengthening the nation,” Smriti Irani told reporters.

Meanwhile, the Left parties strongly condemned the arrest. “The Polit Bureau of the CPI(M) strongly condemns the indiscriminate arrests of Left and progressive student leaders from the JNU campus,” said a politburo statement.

“Police have raided hostels without any arrest warrant indiscriminately searching for student leaders. The presence of police in the campus and such indiscriminate arrests from hostels had last happened during the Emergency,” it added.

A number of teachers at JNU as well as former students such as NCP leader DP Tripathi, and former JNUSU President Probir Purkayastha, teachers Aditiya and Mridula Mukherjee, KN Pannikar, Utsa Patnaik, Prabhat Patnaik, Zoya Hasan, CP Bhambhri and others said that to accuse the JNUSU President of sedition is “beyond the bounds of credibility”.