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The Kanhaiya Phenomenon

By Vijaya Kumar Marla

28 April, 2016

As one commentator said a few days back, “it is not easy to escape the limelight, if you happen to be Kanhaiya Kumar.” Well said, but why? Why at all, a student leader has been catapulted into the center stage of Indian politics, whether he likes it or not?

There is a surfeit of opinions, accusations, abuses, open threats, praises, adoration, and good and bad advise heaped in the last 2 months on this young man from an obscure Bihat village in Begusarai, Bihar, whom only his fellow students, faculty and a few of the AISF and CPI cadres knew before the tumultuous February 9th event at JNU, Delhi.

The question keeps on haunting the press, politicians as well as general public, as to why it is so that Kanhaiya is still in the limelight even after more than 75 days of the fateful February 9th episode. Mr. Chandan Mitra, the BJP MP had commented a week after Kanhaiya’s release on bail on 3rd March that he will fade away in a few days. Many who are vociferously against him as well as those that had developed a soft corner for the boyish looking young man thought that all this attention and publicity is just a flash in the pan and rightly so!

He was catapulted to fame after his mesmerizing speech immediately after his release on 3rd March. His speech was telecast live on all but a few major national TV channels. If you open Google and type ‘kanh’, you get not less than 7 lakh items on Kanhaiya Kumar. His speech on that eventful night was brilliant, but I still feel the best is yet to come from him. In 2013 January-February, there was a 3-day workshop on “Civil Society and Democratic Institutions” held at JNU, Delhi, which I had attended and presented a paper. There were at least 4 papers read out by JNU students and I found all of them to be noteworthy and incisive. Especially Kanhaiya Kumar’s paper on “Issues of Caste and Class”, if I remember the title correctly, was well above the mark and I had commended the JNU professors on the excellent quality of the papers presented by their students and their incisive analysis.

If you observe Kanhaiya’s speeches and interviews, we can discern a definite direction in which he intends to go. First of all, he says that the lack of unity between the Left and Dalit sections has been the main reason for the rise of Hindutva Right.

In the initial days of his release from bail, he was no doubt trying to dispel the shadow of false charges leveled on him, with his affirming his faith in the Constitution, democracy and responsibility of students towards the nation, which had given them the opportunity to enter the portals of such a hallowed institution as JNU.

But barring a few controversial statements about Indian Army atrocities and on Bharat Mata Ki Jai, he was focusing his attack throughout on Hindutva, false nationalism and attack on educational institutions. To be fair to Kanhaiya, he was not the first to say what he said. Many people had commented, written and openly declared before, what Kanhaiya said now and there were ample official documents to prove his arguments right. But why is it that only Kanhaiya was targeted? I feel it is not out of place to mention here the way the Hindutva trolls had created a frenzy of anger against him - maybe it was pre-planned by the Nagpur bosses to find a scapegoat for launching their torrent of pseudo-nationalist rhetoric. The plan went well in the first phase, which is now all too familiar to be repeated here. First plant some people with mufflers, sensing the opportunity to create trouble at an event called to mark Afzal Guru’s hanging. Call a famous TV channel which is in cohorts with RSS in advance, knowing full well that there will be trouble. Some slogans were ostensibly raised by the same outsiders and then take out a video of Kanhaiya’s speech on 11th with Azadi slogans and doctor it to show that Kanhaiya, Umar Khalid and Arinban had shouted anti-India slogans. Get Kanhaiya arrested on sedition charges on the tip-off from ABVP and create frenzy that JNU is a hotbed of anti-India activities. Mobs of street urchins and roughnecks parade round the streets issuing threats to JNU students. Even the Home Minister chimes in and refers to a purported tweet from a terrorist to say that JNU students are in cohort with terrorists. So far so good for the Nagpur bosses. The stage has been set for launching their campaign nationwide.

