It’s a tale of two places, and two contrasting attitudes on display by the governments concerned. If in Delhi, the police, under the Centre, has allegedly remained bystanders to mob violence against JNU students, the Maharashtra Police has handled the groundswell of resentment against the Centre with restraint. Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has given an assurance that university students will not be targeted for agitating peacefully.
In a rare scene in a time of agitations, students in the State were seen holding placards, thanking their government for upholding their right to agitate. The change of government in Maharashtra has made a huge difference. Many faces on the silver screen have found their voice. The pall of fear has lifted. Meanwhile, the State police has been forced to change gears. There has been no lathi-charge, coercive action and unmindful cases against students. When thousands gathered at the historic Gateway of India to protest the attack on JNU students, Mumbai Police refrained from aggression. The point here is simple. The effects of police conduct in the two places are only too evident.
Maharashtra is quite normal because the right to legitimate protest has been preserved. In Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, there is anger and anarchy. However, the Maharashtra police has filed FIRs against some students. The Colaba police filed an FIR against Mehak Mirza Prabhu for holding up a ‘Free Kashmir’ poster at the Gateway of India. The girl has clarified that the ‘free Kashmir’ placard only meant that freedom of expression and the basic constitutional rights of Kashmiri people must be restored. The State Home Minister Anil Deshmukh has, however, said that he would review FIRs filed against agitating students. The message, of ruling with a soft touch, has trickled down to the State’s universities. Are their counterparts in JNU and elsewhere listening? Democracy is alive in Maharashtra, less so in UP, Delhi and elsewhere.