Home / Opinion / Kanhaiya Kumar: A new politician is born

“Bharat se nahin bhaiyon, Bharat me azaadi maang rahe hain. Bharat se lootne waalon se azaadi maang rahe hain." (We are not asking for independence from India. We are asking for independence while we are in India. From the people who are looting India.)

Last night, just as I was sitting down to write a review of Roadies 8, I turned on the TV to watch the most riveting hour of non-fiction television I have seen in weeks. In an hour, I saw, the birth of a politician. Within two hours of Kanhaiya Kumar being released from jail on interim bail, he was at Jawaharlal Nehru University making a speech for over an hour—without hesitating, surrounded by thousands of students and without offering to cut off his head and hand it over to anyone. In a week marked by what can only be called a one-act play by Smriti Irani, a strangely aggressive speech by Rahul Gandhi and another speech by Narendra Modi which seemed to focus primarily on taking digs at junior Gandhi, Kanhaiya’s speech was heartwarming. I almost started clapping at certain points.

Finance minister Arun Jaitley should really be proud of Kanhaiya. Another student political leader has been born because of yet another government trying to stem dissent and freedom of speech. After spending 23 days in jail, based on no evidence, Kanhaiya didn’t seem the worse for wear. In fact, jail seemed to have been a shot of energy in his arm.

I’ve never been one for students spending college time focusing on politics. I studied at Jadavpur University’s English department, which was full of members from the Students Federation of India who seemed to have been in college forever. They were angsty, doped out and didn’t do much—much like most politicians in Bengal. But a fresh-faced, clean shaven Kanhaiya standing up, not whining about how he’d been beaten up by lawyers or made to dress up absurdly in riot gear while entering court, renewed my faith in student politics and left me—pushing 40 now—hopeful that India’s youth may just be what the country needs.

For over an hour, Kanhaiya spoke for what he believed in, speaking with more integrity than any politician has in decades. It was odd though, that 50 minutes into his speech, NDTV 24X7 stopped telecasting it.

That no one had paid heed to justice Pratibha Rani’s court order giving Kanhaiya interim bail is obvious. In the order, justice Rani had written, “It has to be kept in mind by all concerned that they are enjoying this freedom [of speech] only because our borders are guarded by our armed and paramilitary forces." Kanhaiya Kumar’s interim bail was dependent on specific factors. One, that he will “not participate actively or passively in any activity which may be termed as anti-national". He is expected to “control anti-national activities in campus" once back in JNU, and a member of the JNU faculty or a family member must “exercise control on the petitioner not only with respect to appearance before the Court but also to ensure that his thoughts and energy are channelized in a constructive manner".

That he was channelizing his energy and thoughts in a constructive manner was more than obvious—maybe not the way justice Rani had envisioned—if you heard him speak. Surrounded by thousands of students sitting behind him and standing in front of him, Kanhaiya spoke calmly, often using humour even while conveying the most serious of comments and messages.

He spoke of how well-planned the entire sedition saga had been. That when the Occupy UGC protests were getting out of hand, attention was deflected to Rohith Vemula’s death, when that became too difficult to handle, attention was deflected to JNU. He spoke of how the government will now agree that scholarships and fellowships for MPhil and PhD will not be scrapped, and keep them at 5,000 and 8,000 so that they don’t have to increase the scholarship amount ultimately.

Taking a dig at the doctored videos which helped put him in the clink, he said, “If you speak against the government then their cyber cell will send your doctored videos and count the number of condoms in your hostel."

He mentioned how he wanted to climb into the TV screen when he saw Narendra Modi speaking and wanted to say, “Adarniya Modiji thodi Hitler ki bhi baat kijiye. Chhod dijiye Hitler, Mussolini ki baat kar lijiye." (Respected Modiji, talk a bit about Hitler too. Leave Hitler, talk about Mussolini.)

There were many quotable quotes.

When starting to speak of his mother, Kanhaiya said of Modi, “Kabhi mann ki baat karte hain, kabhi ma ki bhi baat karlen." (You keep speaking of Mann Ki Baat, sometimes speak of mothers too.) Kanhaiya said that 60% of students in JNU are women, and it is one of the few universities which actually follows the reservation quota allowing students from economically and socially backward castes to study and become research scholars. Unlike Modi who on Thursday spoke about how he had emerged from the lap of poverty yet again with drama and pathos, Kanhaiya, who had just emerged from jail, spoke of his family calmly. He mentioned how he’s never talked of his family before, but he wanted to state that he is able to do a PhD, thanks to JNU and scholarships, because his family survives on 3,000 a month. They simply cannot afford to send him to college.

He spoke of how the police he met in jail said that even they want freedom from corruption. And how he told them that the fight was for azaadi from the Sanghis who farzi tweets. And the cops said they want freedom from jaativadi (casteism). That they told him that they had wanted to study also and understand the problems of India and fight for the country’s betterment, but didn’t have the opportunity or education to join JNU. And that this is the voice of the poor that the government wants to stem.

“Rajneetik loktantra se nahin chalega. Samajik loktantra chahiye." (Political democracy won’t do. Socialist democracy is what is needed.)

“Hum chahten hain chaprasi ka beta aur rashtrapati ka beta ek school mein padh sake." (We want a world where a peon’s son will study in the same school as the President’s son.)

He reminded the students to not forget that 69% of people voted against Modi. Talking of spiralling prices, he said, “Aapne har har keh ke hara diya, aaj kal arhar keh ke pareshan ho rahe hain." (You made him win saying har har, now you are concerned about lentil prices.)

He said the HRD minister spoke of the soldiers at the border and while he respected the army and the soldiers at the border, what about the hundreds of farmers committing suicide within the borders of India?

“Sangharsh ko tum dabaa nahin paoge, jitna dabaaoge, utna khadein honge, uthenge." (The revolution cannot be suppressed. It will rise as much as you suppress it.)

Finally, he said, he thought he knew what was rankling the powers to be. “Ek Rohith ko maare ho, jo andolan ko tum dabana chahte the, woh andolna aaj kitna bada ho gaya hai." (You killed one Rohith, but the protests you wanted to stop, has today taken on immense proportions.)

He ended with his call for azaadi—azaadi bhukhmari se, azaadi Sanghwad se. (freedom from hunger, freedom from the diktats of the Sangh.)

Whatever your political leanings may be, I cannot understand how being a citizen of this country you cannot be pleased—somewhere in your shrivelled, jaded heart—that the youth want equality for all, they want to end corruption, casteism, hunger, poverty and most of all they want education. Those are the right priorities, according to me.

If I was part of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the HRD minister especially, I would request to meet Kanhaiya pronto and ask him to at least assist in speech writing and speech delivery. It would both act as a peace offering from the government’s side and help them ultimately win over voters—an absolute win-win if you ask me.

While I give Kanhaiya yet another standing ovation, to celebrate a fabulous speech and what seems to be the birth of tomorrow’s neta, I’d recommend you to sing along to this video. It’s doctored, but I don’t think anyone minds.

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