But something went wrong in the process. BJP was planning to conduct a 3-day national campaign on nationalism, which never saw the light of day. First of all, they could not cow down the JNU into submission. Many other universities joined in support of JNU. There was a tsunami of solidarity not only from every corner of India, but from all across the world also. By now, Kanhaiya had become an international celebrity. What followed is well known and is history now. Starting with the murders of progressive writers Dhabolkar, Pansare and Kalburgi and the return of awards by writers, scientists and other prominent personalities, the people who had opposed the rise of Sangh Parivar to power were really not much hopeful that there will be turn around anytime soon. Power had blinded the Sanghis in to unbounded arrogance and they began launching offensive tirades against anyone who crosses their path. But one intended consequence of the RSS bosses plan was to find scapegoats for their campaign and make the student leaders as targets of vituperative verbal and physical attacks. To my horror, I happened to come across a video clip of a few unkempt street urchins declaring in Delhi, with India Gate as their backdrop, that they will kill the JNU leaders and save the country. Is this the kind of patriotic fervour that BJP wants to create and cash up on? It is commonsense to understand that unleashing roughneck anti-social elements into the streets to incite violence will lead to bloodshed and loss of valuable lives and ultimate destruction of civil society. But then, it on such a mass frenzy that the RSS thrives, right from its inception.

BJP’s campaign against JNU virtually fizzled out and morphed in to vituperative attacks. Kanhaiya was manhandled in Patiala Court. The attackers declared that they will even go to Tihar Jail and kill him. There was no remorse on either side when photos of the Kanhaiya attackers posing with top BJP leaders went public. All through this, the RSS bosses might have thought that it will work in their favour. True, some people might still be under the mistaken notion that Kanhaiya and his friends have shouted anti-national slogans, influenced by the Sangh propaganda, but that number is dwindling fast with evidence surfacing that the charges are false and the videos shown as evidence are doctored. The general mood of people is slowly turning in favour of the victims. And to the utter dismay of the RSS/BJP bosses, Kanhaiya declared that Rohit Vemula is his icon and there was a favourable atmosphere taking shape towards Dalit-Left unity, with the slogan Laal Salaam - Neel Salaam. The IT cell of RSS/BJP had worked overtime to manufacture public opinion in their favour. Anybody who objects to the foul language is targeted with more foul language and threats of rape and abuse were heaped on the meek protesters. No net decency here. They are free to roam the streets of cyberspace, armed with the foulest and choicest abusive language. But even this had gone wrong. If you follow the readers’ reactions, the RSS trolls continue with choicest abuses on anyone who opposes them, but many many voices had come up telling them decisively to shut up.

Kanhaiya’s visits to Hyderabad, Vijayawada, Nagpur and recently to Mumbai and Pune, notwithstanding the physical attacks and threats, had shown that his popularity is on the rise. Thousands of people are turning up, even if the venue had to be shifted repeatedly. There was pressure from the authorities not to allow his meetings in public and private spaces. But in spite of all the odds, the turnout was impressive, beyond all expectations. But what is more important is the subtle shift in the focus of Kanhaiya from generalities to specific issues of hunger, social injustice and youth problems.

The Modi wave was manufactured on the eve of last general election in a no-holds barred propaganda campaign, said to cost anywhere up to Rs. 5000 crores. The voters were overwhelmed with glitz and rock-star style publicity. The IT cell of Modi campaign had utilized the social media to the hilt. Every young person was promised a job and Rs. 15 lakh in their bank accounts, once the ethereal black money stashed abroad was brought back, that too within 100 days. “Sab ka saath, sab ka vikas” – sounds good but never saw the light of day. The same stink everywhere, but the citizens are fleeced with additional burden of Swatch Bharat Cess. Pensioners are the losers, with their lifeline, the interest on pf income was sought to be taxed. Changes in labour laws and reduction of pf interest rate and restrictions on pf withdrawl had added salt to the wounds of the working masses, who are already badgered by anti-labour reforms. With the Rohit Vemula affair and the nefarious role played by BJP ministers and leaders in branding Dalit activism as anti-national, had not gone down well with the Dalit youth. The Dadri lynching and the horrible murder of a Dalit family, coupled with the irresponsible statements of BJP ministers, all that happening in quick succession and had alienated the Dalit community from BJP. Coupled to it is the heavily ill-timed tirade of RSS on reservations that had cost BJP power in Bihar. But either the Nagpur bosses are in a make-believe world of their own or are totally oblivious to the realities of the day, but they do not seem to have realized the basic fact that when you alienate a sizeable section, especially the Dalits and Adivasis who constitute about a third of the country’s population and the younger generation, who form 70% of the nation’s population – you will not be getting them back any time soon, unless you completely change course and manage to convince those alienated that they have nothing to fear. But sadly, there seems to be no such remorse or introspection.

