What ‘Anti-national’ Kanhaiya Kumar Means to India and Its Politics
“In many ways, Kanhaiya Kumar is an antithesis of Narenda Modi, but unlike him he has been thrown in the battleground unprepared. He was caught by surprise, and his spontaneity can be felt in the way he speaks. But he is authentic and connects well with the masses. The euphoric reception to his JNU speech tells a lot about his appeal.”
“I saw the Emperor — that World Soul — riding out to reconnoitre the city; it is truly a wonderful sensation to see such an individual, concentrated here on a single point, astride a single horse, yet reaching across the world and ruling it… this extraordinary man, whom it is impossible not to admire.”
What happened in JNU and to Kanhaiya Kumar is a public knowledge now. And how mainstream media had tried to manipulate the situation is known to all. And it was not a TRP battle, they were fighting this time. The channels were executing the orders from up above. If it was all about TRP then why channels like Times Now, Zee News, and Rajat Sharma’s India TV did not do the live telecast of Kanhaiya Kumar’s JNU speech, shortly after his bail was granted despite the fact that it was the biggest news of the day? We all know the answer as well, but still there are some questions that we need to think about, one of which is what Kanhaiya Kumar means to India and politics, to understand that we need to go back to April 2011, New Delhi.
Nationalism: 1st Wave
A warm, friendly, and concerned voice boomed out of radio sets all around Delhi giving a sympathetic voice to concerns like expensive gas connections, corrupt traffic police officers, donation in kindergarten admissions, etc., and urging people to join force with Anna Hazare and his team, which was to become Team Anna in around a year time, to fight against corruption and bring Ram Rajya. Anyone who loved the nation was called to be part of the historic movement. The fight started and it went on well, as planned: people heard the call and acted accordingly; some went to Jantar Mantar and then Ramlila Maidan, in the next phase; demonstrations were held at different places in the country; the nation got glued to the TV sets; jingoistic chants were heard in Delhi; government made and broke promise and then made it all farcical.
In the midst all this, one thing noteworthy, which waited to happen, happened. The person behind the Anna mask, Arvind Kejriwal, took centre stage, and in the heat of the moment floated a political outfit, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). The mask was off. Anna was caught unaware. He reluctantly gave way to the next phase. Mr. Kejriwal wore a messianic aura, and people saw the liberator in him — “the world soul,” as Hegel exclaimed excitedly for Napoleon in Bamberg in 1806.
In the years to come, Arvind Kejriwal captured the political and social space left unoccupied by the left after its great debacle in the last century, and the way it has played its role in India. The events that transpired in the 20th century in the name of people tinged the perceptual space black. This was the opportunity for right-leaning activist-turned-politicians like Kejriwal to occupy a people-friendly space, which it did. One shortcoming in his design was the way he defined the term “people”. There were a good number of activists asking Team Anna to broaden the horizon and be inclusive (see the boxes below).
Prashant Bhushan and some of his colleagues did talk about a plebiscite in Kashmir, which was not only opposed by the right-wing outfits like Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena and Shri Ram Sena, but even AAP and its convener Arvind Kejriwal sidelined themselves from such remarks. Later Mr. Bhushan also moved back and forth on his statements in the years since October 2011, which owes partly to the desire to capture power, as Partha Sarathi Banerjee wrote in the context of the left in general, and CPI (M) in particular, ” The path of parliamentary politics meant the principal target has been getting more seats in assemblies and the Parliament, forming electoral fronts with other parties, and finally of capturing or sharing state power wherever and whenever possible.”
Devoid of intellectual clarity and a desire to define “people” in an inclusive sense, Arvind Kejriwal tried to change the system superficially, without even thinking of tweaking the underlying social structure, even by a bit. The symptomatic treatment of the problem, which still eludes the symptom by giving out false signs, failed because he was not making fundamental changes.
23 August 2011, Tuesday
10.27am, Security Ward, JN Hospital
I whole heartedly welcome your invitation to join the anti corruption rally you are crusading. And yet I would like you to be convinced of the reality of my situation, that I cannot get the advantage of exercising my non-violent protest for justice against my concerned authority as a democratic citizen of a democratic country, unlike your environment. This is the problem I cannot understand.
My humble suggestion is if you feel seriously; please try to reach the concerned legislators (read authorities) to let me get free, like yours, to join your amazing crusade to root out corruption – which is the root of all evils. Or you can come to Manipur, the most corruption affected region in the world.
With full solidarity and best wishes.
