Kanhaiya, how has he disappointed his well-wishers! When he was arrested on sedition charges a few weeks ago, many felt sorry for him. The overwhelming opinion was that here’s a young man who was being harassed needlessly for expressing his views. None of these appeared anti-national or seditious. The police were using a sledge-hammer blow for something they could have managed with a needle prick. Of course, politics was quick to kick in and he became the central point of a national debate. After holding out for a couple days he was taken into police custody.
The debate and the sense of outrage consumed the country all through his 22 days in jail, leaving many on opposite sides of the big Left-Right ideological divide. He figured prominently in the ‘nationalism’ debate in Parliament. On his release, he delivered a speech that touched hearts, and minds too. He was appreciated for his candour and clarity of thought. He was duly applauded for being sincere and courageous. Why, he was even compared with Arvind Kejriwal. A week after his release, the goodwill is dissipating fast. It appears he talks too much, does not realise where to draw the line and as someone who is getting carried away by all the attention he is getting.
A week can be a long time to change perceptions. Back then everyone was prepared to indulge him, ignore anything unpalatable he uttered. He, after all, was a student. Students carry certain innocence about them. They are still unexposed to the harsh realities of the world, thus uncorrupted in their thoughts. They are idealistic and some idealism is always good for one’s moral health. In Kanhaiya people saw a bit of their youthful days. Even when he transgressed limits, he was allowed the benefit of the doubt. He was not considered so much a political person, just a young man who is impressionable. Of course, JNU was applauded for keeping alive its tradition of settling issues through debates.
Not so any more. A week on, he has made public his views on several matters. He has spoken about human rights violations, against AFSPA and about security personnel raping women in Kashmir. He was part of the crowd that heckled Professor Makarand Paranjape when he was speaking on nationalism on the JNU campus. We, the outsiders, cannot decide what Kanhaiya speaks but we certainly have the right to feel let down when he goes overboard with his statements. He no more appears innocent. His identity takes a clear political contour and he becomes no different than the routine political animal which we secretly dislike so much.
The military, as an institution, should be kept out of frivolous everyday discourse, political or otherwise. All civilised nations do that. It has a defined role to play and too much of its involvement in civilian matters dilutes its exclusivity and erodes the public respect for it. The Right-wingers, obsessed with the muscular approach to the world, have been doing this for sometime now through excessive idolisation, which is a worrying sign in itself.
A section of the Left has gone to the other end by almost disparaging it through excessive criticism. The defence forces command respect among Indian masses because they are a neutral force, beyond the nastiness of the civilian world. Once it is not seen as one, it should ring alarm bells for the democracy. Kanhaiya by making statements on the army looks irresponsible. Perhaps he is parroting someone’s line or perhaps he is not intelligent enough to understand the implication of what he is talking. It was fine so long as he spoke about farmers, the disprivileged and their unfairness treatment, but in case of the army he has overreached.
He should stop now and go back to studies. It’s good time since he is still has some goodwill left, but it does not take long to shrink in public esteem.