NEW DELHI: With government under intense attack over JNU issue, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley today trained his guns at Rahul Gandhi, suggesting that his visit to the campus in the aftermath of the controversial protest amounted to providing "respectability" to a movement whose charter was to break India.
He also suggested in Rajya Sabha that Congress, jointly with Left parties, had jumped into the issue "without giving prior thought" in view of the upcoming assembly elections in West Bengal.
Jaitley, a noted lawyer-turned-politician, defended the police entry into JNU, arguing that the campus was not a "sovereign territory" like some foreign embassy.
Seeking to turn tables on Congress, he cited a Parliament Question of 1983 in which the then Indira Gandhi government had justified entry of police in JNU and arrest of 350 students, including 50 girls, after the Vice Chancellor was gheraoed.
He contended that the developments of February 9 on JNU were "much more serious" as he read out the pamphlets carrying anti-India material which were circulated in the campus.
"The core question is, are we going to give respectability to those whose primary ideology is that they want to break this country," Jaitley said while intervening in the debate on 'Situation arising out of recent incidents in institutions of higher education with reference to JNU and University of Hyderabad'.
Referring to slogans which called for war for destruction of the country and lauded terrorists who had been convicted by the highest judiciary, Jaitley questioned: "Can hate speech be called free speech?" He noted that being a mainstream party, Congress does not have the history of supporting the "fringe". Jaitley agreed with Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad that two Congress Prime Ministers had fallen to the terrorists' bullets, a reference to Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, and said "that precisely should have been the reason for you (Congress) to speak more vigorously against the offences in JNU. At least on this issue, we expected you to be with us."
Suggesting that Congress had done so in view of West Bengal polls, he quipped, "The tragedy of Bengal is that there are three Congress parties - the Congress, the Trinamool Congress and Congress Marxist."
Trinamool Congress leader Derek O'Brien took objection to this, reminding that his party was separate since 1998.
Jaitley asked opposition parties not to "camouflage" the offence at JNU, saying "its a very serious offence...One is jihadist, the other is maoist. Its an alliance of the two. You have been in power for long, you should have thought before making a visit to the JNU campus."
"Just because West Bengal elections is round the corner, should the Congress party take a stand that police should not take enter University campuses," Jaitley said.
In an apparent reference to Rahul's visit to the JNU campus, the Finance Minister said that "some people think before they act but this was an incident in which Congress took their step first and thought about it later.
"....Had you thought before (about visiting JNU), you would not have gone into this situation," he said accusing the Congress of "indirectly or directly adding respect to a movement whose charter was to break this country."
He also answered questions by opposition over BJP tying up with PDP which had spoken in favour of Afzal.
Both BJP and Congress had realised that they have to work with mainstream parties of Jammu and Kashmir to fight separatists, Jaitley said, while pointing out that both the parties have had alliance with NC as well as PDP at some point of time.
He asked the Congress to take a clear stance on the matter, he said these are the issues on which all parties should speak the same language.
Asking the opposition not to sidetrack the main issue, Jaitley condemned the violence in Patiala House but also reminded the House of the serious anti-Indian nature of the protest at JNU and also at the Jadavpur University.
In remarks laced with sarcasm, he said, "Vandalism is condemnable, but sedition is free speech?" Jaitley also invoked B R Ambedkar, saying the maker of Constitution had warned of threats country faces from the inside.
He said Ambedkar had also referred to people who wanted free speech to overthrow the state. Elements like maoists wanted to use provisions like free speech to overthrow the system of Parliamentary democracy because they don't believe in it, he said.