NEW DELHI – Massive protests paralyzed one of India's top universities Monday after the president of the student union was arrested on charges of sedition.
Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested Friday, days after a demonstration was held at Jawaharlal Nehru University to mark the anniversary of the 2013 execution of Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri man convicted of an attack on India's Parliament.
Kumar, a left-leaning student leader, was arrested amid allegations that anti-India slogans were used at that protest.
On Monday, several student groups called for a strike on campus and very few students attended classes. Over the weekend thousands of students and teachers from several universities and colleges across India held protest rallies at the university.
The arrest came after a student faction linked to the ruling rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party filed a police complaint against the campus event.
On Thursday, Home Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted that "If anyone shouts anti India slogan & challenges nation's sovereignty & integrity while living in India, they will not be tolerated or spared."
A day later, Delhi police, who are under Singh, entered the university and searched dorm rooms and demanded audio and video recordings of the pro-Guru demonstration, and arrested Kumar. He has denied making any anti-India comments, according to news reports.
India's Human Resource Minister Smriti Irani supported Kumar's arrest, telling reporters "the nation can never tolerate an insult to Mother India."
Several political commenters said the arrest is an attempt by the government to silence dissent.
"The arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar and the crackdown on political dissent at JNU suggest that we are living under a government that is both rabidly malign and politically incompetent," Pratap Bhanu Mehta, the head of the Center for Policy Research, a leading New Delhi-based think tank, wrote in an opinion piece over the weekend.
The government reaction to the protests at the prestigious university well-known for its politically active student body is seen by many as part of a rising tide of intolerance in India since Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist BJP came to power in 2014.
Over the last few months scores of artists, scientists and historians have returned government awards to protest against what they view as the government's silence or complicity in creating a climate where criticism is viewed as unpatriotic.