By Shishir Tripathi
Dressed in blue denims, white t-shirts and a black jacket he looked a regular college lad. The tricolour being waved at in the backdrop, with thousands of students cheering their comrade, was electrifying the air with patriotic fervour. The open air theatre at the administrative block could have been confused with the Wankhede Stadium as it was on 2 April, 2011; when massive crowd celebrated India’s historic win in ICC world cup.
Kanhaiya Kumar, JNUSU president who had been in jail since 12 February on sedition charges and was released on bail on Thursday, reached the JNU campus in the evening and addressed the students. He spoke about his ‘jail experience’ and “spoke from the heart”. As he started speaking he transformed himself into an astute political leader, perhaps in perfect grasp of the support pouring in for him.
He spoke with conviction and confidence. Angst against the government was sarcasm -coated with digs and jibes. He smiled his way all through his address.
In his three-week stay in jail, he must have ‘introspected’ on a lot of things but hardly would have thought that how swiftly the student leader that he was before 12 February has been transformed into something ‘much bigger’ by the people who feel he is fighting for them.
Or maybe, perhaps, he understood this transformation and as a JNU student Tara Shankar puts it “addressed the nation and not a campus”
To put in simply what Tara Shankar said: “Kanhaiya was addressing the country and its people and not JNU and its students. He was addressing the concerns which matters to us as citizens of India and not just as students of this great campus."
While the content of the speech was good, the exhilarating effect it had on the crowd was more to do with his transformation and timing. JNU is a place where such speeches calling for social revolution and questioning the government are a common affair. What was different on Thursday evening was the fact that a student leader who “became a symbol of resistance against what is wrong” spoke after a long wait.
“He did not burden us with his sob story. He made us laugh. He joked on absurdity of the entire episode. He was fearless and shows no sign of being intimidated”, said a student commenting after his speech”.
While talking about his jail experiences, he said that the constable who was probing the case told him that he was waiting to thrash him on his arrival but changed his mind after meeting him.
“The anecdotal reference was to show he can connect with anyone, even with his adversaries. You know this is what helped him to win the student union election. He can instantly connect to people. In jail, he could connect to prison officials, and here, he could do the same with this massive crowd”, a student, who was all smiles, said.
From his ‘farzi tweet karne wale’ to his reference to many “shagufas” of the current government to his reminder that it is not easy to get admission in JNU and neither it is easy to silence those in JNU, there were many instances where thunderous applause was mixed with deafening laughter.
As he ended his speech, chants of azaadi -“in India and not from India”- filled the air. And with the air of a rockstar, Kanhaiya Kumar held the mike and sang the aazadi slogan: “to hum kya chahte, azaadi. Zor se bolo, azaadi, manuwaad se azaadi...”
What followed Kanhaiya's speech was long hours of discussion in most of the hostel rooms and dhabas in the campus. The Facebook pages of the students and faculty, admirers and supporters of Kumar were flooded with comments and videos and pictures of the speech.
Shehla Rasheed, JNUSU vice president who was leading the protest in the last few weeks, calling for the release of Kanhaiya posted the video of Kumar’s speech on her Facebook page with a crisp and short comment “#StandWithJNU You have to watch this speech to know why RSS-ABVP wants to #ShutDownJNU.”
Alumni of JNU from all over the world started commenting on the event. Jamsheed Rizwani, an old JNU student living in France wrote “A wonderful speech.....to put back the nation on the rails of equality and justice... Yes azaadi will continue to reverberate in our ears..... it must.... the change must come....”He also asked for the transcript of the speech to translate it into French.
Post the speech, it was another sleepless night at JNU. But for a change, what kept students awake on Thursday night was not the anxiety over the future of their jailed 'comrades', but was the excitement over their first victory.
At the break of dawn, students were readying themselves for another fight. Their two ‘comrades’ are still in jail and as a student said “ladai abhi baki hai mere dost.”