The basic fact is that with the World Bank mandated neo-liberal policies being followed by the ruling dispensation in this country in the last 25 years, both at the center and in the states, coupled with the changes in production and distribution technologies brought about by ever changing technology, there is just no way all these crores of aspiring youths can be provided with jobs. Modi’s high profile publicity pitch about “make In India” turned out to be a dud, what with the fact that the world is already overburdened with production overcapacity and competition is intense. India at this stage cannot become a world manufacturing powerhouse, on the model of China – something drastic has to happen for that to be realized, like the Chinese economy collapsing and disappearing without a trace – which at best is a sadistic pipedream. The much hyped FDI is just not able to create any new jobs. India has seen the lowest growth in new employment generation since 2009, a mere 1.35 lakh new jobs created, where as there is an urgent need to create 2 crore jobs annually. Heavy industries such as Bhilai and Bokaro employed upwards of 50000 people at one time, while today, a modern steel mill with even higher capacity than those old behemoths employs not more than 1200 people. And the service sector can only absorb workers in a definite proportion to the manufacturing jobs - so no hope here also. And the repeated suggestions from economic experts that unless livelihoods are created in rural areas, there is just no hope of absorbing the crores of young people in to the economic process. But such a move works against the logic of neo-liberal capitalism and so a no-go for the ruling class. And let us not forget disgruntled and ‘lost-faith in the system’ youth can be potentially dangerous to the ruling class.

It is this that the Left wants to utilize for building up a united youth movement against social and economic inequality, unemployment and the escalating attacks on the rights of workers and peasants. Let us not forget that every household in this country has an unemployed youth and most of them are from poor working class and agricultural background. It is but natural that they will rally against attack on the poor. And the combination of young Dalit, Adivasi, Backward Caste and rural poor with the working class and the peasantry is a formidable combination. The media and commentators made much noise about Kanhaiya not campaigning in the election in the 5 states going for polls now. It is not that the Left leaders had backed out of the move to field Kanhaiya in the campaign. They had ultimately felt that building a united youth movement is far more important than gaining a few more assembly seats. This is something which most of those outside of the Left fold fail to understand. For the Left, building a mass movement is far more important than winning a few more seats in polls. For most of the sundry political parties, the whole political process starts with elections and ends with elections. But not so for the Left. That is the reason why, even though for example, the CPI had lost most of the elections it had contested, its cadre base is intact, which is a rarity in any other bourgeoisie political party. There the moment their party loses power, the cadres jump into the other camp.

So to conclude, the Left is following a strategy of building up a mass movement and naturally Kanhaiya is driving in that direction. The propaganda that was unleashed that Kanhaiya will soon jump into either Congress or JDU is baseless as he comes from a family with three generations active in communist politics and he will work consciously for his ideology. This fact might be beyond the comprehension of many commentators, but it is a fact. And most of the reports simply look at his criticism of Modi, but not the direction of his attack and the mobilization being built up around this movement.

Vijaya Kumar Marla is a retired engineer. Writes regular columns in Telugu dailies on Science, Society and History. Email: marlavk@yahoo.com




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