At history meet, CAA backlash in Kannur University
Kerala governor Arif Mohammed Khan faced slogans and placards while inaugurating the Indian History Congress at Kannur University on Saturday, with delegates, including historian Irfan Habib, protesting his public support for the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.
Police had swathed the campus in security anticipating protests against the governor, who has been criticising the demonstrators against the citizenship act and the proposed countrywide National Register of Citizens.
But the audience, gathered under a canopy on the university grounds, burst into protest when Khan spoke of how Hindus were being discriminated against in Pakistan.
“I came to know about the harassment that (former) Pakistan cricketer Danish Kaneria faced because he is a Hindu,” he said, alluding to retired fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar’s allegation that Kaneria had been a victim of discrimination from some team-mates.
Immediately, more than half the 1,500 delegates stood up waving placards, made with sheets of paper, which they had smuggled into the venue inside files, outwitting the police.
“This is not Pakistan but India,” a delegate shouted at the governor, who looked baffled at the eruption against his statement.
Habib was heard saying: “If this is the kind of talk you are giving, please quote (Nathuram) Godse and not Gandhiji.”
Khan said that if the delegates had the right to protest, he too had the right to speak and continued with his address.
“Please don’t give too much importance to them. Please take your places,” he told those who had stood up in protest.
“You have no right to create violence or disturbance. You can’t silence me with protests. You can’t shout me down. You have come with an agenda,” Khan said, but by then he could barely be heard over the slogans.
The police quickly stepped in, led some four or five of the protesting delegates out and bundled them into a van. They were, however, released outside the university’s main office, a few hundred yards away, without charges.
“Is this how you treat historians who have come as delegates?” an unidentified delegate shouted as she was being interrupted by the police.
“If the governor can spread hatred from there, don’t I have the right to raise a placard?” she shot back when the police asked her to leave.
Khan left without completing his speech, after which the proceedings were normal.
Speaking before the governor, CPM Rajya Sabha member K.K. Ragesh had accused the Centre of rewriting Indian history on the basis of its “communal ideology”.
“Those who had no role in the freedom movement, and instead danced to the tune of the British, are now trying to rewrite Indian history based on their communal ideology,” Ragesh said.
Ragesh later told The Telegraph that everything had been going smoothly until the governor’s speech.
“I had only urged the historians to guard against history being rewritten in the present political climate. But the governor picked on what I said,” he said.
No Congress politician attended the event in keeping with the party’s decision to boycott the governor’s programmes because of his comments against the citizenship act protesters.
Congress and CPM workers, however, waved black flags at the governor’s motorcade on its way to the venue.
The three-day event ends on Monday.
He alluded to the police excesses against the students protesting against the citizenship amendment and the NRC.
“Universities are nurseries for ideas. Any intolerance to opinions emerging from the universities is against democracy,” Ragesh said.
“Freedom of expression and the right to protest against any viewpoint are fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution. But this is being denied in our universities.”
Khan seemed to take these comments as a jibe at his criticism of the citizenship protesters and, before making his Kaneria reference, drew attention to his own career.
“As a person who entered Parliament at the age of 26, I cannot but react when confronted with political issues,” he said.
“I became a governor by taking an oath to protect the Constitution and speak for it. I have quit positions when I felt the Constitution was under threat.”