Everything that had to be said about Kanhaiya Kumar’s speech has been said already.
Yes, it was brilliant. It was beautiful in its simplicity, clarity and sincerity. It exuded positive energy, and reflected the essence of being young, and a student in particular. It was political, deeply political. It articulated in soft words a narrative of the nation the Congress, the Congress-like parties and even the Left failed to present to people at large. His speech lacked the toxicity and shrillness that one usually associates with hate-mongers of several hues who go by the generic description of the Indian Right these days.
Kanhaiya was assertive without being overtly combative. He threw a challenge to the party running the government and its ideological joint family without being abrasive. Only those with a compulsive obsessive dislike for youthful idealism and the vibrant spirit of the young or those blinded by the ideology of hatred would find fault with the content.
If Union HRD Minister Smriti Irani’s response in Parliament to Rohith Vemula and the JNU controversies made the BJP’s position on matters related to the nation and nationalism unambiguous, Kanhaiya’s speech stated in clear terms where the Left and Left-of-centre stand on both. It’s interesting that the rebuttal to the Right would come from a student, not from seasoned politicians. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has been mentioning the RSS on and off, but he never made it precise where the Congress stood. Neither was the BJP too open. Irani and Kanhaiya have cut through the haze and drawn the battle lines in the great ideological war.
In his address to the members of Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, senior minister Arun Jaitley said the battle of ideology had been won in JNU. “Those who were raising slogans to divide the country are now raising slogans in praise of the nation and waving the tricolour...” he said. But this proclamation of victory could be premature. The battle has just begun. Kanhaiya, as evident in his speech, stood his ground and showed no sign of backing out. Waving the tricolour and the accompanying slogans are only peripheral to the core issue.
Now that a clear position has been taken, it would be interesting to watch how both sides escalate the battle. The BJP and the Sangh Parivar believe that in nationalism, they have a trump card in their hands. With nothing much to show in the form of performance as the ruling establishment, they plan to play to emotions by making patriotism central to the mainstream political discourse. They have set the agenda; the rivals would have to prepare an effective counter to that. The upcoming assembly elections would be a big test for all. Most importantly, the results would indicate whether the people at large are as serious about nationalism as an issue as the political players.
If it fails, the BJP won’t have many emotive issues to fall back upon. It has used up most of its important weapons - secularism, intolerance, beef etc. If it wins, there would be no stopping its nationalism agenda. Victory in the elections would be construed as an endorsement. Expect the Hindutva forces to go hyper-active yet again. For other parties it would be a matter of life and death. If they are not convincing enough for the electorate they would lose massive political and ideological ground. Recovery would a Herculean task.
It would be fascinating how it all unfolds. The end result would re-define India as a nation. JNU is only the beginning and long engagement is ahead for all concerned. The BJP and the Sangh Parivar should put on hold the victory celebration.