By Prakash Nanda
Over the last three days, the national media has extensively reported on Kanhaiya Kumar, the president of the Jawharlal Nehru University Students' Union (JNUSU), who has come out on conditional bail from the Tihar jail after being charged by the Delhi Police with sedition charges. On the night of the release, he gave a mesmerizing speech that was telecast live by almost all the TV channels. The next day, he addressed a live media conference. The print media has not remained behind in both news and views, giving an impression that India is Kanhaiya and Kanhaiya is India.
I too heard Kanhaiya speaking. He came out as a forceful orator, one of the best I have heard. No wonder why a nonpolitical retired civil servant friend (who had occupied high positions as an IAS officer), my senior in my university days, says: “I was greatly impressed to hear Kanhaiya Kumar's speech live after his release from Tihar. I liked his fluent oratory, conviction and commitment to social democracy. He has appealed to a vast majority of the people perhaps because he is superb in Hindi. And his thought process is amazingly coherent, bereft of vindictiveness. Certainly a role model for the nextgen politicians of the country. I wish him a long and fruitful political career ahead.”
This is the best observation on Kanhaiya that I have heard from my colleagues, friends and critics. There cannot be any second opinion on his oratorical skills. As far as political communication is concerned, he is as good as, if not better than, former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and present Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Kanhaiya is every inch a politician. But he, and here many “bhakts” of Kanhaiya will not agree, has no scholarly touch. A research scholar that he is in India’s premier university, Kanhaiya does not appear to have any intellectual depth, if his speech was any indication.
Let us have a look at the content of his speech. It was full of “kranti” (revolution) within the confines of the Indian Constitution (obviously it is because of this Constitution that a person of his background could study in JNU); menace of capitalism; caste exploitation; communalism, particularly spread by RSS; evils like Modi and Smriti Irani, particularly their ‘conspiracy” against the downtrodden etc.
Now, what is new in all these points, particularly coming from a person with communist leanings (Kanhaiya’s father has been a follower of Communist party of India and Kanhaiya belongs to the AISF, the student wing of the CPI)? Day in and day out, he must have heard and practiced all these “krantikari” (revolutionary) talks. “Lal Salaam”, “RSS murdabad”, “capitalism murdabad” , “imperialism murdabad” and America murdabad” have been the staple slogans of every Leftist in the country ( RSS-bashing of course has been a little more broad-based to include the Congress party as well). I have been hearing all these my childhood and I heard them most recently from Kanhaiya the other day.
This brings me back to the student politics in JNU and some of the JNUSU presidents who have opted for politics as their careers and made marks in national politics. Let me reveal that I was a student leader in JNU and member of JNUSU. From my experience, I can talk of Prakash Karat (I heard him during election time only as he had already left the campus by the time I came to the JNU), Debiprasad Tripathi, better known as DPT and Sitaram Yechury as presidents and late Divijay Singh(one of my closest friends) as general secretary.
I came to know from DPT (who has always treated me with love and affection as an elder brother) the other day that Congress leader Ashwini Kumar (a cabinet minister under the prime ministership of Manmohan Singh) is also a JNU alumnus. Then there is my contemporary Nirmala Sitaraman, who, like me, was not aligned with any political party as such, though she did not contest elections to enter the JNUSU.
Karat, DPT and Sita were outstanding speakers, but unlike Kanhaiya, they were (and are) great intellectuals. Had they opted for academics, each one of them would have been a great scholar of international fame. Kanhaiya can be said to be in Divijay’s mould – fluency in Hindi with contents that could appeal a bigger general crowd than smaller intellectual gatherings. Of course, Kanhaiya will have an edge over Divijay when it comes to manner of speech delivery.
Now, let us see the careers of these leaders. Karat became the chief of the CPM, India’s largest Communist party that believes in parliamentary democracy. Sita is CPM’s present chief; in addition, he is also a Member of Parliament in Rajya Sabha, having been elected by the West Bengal Assembly. DPT is also Rajya Sabha member, but he has come through the Maharashtra assembly, thanks to the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party of which he is also a General Secretary. Ashwini Kumar, again a Rajya Sabha member, represents Punjab. Divijay, who came to both Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha at different times, represented JD(U), then an ally of the BJP (though his last stint in the Lok Sabha was as an Independent after he was denied a ticket by Nitish Kumar). Nirmala is a BJP member in Rajya Sabha, courtesy BJP’s ally Telugu Desam in Andhra Pradesh.
If we go a little deeper, we can see from the above that for any JNU student leader to do well in national politics, he or she must have an established political party for support. The bigger the party or the party’s alliance is, greater is one’s achievement. A party like CPM or NCP will make you a MP at the most; but for becoming a minister, you need to be from a bigger national party like Ashwini Kumar from the Congress, Divijay from a BJP-ally and Nirmala from the BJP.
So where does Kanhaiya, who, going by the predictions or impressions of his “bhakts” inside and outside the media, will be the nemesis of none other than Modi, stand in reality? His party, the CPI, is literally living on the oxygen supplied by the CPM in Indian politics. In other words, Kanhaiya does not have any political future at the national level if he sticks with the CPI, that too at a time when the CPM is battling hard to regain its past glory. Kanhaiya cannot go the BJP, given his strong ideological provenance. I think Congress is a party that he should look forward to. I will love to see Kanhaiya as a Congress MP or minister.
But then, there is every possibility of Kanhaiya spurning my unsolicited advice. He could well say that for him, principles and loyalty matter more than opportunism; he could give a wonderful lecture on why he will love to be a pauper in CPI rather than being a king in Congress. And my respect for him will further go up if he says so. However, I have a problem with his “bhakts”. Addressing a gathering of 3000 students (at the most) in JNU before TV channels is one thing but winning an election to enter Parliament as a direct challenger to Modi (now, one feels sad for Arvind Kejriwal, who was only comparing himself with Modi) is a different ball game. But the “bhakts” are adding to Kanhaiya’s ego that Modi has not been doing anything of late other than conspiring against him, day in and day out. That is the surest way of ruining a very promising political talent, who, otherwise, should be nurtured to enliven and reinforce Indian democracy.