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Sunday, March 6, 2016

Kanhaiya Kumar: One Trick Pony Or Rising Political Star


JNU Students Union President Kanhaiya Kumar has suddenly become a political sensation with prominent TV news anchors and journalists lining up to interview him and politicians across party lines giving sound bytes on live TV. Of course it followed his electrifying speech in JNU campus, hours after being released from jail which was broadcast by most TV channels and went viral with #KanhaiyaKumar trending globally on Twitter and his speech on YouTube, websites and other social media platforms getting millions of hits. Some pundits were quick to pronounce the birth of a new political star but one of the sanest voices in Indian media, Ravish Kumar actually asked the question, partly to Kanhaiya whom he was interviewing and partly to the viewers, if the student leaders new found fame is a flash in the pan or there is a possibility of it becoming something bigger. Though Kanhaiya made a brilliant and noble plea to delink personalities and individuals (especially himself) from battle between ideologies and principles, it is but a fact that it is because of his oratory skill that he is in the spotlight today,the political dynamics of the country have become too personality driven to be wished away.


 Also let us not forget that Kanhaiya has been in news for last three weeks, first being labeled as an anti national then drawing sympathy for being victim of vindictive system that first charged him for sedition based on doctored video clip and then being lynched by the ruling party's rough necks in black robes within the court premises even as the police turned a blind eye towards what was a clear violation of the Supreme Court's directive to ensure his security. But it was his fiery speech delivered in JNU campus and beamed by most TV channels right into our living rooms that made him an icon overnight. There was an apprehension that 20 days in jail, mob attack and an interim bail for 6 months with conditions that virtually put him at the mercy of the police and central government might have mellowed him down but what he delivered was a blistering attack on the BJP/RSS, the likes of which have rarely been seen. Yet he managed to avoid crossing the fine line which could have landed him in jail again by using wit, sarcasm and most importantly undeniable facts. Clearly the might of the government as well as the highly condemnable physical as well as verbal violence of its supporters, far from softening the student leader had in fact made him more resolute. However, it is not just resolve and conviction, Kanhaiya seems to have emerged from the jail with a kind of political maturity that has left a credible impact on the ongoing national political discourse.

Hence the question arises, would he make forays into mainstream politics and if he does, can he make a mark? CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury announced that Kanhaiya would campaign for the Left Front in the upcoming state election. However Kanhaiya hasn't indicated his readiness and if he remains as cool headed as he was on Thursday night, he is more likely to let it pass. Let's not forget his now famous speech was markedly different from his earlier statements as well as the kind of rhetoric left-wing student activists often offer. While winning the post of the president of JNUSU despite being fielded by a relatively weaker student  organization AISF, Kanhaiya Kumar has demonstrated amazing talent for being able to reach out to people beyond his own base. This seems to be also the case in his speech which was aimed at reaching out to the masses through the media and not just address to his leftist supporters or JNU students. Despite the customary and highly charged leftist slogans and "lal salaams", his eloquent oration with a rustic tinge was mainly against the BJP/RSS dispensation as well as ideology because of which he was able to instantly connect with millions of people from different sections, parties and ideologies as well as people who had voted for the BJP but were now getting disillusioned.

So it seems unlikely that a budding politician earning overnight fame after single-handedly taking on the Sangh and making them bite the dust would like to campaign in states like West Bengal and Kerala where BJP is virtually non-essential and the fight is mainly between the Congress and the Left Front (TMC in case of West Bengal). As of yet he has unflinching support of nearly all opposition parties with at least one Congress leader comparing him with Che Guevara but campaigning in WB election would erode the new-found support from not only Congress but also from most of the regional parties and their supporters. Given the dwindling support base of the Left parties among voters, Kanhaiya would be spending hard earned political capital very cheaply. At the same time, if he doesn't campaign and remains out of public space for a long time, he is likely to be forgotten in a matter of months. That's quite a dilemma but having seen a sample of the political maturity in Kanhaiya Kumar, it shouldn't surprise one to find him staying out of electoral politics for the time being but continue to occupy space in political discourse which can seriously damage BJP's image and poll prospects by 2019 elections.  Bounty placed on Kanhaiya's head (and tongue) by fringe Sangh outfits and BJP/RSS continued efforts to take control of universities, muzzle dissenting voices would ensure that he does.

Police crackdown on OccupyUGC movement protesters
 After all crackdown on JNU students was not an isolated incident even if it was drastic one, there is a pattern of the government, on request of ABVP, interfering in university campuses and asking the administration to come down hard on dissenting students. In May 2015, Dalits group Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle of IIT Madras was derecognized for criticizing PM Modi after the Dean received a letter from the Union HRD ministry. However, the group was reinstated after widespread protests but by then the Occupy UGC movement had begun to protest against UGC's decision on scrapping of non-NET Fellowship for research scholars. The protesters led mostly by JNU students were mercilessly thrashed by the Delhi police. Then came the Hyderabad Central University suspended student/researcher Rohith Vemula's suicide. Despite her award winning speech in the Parliament the fact remains that Minister of Human Resource Development Smriti Irani sent 5 letters to the HCU to investigate a clash between ABVP and Ambedkar Students Association but what is horrendous is that the subject of the letter clearly implied that the ASA members were to be viewed as casteists and anti-national. As a result the accused students suspension was confirmed, their stipends frozen and they were socially boycotted in the campus. Unable to cope up, a bright Dalit researcher, Rohith Vemula committed suicide.
Rohith Vemula and Kanhaiya Kumar - victims of an arrogant regime
The baton was picked up by several other university student unions but JNU in particular (Rohith Vemula's name has been constantly revoked though some hear it as Afzal ) and JNU was already on the radar of the BJP/RSS/ABVP. Now everyone knows what has been going on in JNU since February 9, but none of us actually know who raised those anti-India slogans, who doctored the video to implicate Kanhaiya and why no arrests have been made in either case!  Now, the ABVP is gunning for the head of the first female President of the Allahabad University Students Union, perhaps because she does not subscribe to the RSS ideology. So for Kanhaiya and other student leaders resisting the strong arm tactics of the government there are whole lot of issues to fight for and influence public opinion without getting into electoral politics. For now.

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