Kanhaiya Kumar, contesting from Begusarai, is facing stiff competition from seasoned politician and Union minister Giriraj Singh. Begusarai goes to polls in phase 4 on April 29
It was the night of March 3, 2016 at the esteemed Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus in New Delhi. Students' union president Kanhaiya Kumar had returned to the campus after being released from jail. He had been arrested for raising anti-India slogans.
When he entered the campus, the students gave him an arousing welcome, and he did exactly what he had done before his arrest – gave a speech.
JNU and 'Azaadi'
In his speech that night, Kanhaiya reiterated his slogan of 'azaadi' or freedom. He is often questioned (read doubted as unpatriotic) as to why is he beseeching freedom in a country which was freed from the colonial rule in 1947. To that, he said, “Is it wrong to seek freedom (azaadi) from the ills that plague our country today?”
“We are not seeking freedom FROM India but IN India. There is a difference,” he added.
He says he loves his country, but his patriotism is not the same as is propagated by the ruling party..."that it is not just loving and respecting the soldiers who brave their lives to protect the country, but also the farmers who grow grains to feed these soldiers and die in the process".
Taking a leaf from the book of the young student-turned-revolutionaries that fought for India’s Independence, he often quotes them – “Inquilab Zindabad” and “Sarfaroshi ki tamanna, ab humaare dil mein hai”.
Hailing from a small town in Bihar’s Begusarai district, Kanhaiya came to JNU to pursue his PHD in international relations. His father is a farmer and mother an anganwadi worker. His elder brother serves in the Army and is stationed at Assam.
Keen on participating in debates since he was a school student, he drifted towards student politics and matured as a leader. To this, he says, “There is an old adage, usually attributed to Pericles, which goes: ‘Just because you do not take an interest in politics does not mean politics does not take an interest in you’.
A night before the JNU student union elections, the All India Students Federation (AISF) wasn’t even sure that they’d secure the general secretary’s position. AISF is the student wing of Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Kanhaiya was contesting as their candidate. His electrifying speeches were said to have turned the tide in favour of the AISF, making him the president of JNUSU.
On the wrong side of history
On February 22, 2016, Kanhaiya, along with two other students, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, was arrested on charges of sedition and criminal conspiracy. They were accused by the ABVP (student wing of the RSS) of organising an event against the hanging of 2001 Parliament Attack convict Afzal Guru and raising anti-national slogans. Kanhaiya has denied participation in the event. The students have called this arrest “politically motivated” and the evidence against them "doctored".
In January 2019, Delhi Police filed a 1,200-page chargesheet against Kanhaiya, Umar, Anirban and seven other Kashmiri students. However, the Delhi High Court refused to admit that chargesheet, saying Delhi Police did not take permission of the Delhi government before doing so.
In an interview to a magazine, Kanhaiya had said, “I am a soldier of a movement that they are trying to crush.”
As JNUSU president, he was vocal about curtailing funds to educational institutions, which led to cutting scholarships for students. After his arrest and the February 22 incident, he has openly voiced his criticism of the ruling government.
As a candidate in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, he has fearlessly castigated the ruling government for their “divisive” politics, keeping him on the wrong side of the Centre. His comrades say he is a natural orator.
Quoting Ambedkarite principles, he often says, “Political democracy is not enough, we want social democracy”, standing for the cause of the minorities.
Activist, not politician
Even though he took the political plunge this year, and will be contesting Lok Sabha elections from Begusarai on a CPI ticket, he says he’d prefer to be called an activist. Begusarai has been traditionally voting for CPI, barring a few exceptions, giving it the title of the ‘Leningrad of Bihar’.
Kanhaiya endorses issue-based alternate politics where emphasis is given to education, public healthcare, minority rights (including gender minorities ~ LGBT community), environmental sustainability and privacy concerns with the influx of the digital revolution.
As he had said in one of his speeches at JNU, “[We want] freedom from hunger and poverty, exploitation and injustice, and securing the rights of Dalits, adivasis, women and minorities. That we will secure this freedom in this country through this very constitution, this very parliament and this very judicial process, is our dream. This was the dream of Babasaheb.”Kanhaiya is facing stiff competition from seasoned politician and Union minister Giriraj Singh. Begusarai goes to polls in phase 4 on April 29.