With police still unable to make arrests in connection with Sunday’s rampage on the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus, India Today’s Special Investigation Team has nailed the possible assailants, who, by their own admission, had engineered the assault on the Left-leaning students with the support from the right-wing groups outside.
As outrage spread across the nation over the January 5 violence, India Today’s SIT caught one of the main attackers on camera, who confessed that he mobilised the mobs from within and outside the campus.
A first-year student of the French degree program at the JNU, Akshat Awasthi identified himself in footage of Sunday’s attack — and as an activist of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP).
Akshat Awasthi, the JNU’s online records show, is a resident of the Kaveri hostel on campus.
Armed with a stick, his face covered with a helmet, Awasthi showed the video and said he could be seen rushing through the hostel corridors in maddening rage and knocking anything and anyone that came his way.
“What did you have in your hand?” an India Today undercover reporter asked Awasthi.
“It was a stick, sir. I pulled it out from a flag lying near [the] Periyar [hostel].”
“Did you hit someone?” the reporter probed.
There was a man with a flowing beard. He looked like a Kashmiri. I beat him up and then broke the gate with my kicks.
“I come from an area in Kanpur where goondas [goons] are common in every street. I used to watch them.”
As the mystery deepened over the identity of the attacker’s organisation, the self-identifying assailant revealed his affiliation and the motive behind the raid.
Awasthi said the attack occurred in retaliation for an assault allegedly perpetrated by the Left students on Periyar hostel the same day earlier. “It was a reaction to their action.”
Asked how he was able to organise mobs in a matter of hours, Awasthi named office-bearers of the ABVP from a separate campus outside.
“He’s an organizational secretary of the ABVP. I called him. Left-wing students and teachers were holding a meeting at Sabarmati. When Sabarmati was attacked, they all ran away and took shelter inside,” Awasthi explained.
He recounted how mobs smashed vehicles and furniture on a street facing the Sabarmati hostel.
“All students and teachers standing there ran away when the attack happened. They had no idea that the ABVP would ever retaliate like this,” he said.
“You were telling us that 20 of the ABVP activists belonged to the JNU and 20 others were mobilised from outside,” the reporter asked Awasthi.
“I can tell you that I did all the mobilization. They don’t have that much mind. You know you need to act like a superintendent or a commander. Why it’s to be done and where exactly. I guided them about everything — where to hide, where to go. I told them to do everything systematically. I didn’t have any position or a tag. Still they listened to me carefully,” the student claimed.
I not only mobilised them but channelled their anger in the right direction. – Akshat Awasthi
India Today’s SIT also filmed Akshat Awasthi during ABVP demonstrations that took place on JNU campus a day after the raid.
A fellow student in the first year of the French program also testified to his involvement in the criminal assault on January 5.
The student, Rohit Shah, confessed that he gave his helmet to Awasthi before he set out on the raid. “It [a helmet] is a must for safety when you smash glass,” Rohit Shah said.
He said the mobs spared an ABVP room in the hostel after he informed them about the affiliation of its residents.
I told them [the masked persons] it’s an ABVP room and they walked away. – Rohit Shah
When Rohit Shah was asked if he was proud of what had happened at the JNU on Sunday evening, he said, “Of course, of course.”
If it [the attack] hadn’t been carried out the way it was, they [the Left] would not have realised the ABVP’s strength. – Rohit Shah
In the sting operation, Rohit Shah is heard confessing that there were 20 ABVP activists from the JNU who were involved in the Sunday attack.
In his confessions, Akshat Awasthi claimed that a police officer on duty encouraged the mob to beat up the Left students.
“They [police] were inside the campus not outside. I had called the police myself after a student was injured at Periyar [hostel during an earlier attack]. He met Manish [a student] and said ‘hit them, hit them‘,” Awasthi claimed.
When India Today’s investigation team demanded to know what the police had said, Akshat Awasthi said, “Hit them.”
Akshat Awasthi was also asked about the reports of lights being shut off at the time of the incident. To which, he said, “Admin… I think police.”
Reporter: Why did the police do that?
Akshat Awasthi: They did not want [anyone] to see that the mobilisation was happening.
Reporter: So, the police helped you, the ABVP?
Whose police is it, sir? – Akshat Awasthi
Asked why the mobs masked their faces, the student said the tactic was copied from Left attacks on campus.
“We copied it. The Left came with the masks. So, we said let’s be masked.”
Akshat Awasthi identified several other people, including a masked woman, in the mob. India Today TV can share information about the suspects with the police.
In an exclusive interview to India Today TV, JNU Vice-Chancellor Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar claimed that the violence on January 5 had its roots in what happened the day before. According to the V-C, some masked mob had entered the campus on January 4, 24 hours before Sunday’s violence.
“What happened on 5th has its origins in what happened in the past few days, we have our CIS center here, which houses the data center. So one day before, a few students came with their faces completely covered and took control of data center. If the students were working for the right cause, why should they cover their faces This is the first time we have seen in the history of students completely faces covered.”
An FIR has been filed against some JNUSU students for destroying the university servers. India Today’s undercover reporters spoke to former JNUSU president and Left/AISA activist Geeta Kumari about the university servers.
Geeta was part of a group of protesters who were outside the server room on January 4. She admitted that she was involved in shutting down the university servers.
None of our demands is met, he [the JNU VC] didn’t even meet us, so we decided to close the server room. – Geeta Kumari
When Geeta Kumari was asked why did she close the server room, the AISA activist said, “Our VC does everything online, sends love letter [slang] online, sends Happy Near Year online, sends warnings online, so we thought that he has exceeded everything, there are no exams, none of our demands is met, he didn’t even meet us, so we decided to close the server room so that the administration does not function.”
After the JNU Tapes went on-air, Geeta Kumari defended her actions and said that he had nothing to hide.
“JNU VC increases our fee a thousand time. He sends punishment letters for demanding the right to education. I myself have received countless such letters. We are fighting for our rights. We are in civil disobedience. That’s what I have said. Nothing to hide,” she said.
The ABVP has, however, denied that Akshat Awasthi and Rohit Shah were associated with the student organisation in any capacity.
“They are not holding any position within the ABVP. Anyone participating in ABVP or JNUSU events cannot qualify to become their members automatically. Police are investigating the entire case. Anyone involved in violence at the JNU should be prosecuted. We will fully support the police in their investigation,” Nidhi Tripathi, ABVP general secretary, said.
BJP Spokesman Amit Malviya echoed Nidhi Tripathi, saying the violent events on the JNU campus warrant thorough and fair investigation. He suggested that India Today’s investigative evidence be probed by the police. Malviya, however, insisted that the ABVP had no office-bearer from the first-year of any degree program.
CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat, however, said India Today’s investigation proved that the January 5 attack on the JNU was preplanned. Her party colleague Sitaram Yechury said the India Today SIT probe confirms accusations against the right-wing’s involvement in the Sunday assault.
The Delhi Police also took notice of India Today’s investigation and said the ongoing probe would cover all angles of the case. “We will include all aspects in our investigation, including the investigation done by India Today,” Delhi Police spokesman MS Randhawa said.
Union Minister Prakash Javadekar, however, drew attention to the vandalism of the JNU’s data centre allegedly by the Left-leaning students. The ABVP and the BJP, he said, were being unfairly targeted for the violence. “It’s the Left organisations that pre-planned the violence, disabled CCTV and destroyed the server,” the minister said.
This story was first published by India Today on January 10, 2020 here.