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In tragedy, a role reversal

- Rahul rallies behind Northeast students, Arvind to follow

New Delhi, Feb. 3: Arvind Kejriwal is following in the footsteps of Rahul Gandhi, for a change.

The Congress vice-president today lent his presence and voice to a protest against the harassment of Northeasterners, joining a protest at Jantar Mantar and proposing a committee to take a comprehensive look at the problem.

Soon after, chief minister Kejriwal, who burnt his fingers with a dharna in the run-up to Republic Day, announced that he would visit the protest site at Jantar Mantar tomorrow evening. The protest is being held against the suspected lynching of Nido Tania, a student from Arunachal Pradesh, by a group of shopkeepers in Delhi last week.

Some of Rahul’s recent steps have drawn suggestions that he is being forced to mimic Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party after its spectacular debut in the Assembly polls. In fact, “the Rahul agenda” lined up for the last Parliament session under UPA II, beginning tomorrow, targets corruption — a plank made popular by Kejriwal.

However, on issues of prejudice, Kejriwal has been caught short.

The chief minister had gone out of his way to agitate and stand by his law minister who has been accused of harassing African women in Delhi. On the death of the Arunachal boy, Kejriwal has not been as vociferous as he was on several other issues. However, the AAP appears to have realised that the criticism police are facing over the boy’s death will tie in with the party’s campaign against Delhi police.

The chief minister’s decision to express solidarity with the protesters comes against this backdrop.

For Rahul, it was time to be fleet-footed, unlike during the protests against the December 16, 2012, gang rape.

Although Sonia Gandhi and Rahul had met the December 16 protesters, the issue had snowballed a day before and a perception had set in that they had not been proactive enough initially. Besides, in Meerut yesterday, Narendra Modi had devoted considerable time to condemn the suspected racial attack on Tania.

Today, Rahul did not take any chances. Already briefed by student leaders, Rahul spoke to the Union home minister before reaching the protest venue.

“You are looking for a committee and strict action — you can expect strict action and you can expect a committee…. Whether you are from the Northeast or any other region, there is only one India,” Rahul assured the gathering of hundreds of students.

As the Congress leader lit a lamp and a handful of NSUI workers shouted “Rahul Gandhi zindabad”, the protesters made it clear they were not associated with any political party.

The students from the northeastern states have demanded strict action against police officers and the formation of a fact-finding committee headed by a retired Supreme Court judge. The students have also sought an anti-racist law within three months.

The angry students accused the police of refusing to file an FIR and arrest more people for beating up Tania.

“I should not be on this stage but there with you,” said Rahul, pointing to an orderly group of students squatting on the ground.

Terming the attack on Tania as completely unacceptable, Rahul attempted to calm frayed nerves by asserting that anyone from any region should be respected.

The protesters demanded that the committee have activists and academicians as members and conduct a fact-finding inquiry into cases of violence against women and young people from the Northeast in big cities.

Although surveys have been conducted by NGOs and the Jamia Millia Islamia, the government does not have statistics on racist crimes, particularly against students from the Northeast in the metros.

For now, the Union home ministry is thinking of writing to Delhi police to file weekly reports to a joint commissioner on crimes against Northeasterners. Sources said that after Rahul’s communication with Sushil Kumar Shinde, action against some police officers was not ruled out.

Earlier in the day, a delegation of the Arunachal Students Union Delhi (ASUD), along with the minister of state for minorities affairs, Ninong Ering, had met Rahul at his residence. The students also met Kejriwal, who demanded a magisterial inquiry, and BJP leader Arun Jaitley.

“We want the SHO and a constable to be suspended,” said ASUD president Yeshi Wangchu, adding that the students were satisfied with Kejriwal’s demand for a magisterial inquiry.

Wangchu said the students were not satisfied with the police probe. The police have not yet charged the three arrested individuals under relevant sections of the IPC, he said.


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