The seminar was scheduled at Utkal University in Bhubaneswar, on the Constitution and education policy, and was being addressed by JNU professor Surajit Mazumdar.
Pradipta Nayak, the convenor of the organising group, Citizen Forum, said Mazumdar was discussing the Indian constitution and the country’s development from an economist’s perspective. “He (the JNU professor) was not discussing anything against either the government or a personality. Some ex-students, who claimed to be ABVP supporters, entered the seminar hall and started abusing the speaker. Even as they were told that the speaker would answer their questions later in a separate session, they walked up to the stage and demanded that the meeting be cancelled,” Nayak told reporters.
True to ABVP style, Nayak also alleged that he, along with others present during the seminar, were manhandled and threatened by the ABVP members.
Prateek Singh, the Bhubaneswar Deputy Commissioner of Police, said police immediately rushed to the campus to defuse the situation. He said those “who tried to create problems” were detained and released after they signed undertakings.
The ABVP workers, meanwhile, accused the seminar organisers of “attacking them” when they tried to raise objections to certain statements. Without any evidence or detail, they hurled unsupported allegations. “In his (Mazumdar’s) speech, he made statements which are ‘anti-India’. He said India’s constitution is in danger and that upper-caste people are running the government which needs to be opposed. He made many more statements like this,” said Manas Sahu, an ABVP worker.
He also questioned why the varsity authorities allowed “outsiders” to conduct a seminar on a Sunday. Sahu happens to be a former student of the university. Universities under this regime in New Delhi are routinely inviting figure heads from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the parent wing of the BJP, also an “outsider!
Several videos showing a scuffle between the organisers and the ABVP members have been shared widely on social media. Both groups have filed complaints at Saheed Nagar Police station demanding action against each other.
DCP Singh also told the media that two cases were registered based on the complaints, and that the situation is being monitored.
Clearly armed and determined, ABVP activists also locked the main gate of the campus and sat on dharna in the evening demanding action against the JNU professor and the organisers.
Speaking to reporters thereafter, Mazumdar said the seminar was organised with approval of the Utkal University authority and that there was a discussion on the Constitution, its future and the steps to strengthen it.
“Whatever statements I made were in accordance with the rights guaranteed to me by the Constitution. I made no comments which are against its provisions. But the disruption was of course not according to the law. Such disruption to discuss issues freely speaks to the state of our democracy,” he said.
Predictably, the university did not respond to any queries for clarifications.