By Vijay Darda | 07-03-2016
Last week we witnessed one of the wonders of Indian democracy. A 28-year-old young student whose name would not have even ring a bell hardly a month ago, emerged after three weeks in the Tihar jail on an alleged sedition charge, and within two hours saw that his extempore speech to his student friends was beamed live for 45 minutes across television channels. Then it reverberated across all barriers on social media. In these days of everything changing in an instant, Kanhaiya Kumar, the president of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU) has been transformed into a political celebrity.
True, he continues to assert that he is a student, and not a politician but then let us not forget that his one speech has achieved something that the combined might of all the opposition parties has been struggling to achieve for the last two years. He has defined the struggle against the BJP/RSS/Modi sarkar in terms that make simple sense to the common man. He has spoken a language that is understood by the masses, and now from his lips the slogan ‘Azaadi’ gets a new meaning. ‘Azaadi’ so long associated with the desire of Kashmir to have a separate state has now become freedom-from casteism, deprivation, exploitation, hunger, poverty and is no longer an anti-national slogan.
Kanhaiya has come across as a warm-hearted, clear headed passionate young man who is free from rancor and bitterness. This maturity is much beyond his age, and the fact that he has exhibited an ability to put behind him the torture, the humiliation and the agony of the time between his arrest and release on interim bail for six months speaks a lot about his upbringing in farmers’ family in the backward district of Begusarai in Bihar. Just as we could not foresee the emergence of a Kanhaiya Kumar about a month ago, it would be futile to predict his future course of action. Whether he takes to mainstream politics or not, is not the issue, the main element that needs to be considered is what are the forces and ideas that led to the creation of the situation in which a student leader could grab the nation’s attention and create ripples across the globe.
It does not require any rocket science to conclude that Kanhaiya Kumar is a product of the RSS/BJP ideology and the ham-handed manner in which the Modi sarkar functions while carrying out the diktats of the Sangh parivar. The RSS/BJP ideology is never at ease with the multi-diversity of India and wants to impose its world view on the entire country. It sees JNU as the complete anti-thesis of its ideas, and as articulated by its foremost spokesperson Dr Subramaniam Swamy wants to shut down the university for its ‘anti-national’ character. The same sentiment is reflected when the BJP president Amit Shah raps Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi for expressing solidarity with the JNU students. The zeal of the Modi sarkar in ‘furthering’ this agenda of the RSS is reflected in the alacrity with which the charge of sedition was leveled against Kanhaiya Kumar.
In so doing the Modi sarkar misreads the 2014 mandate that came its way so spectacularly. With a majority of 282 in the Lok Sabha and the right sort of cooperative attitude in the Rajya Sabha, the government could have had its way on key economic issues with a little give and take. But as several members from the opposition benches have been pointing out in the Parliament, the Modi sarkar was voted to power on the slogan of ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas,” and not for pursuing the RSS agenda that appropriates nationalism and patriotism as the exclusive domains of its supporters and dubs all others as traitors. Yet, we have seen a series of well-orchestrated events that have regularly diverted the focus on such divisive issues, that do not fetch any positive dividends to the nation as a whole. After all, whose interest is served by dividing the nation into ‘patriots’ and ‘traitors’ as defined by RSS.
Kanhaiya Kumar has touched a chord with the people because he has exposed the flaws in this binary construct, like no other politician has done in the past. He has also breathed a modern context to the old slogan “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan” coined by the then prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri by pointing out that the ‘soldier is the son of the farmer’ and ‘while the soldier dies on the border, the farmers are committing suicides’. His argument that policemen too are the sons of the farmers, like him has caught the imagination of the same cops who wanted to thrash him when they had seen the ‘doctored videos’. This is a turning point in the life of the Modi sarkar. It is almost half way through its term, and faces a crucial test of public opinion in the five states that go to polls next month. The people would be waiting with bated breath to see the kind of rhetoric the prime minister unleashes in the campaign for these states.
In a vibrant democracy like ours, there may be moments of despair when it seems that forces that wish to ride rough shod over individual rights are getting an upper hand. But then something happens to turn the tide. Prime minister Narendra Modi is presiding over the destiny of the country at a time when the global markers of growth are telling us that we are the only nation doing well in an otherwise gloomy scenario. It is puzzling that under such circumstances, a brilliant strategist and an instinctive politician like the prime minister is allowing the emergence of this kind of damaging binary discourse. If there are any long term gains from it, then at least these have not been articulated by the many illustrious spokespersons that the BJP/RSS fields on different channels. But no one can deny that this discourse shuts attention away from the government’s core development agenda. So, it is paying the wages for this flaw.
Before I conclude…
Like many things else, the Union finance minister Arun Jaitley’s decision to tax the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) – the only retirement benefit for many middle class salaried people is simply shocking. One does not know the amount of revenue it would generate for the government’s coffers, but it would surely generate ill-will for the BJP within a class that has been temperamentally and attitudinally inclined towards the party. Let us hope that he makes amends when he responds to the debate on the budget in the Parliament.