Nationalism: 2nd Wave
Nine hundred kilometres away, someone was frantically taking note of the situation, studying the development closely, reading the symbols used, finding a way to make most of the “vibrant” situation in the country, and routes between Gandhinagar and Mumbai was kept busy. Like a good war strategist, the examiner was reading every minute detail, making a list of useable tactics and strategies, dumping the useless items aside, and making a strategy to capitalize on the frenzy the first wave of nationalism has created.
Following a trademark recipe for media manipulation and eo ipso public perception, the second wave of corporate-funded nationalism was launched, and this time, backed with a proven development model, a well laid-out plan, an incorruptible bachelor, who has no tie with family to hoard money for, and a hefty price tag. The Messiah of the polytheistic religion was finally here. The Hegelian triad of “problem, reaction, solution” was complete. The problem was corruption, identified in the first wave of nationalism, and the reaction was anti-corruption movement, and as expected, people let themselves get herded in the ground, on the streets, and the solution came in the form of Narendra Damodardas Modi.
People saw in him “the World Soul,” as Hegel did in Napoleon, for the second time. This time Narendra Modi was the favourite. The champion of Wave 1, given to hallucinatory thoughts, had fallen out of favour of “the invisible government,” about which Edward Bernays wrote in his 1928 book Propaganda, “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.”
Buoyed up by the first phase of nationalism and also disenchanted from the megalomaniac approach to “alternative politics,” which promised a lot and delivered nothing, middle class seized another once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of being a nationalist. Finally the deliverer was here. 3D holograms showing his divine presence sealed it for them. Misplaced dissatisfaction of middle class exploited was exploited once again for profit.
People were facing the ills of capitalism, or to put it in a better way, a beast which Chomsky called The State-Corporate Complex, which “…set in motion a vicious cycle of concentration of wealth and with it concentration of political power again in accordance with Smith’s maxim. For the past 30 years, state corporate policy has been very precisely designed to accelerate this cycle so inequality….”
In the absence of a consolidated and reliable left, the misplaced dissatisfaction was moulded and misguided by Hindutva forces. An unmistakable hue of right-wing ideology is so obvious in the way the entire narrative unfolded (and I am not talking about only Anupam Kher who was nimble in his movement), and the way logistic has been managed. The managers were more upfront and upbeat in managing people perception in the second phase. They were furtive in the first phase. They were not sure if the gamble will pay off, yet they made “Mein Anna Hoon” (I am Anna) merchandise available in all parts of India, overnight. An obvious similarity, in tone and substance, between two earlier mass movements can be easily seen in the images shot by Shivam Vij and the slogans raised.
Nationalism: 3rd Wave (or Here Comes an Anti-National)
The massive seats that BJP (and BJP-led NDA) won, gave them a feeling of getting carte blanche to do whatever they want, say whatever they feel like, and restructure anything and everything imaginable. And restructuring they did, sometimes coarsely and at other times with great finesse. The victory was seen as a culmination of a long historic struggle, as the PM acknowledged. The government is trying to make the most of the opportunity. Out of this historic struggle, which has resulted in attempts to rewrite and appropriate history and change perception, many so-called anti-nationals have been born, anachronistically.
In many ways, Kanhaiya Kumar is an antithesis of the Divine Being, but unlike him he has been thrown in the battleground unprepared. He was caught by surprise, yet his preparedness resulting from a long struggle can be felt in his spontaneity, in the way he speaks. He is authentic and connects well with the masses. The euphoric reception to his JNU speech tells a lot about his appeal. All he need is to provide an intellectual foundation beneath the platform he is standing on, and a plan to take the movement to the next level.
Problems on the left
There is no difference between the right-wing parties and the left parties. The opportunism shown by the either side had dangerous consequences, in the past, and if it was not for the left’s own failure to deliver as promised, the right-wing parties would not have gained so much ground. Instead of mobilizing masses for a better future, the goal of the left parties has reduced to winning more seats in the parliament and grab power. They have not even shied away from going in a coalition government with right-wing parties.
Kanhaiya’s emphasis on freeing the political (left) language from terminologies, jargons, and by extensions, historicity, so that people can connect with the idea, and with each other removing alienation not just in the sense of value creation and consumption, but in actual social relation as well is critical to make the project of the left more humane and more accessible. This perhaps is the middle ground between alleged false-binary of politics, which we all know very well exist. It means left needs to do less theorizing and more explaining. The goal should be to concretize the abstract, the way Kanhaiya did by talking with policemen about the difficult situation they work in, about getting Azadi (freedom) from the 18 hours of mostly unpaid work.
