Kanhaiya Kumar’s rise to fame and glory is a riveting story.
He arrived almost as if from nowhere and in exactly 22 days, turned into a living, moving Statue of Liberty for his believers.
The vast number of his believers (numbers are rising faster than a bullet train) and followers now include the high and mighty intellectuals, political leaders of various parties and hues, a section of the polity, various strata of the society and also a dominant section of media.
Access to Kanhaiya, or even a photograph or a selfie with him is the latest style statement and the fastest way to be counted as a bona fide ‘liberal’, an upholder of the ‘freedom of speech’.
After his release from Tihar jail and joining his comrades on JNU ramparts, several prominent personalities vied for a photograph with the student leader and then duly broadcast it on whatever medium they had access to. "Exclusive" media interview, of course, was the most natural corollary.
The world, or least the better part of India, now knows that he lives in the rarefied liberal zone of Jawaharlal Nehru University and wants "Azaadi" (freedom), which he qualifies as “Azaadi not from, but in India,” whatever it means to him and his legion of believers.
His Azaadi protagonists would have a hard time explaining how, had there been no azaadi or democracy in India, Kanhaiya would have been able to become what he has today. If anything, the sedition charges against him served to make him an even bigger star.
In a media conference broadcast live on all national channels, Kanhaiya said: “through you I want to convey a message to world, and whole country.....the country has to be saved, democracy has to be saved...”
A news flash stated: “Kanhaiya will campaign for the Left in West Bengal and Kerala Assembly elections." A little later in response to a question, he said “Main neta nahi ek vidyarthi hun. (I am not a political leader I am a student)... My priority is student politics.”
In fact, Kanhaiya Kumar's domination of media space was such that even the Election Commission’s announcement of poll dates in five states was reduced to a footnote.
TV and still cameras are almost totally focused on the student leader. His speech was broadcast live and repeated in loop on various TV channels for long hours on late Thursday night and again on Friday afternoon, an honour that is not reserved for even the most established leader of a mainstream national party leave alone a regional party.
Kanhaiya belongs to CPI or its student wing AISF. His party has practically become defunct and completely irrelevant in Indian politics. It rides piggyback on CPI(M) and has only one member in Lok Sabha, CN Jayadevan from Thrissur in Kerala. In Rajya Sabha, too, CPI has only one member in D Raja and that also due to AIADMK chief and Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalitha's benevolence.
But Kanhaiya’s personal or political appeal transcends boundaries of CPI, or the whole of Left. After struggling for years in politics, a D Raja or a Sitaram Yechuri does not have even a fraction of the fame Kanhaiya has. The JNU student’s name and face is more recognisable to people than perhaps the whole of Left taken together.
To Kanhaiya’s credit, he is no longer just another rising Left leader. He may not be a leader yet, in conventional terms, but mighty leaders of top line political parties -- Congress, Left, JD(U), AAP are his followers. He does not follow a Rahul Gandhi, a D Raja, a Yechuri, a Nitish Kumar, a KC Tyagi, a Arvind Kejriwal but they all are his followers.
The man from Begusarai is a hero in his own right. He has already achieved azaadi, or whatever he was shouting for. By birth he belonged to the Manuwadi tradition but his words and deeds suggest he is azaad now. Those who didn't know about Anganwadi sewikas (his mother is an Anganwadi worker) now finally know the term and which government scheme it refers to.
His institution JNU, of course, was already world famous. The fame (or infamy) has by default rubbed onto AISF, SFI, DSU and ABVP too.
Kanhaiya perhaps would be an only example where someone becomes a hero almost overnight without his having to do anything.
He can blame or even thank the government or Delhi Police for slapping the sedition charges against him for whatever happened on 9 February in JNU.
Three weeks of jail, a period during which a battery of top lawyers argued for him in lower court, in High Court and finally in Supreme Court; students, teachers and journalists came out on road to seek his release and slam the government.
Hours of news feeds, thousands of TBs of digital space and tonnes of news print were spent on his advocacy. All ensuring instant stardom the moment he steps out of jail. If he makes the right noises (he has already started on a promising note by slamming the usual suspects – the BJP, RSS and Narendra Modi) and makes the right moves, the world is a stage for Kanhaiya Kumar.