ON 13 August, just two days before India’s Independence Day, student activist Umar Khalid had a narrow escape from a shooter in the heart of central Delhi, outside the Constitution Club.
Two men brazenly issued a video claiming to have carried out the attack and declaring that they would ‘surrender’ in the village of Bhagat Singh’s mentor and revolutionary freedom fighter Kartar Singh Sarabha. On the day they had promised to surrender however, a Left organisation Naujawan Bharat Sabha gathered with red flags in the village, declaring that they would not allow the Sanghi terrorists to claim to represent Kartar Singh Sarabha or the socialist revolutionary Bhagat Singh. The Delhi Police’s Special Cell delayed arresting the two men for many days, but eventually has made the arrest.
What allowed two goons and potential killers to claim publicly that their at-tempt to assassinate Umar was an act of patriotism? They were emboldened by a sense of impunity - relentless propaganda by the Modi Government and its pet media channels to feel sure that their victim would be branded the ter-rorist while their act of terror would be applauded and protected.
Khalid, who has just submitted his PhD at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), is an activist who along with other JNU students was, on the strength of doctored videos, cast in the role of the ‘anti-national’ by some Indian television channels after he organized a poetry reading on the theme of Kashmir, on 9 February 2016. While other students too faced such targeting, Umar was es-pecially viciously singled out for Islamophobic slander by the hate-mongers as a Muslim. A channel News X ran a story claiming Umar was a “Jaish-e-Mohammed sympathizer”. Videos with anchors of this channel spreading this poisonous slander can still be found online. None less than the Home Minister of India, Rajnath Singh, declared on the strength of a parody account that JNU students like Umar were backed by the Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed.
In the two years since February 2016, channels like Times Now and Republic have targeted JNU students as well as Left and democratic activists countless times as “Tukde Tukde Gang” (‘dismemberment gang’, referring to the fake video purporting to show JNU students raising slogans calling for the dismem-berment of India). The Republic channel has even referred to me – a well-known Left and feminist activist - as a ‘lawyer for the Lashkar-e-Taiba’! Such slander is incitement to violence.
The JNU Administration recently sought to punish JNU students including Umar Khalid for “anti-national” activities on 9 February 2016 in JNU– sparking an-other round of vicious and gleeful gloating by several media channels which are a willing part of the Government’s propaganda machinery. The Delhi High Court reprimanded the JNU Administration and prevented any JNU student from being punished. In Court, it was shown that even a Magisterial Enquiry into the incident failed to show any evidence of guilt of any JNU student, and that the Delhi Police, for want of any evidence, has failed to file a chargesheet against any of the JNU students in the past two years.
It is this climate of relentless hate-speech and fake news that has resulted in the shocking incident where a gunman could attack Umar Khalid in broad daylight in front of Delhi’s Constitution Club, and make his escape unhindered in spite of the ‘tight security cover’ and ‘terror alert’ in the Indian capital just days be-fore Independence Day.
The ruling BJP’s New Delhi MP Meenakshi Lekhi, while paying lip service to the cause of justice and saying the perpetrators would be identified and punished, has indulged in victim blaming, claiming the attack on Umar is “sensationalism” and “drama”. Meanwhile, the BJP IT Cell army on social media is claiming the incident was ‘staged’ while also celebrating the attack and calling for Umar and others like him to be killed.
In the same way, Twitter handles backed by the PM and Cabinet Ministers cel-ebrated the assassination of Gauri Lankesh.
It must be remembered that just days before 15 August, the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) busted a terror cell of the Sanatan Sanstha – a shadowy terrorist organization implicated in bombs blasts and several assassinations - of rationalist Dabholkar, communist writer Pansare, Kannada Professor Kalburgi, and journalist Gauri Lankesh. One of these men is also linked to the Shri Shivpratisthan Hindustan, an outfit led by Sambhaji Bhide, one of the key ar-chitects of anti-Dalit violence following the Bhima Koregaon events.
Narendra Modi, in June 2013, sent a message to the All India Hindu Conven-tion hosted by the Sanatan Sanstha and Hindu Janjagruti Samiti in Goa, in which he described these terrorist organisations as inspired by “nationalism, patriotism and the tradition of loyalty.” He sees Sanghi terrorists as ‘national-ists’ because the only nation the RSS and BJP recognize is the ‘Hindu Nation’: the terrorists seek to finish the incomplete task of Partition, overthrow secular democratic India, and turn India into a ‘Hindu Nation’ in which Muslims will no longer be equal citizens. Modi has also publicly greeted Sambhaji Bhide as his guru and mentor during the 2014 campaign for the Parliamentary elections.
Recently, there have been major breakthroughs in the investigation in the Gauri Lankesh and Narendra Dabholkar murder investigations. One of the men arrested by the Maharashtra ATS revealed that he and another member of his outfit were involved in Dabholkar’s murder. Following up on this information, the ATS located the pistol used for the murder. Meanwhile, the Karnataka Spe-cial Investigation Team (SIT) made a new arrest - of a man called Amol Kale - in the Gauri Lankesh case, and found a diary with the arrested man. The diary has a hit-list with names of several "targets", including Lankesh, Govind Pansare and Dabholkar's family members, and mentions 50 potential shooters from Karnataka and Maharashtra being trained to use weapons like guns, pistols and air guns at camps in Belgaum, Hubballi and Pune. Kale admitted that the same gun was used to kill both Kalburgi and Lankesh because it was seen as ‘auspicious.
The above facts raise the question: how come the media which spends hours whipping up a frenzy around obviously fake letters framing human rights ac-tivists as Maoists involved in a ‘plot to murder the PM’, turns a blind eye to this clear and present web of Sanghi terror which even has the blessings of the PM? How come the media which is ever ready to brand Umar Khalid as a ter-rorist because he is Muslim, is unwilling to scrutinise or questions Governments as to why groups like Bajrang Dal and Sanatan Sanstha are allowed to hold arms training camps?
Close on the heels of a failed assassination bid on former JNU student Umar Khalid in the heart of Delhi, another former JNU student, Dr. Sanjay Kumar, currently a faculty at Mahatma Gandhi Central Univer-sity, Motihari, was the target of a murderous mob assault. Sanjay along with other teachers had been protesting against the Vice Chan-cellor’s policies since the end of May. At the Mahatma Gandhi Central University, faculty members and teachers’ association have been pro-testing against the VC for his numerous irregularities by has been in-dulging including serious scuttling of legally mandated reservations in non-teaching posts. The VC has also been using his position of power to intimidate and harass any dissenting voice. On 17 August, Sanjay Kumar was attacked in his residence and brutally beaten up in broad daylight by a large group of hooligans with a clear intent to kill him. The immediate pretext for this murderous assault was a Facebook post by Sanjay apparently critical of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Sanjay has been in hospital since then, in a serious condition. Several videos that have come out since the incident clearly show that the attackers en-joy the support of the BJP as they forced him to say that he will never write critically on any BJP leader.
Acts like the burning of the Constitution at Parliament Street, the attempt to murder Umar Khalid outside Constitution Club days before Independence Day, the Sanatan Sanstha assassinations, amassing of bombs and terror training camps, and the serial lynch mob attacks are not the work of ‘fringe groups’ – they are clear messages by India’s fascists that democracy and the Constitution are in their firing line.