One more thing that needs attention is humanizing the farthest point of state apparatus, the constables we experience daily. This will morally, if not in reality, make the edge of the apparatus blunt. The reason police watched the beatings in Patiala House Court and again in Supreme Court is that they sympathized with the mob. The idea is to change their perspective about people by talking about their problems, including them in debates, and not consider them just like a tool. They are as much a victim of the system as much a part of the system.
Another thing that needs addressing is the consolidation of various left parties and other political and social justice movements. Left needs to move ahead of 20th-century ideology and reinvent an ideology suitable for India, and this time not the one drenched in blood. Until the left does so ghosts of Stalin, Mao, and the likes will keep surfacing, questioning their intention, and diluting its credibility. Just regrouping and consolidating may not be sufficient.
The failure of left and is probable causes have been explained by Partha Sarathi Banerjee in an article published in Economic and Political Weekly, which points out,
“In India’s highly stratified society, people belonging to different castes, religions, and communities residing in the same geographical area have their own distinct histories. For example, the history of the development of the upper castes in Bengal, who benefited from British rule, European enlightenment, and English education, thereby grabbing administrative jobs that secured their privileged position in postcolonial India. This is in no way similar to the history of the perpetually deprived lower castes, the minorities, and the tribal communities of the same state.
The leadership of all the left parties principally belongs to the educated section of upper caste Hindus, who are born and brought up quite differently from those from backward castes. Can such an upper caste left leadership actually understand the “other” communities, the vast majority that is separated by thousands of years of Brahminical legacy?
Surprisingly, the most radical among the left, the Maoists, though working for decades in tribal areas in India, had no tribal representative in its leadership. Till the year 2000, none from the local tribal communities was represented even in the lowest rank of the party leadership, that is, in the Divisional Committees of Dandakaranya, the strongest base of the Maoists. During the Lalgarh movement in Junglemahal of West Bengal, which was based on tribal uprisings against police atrocities, the leadership of the movement finally rested on an upper caste party leader from a different state, coming from a completely different socio-cultural background.”
Much before Kanhaiya finished his landmark speech, the perception, fabrication machine had started the work to discredit him. In no time, social media channels were littered with “unknown and real” story of the poor guy — one such WhatsApp forward came to me, which I have shared below. This is an old trick and at times, it works too. So instead of chest thumping and patting our backs, we need to act and turn this opportunity into something big, something concrete, before the camera lights are switched off, and the newspaper ink declines to spill in the favour of the movement.
WhatsApp Messages Targeting Kanhaiya
कल रात JNU में “ठाकुर कन्हैया सिंह जी” का भड़ासपूर्ण भाषण और उसमें RSS, मोदी, भाजपा, ABVP, हिटलर आदि को कोसने के बाद देश को यह पता चला है कि –
१) गरीबी… – पिछले डेढ़ साल में आई है…
२) शोषण… – पिछले डेढ़ साल से अधिक हो गया है…
३) असमानता… – सिर्फ पिछले डेढ़ साल में बढ़ी है…
४) पूंजीवाद… – डेढ़ साल पहले ही पैदा हुआ है…
५) मनुवाद… – डेढ़ साल पहले था ही नहीं…
६) दलितों पर अत्याचार… – डेढ़ साल से ही होने शुरू हुए हैं…
७) आतंकवाद… – डेढ़ साल पहले तक नामोनिशान भी नहीं था…
कहने का तात्पर्य यह है कि 2004 से 2014 तक भारत का “स्वर्णिम काल” था…
और कन्हैया के “बौद्धिक पिताओं” द्वारा ३० साल से शासित राज्य पश्चिम बंगाल दुनिया का सबसे खुशहाल और समृद्ध राज्य है…
लकवे का मारा बाप और 3000 रुपये कमाने वाली माँ का गरीब बेटा कल जेल से वापिस JNU में35लाख रुपये की FORTUNER गाड़ी में आया …
इतनी गरीबी …देख के आंसू आ गए….
अब पता लगा कि कन्हैया का का असली बाप कौन है…!
Bikram Kumar Singh
Bikram K. Singh is a freelance writer who after a brief stint with a leading media company got disenchanted with the corporate scene, and began his solitary journey thereafter. He tries to maintain an independence of thought and a critical outlook on the things that happen in the highly institutionalized world of ours.