Kanhaiya Kumar’s genius as a public speaker is self evident from his first speech in JNU on February 11 and the one he made on the campus after returning from Tihar Jail on March 3. The CPI feels it has a legitimate right to hitch its wagon to this new star.
The JNU affair has in fact opened up many possibilities. Some of these may be imaginary. The Communist Party of India, the original one, suddenly has stars in its eyes. It hopes Kanhaiya Kumar will boost it to its original glory, before the party split in 1964. The CPI became its rump. The CPI-M became the senior party which proceeded to rule West Bengal and Tripura for decades without a break. Intermittently, in Kerala too.
Kanhaiya won the JNU Students Union president’s election as the CPI-affiliated All India Students Federation (AISF) candidate. Naturally, the parent party, otherwise limp and wan, finds its morale boosted.
Visit Ajoy Bhawan, its headquarters, and there is a comradely swagger in everyone’s walk. Overnight, they are feeling superior to their cousins, the CPI-M, who have otherwise dwarfed them all these years but who, alas, have no SFI (CPI-M’s student wing) star on the JNU firmament. Kanhaiya’s persona has brought about CPI-M’s unexpected status reversal vis-a-vis the CPI.
Even in their abysmal decline, the CPI-M at least has nine members in the Lok Sabha, the CPI has only one. How then has a windfall like Kanhaiya come CPI’s way? According to Hindu belief, the party must have done some good in its past life.
Ironically, Kanhaiya is not a creature of Ajoy Bhawan. He got his Marxism from his parentage. Begusarai in Bihar, where his family lives, was called “Little Moscow”. Senior communist leaders Chandrashekhar Singh and Indradip Sinha were legends in the region.
Indeed, when the Indian communist movement split nationally, the Bihar unit remained intact. Under its Secretary General Jagannath Sarkar, the CPI was so powerful that its alliance with Indira Gandhi in New Delhi made Jayaprakash Narayan initiate his movement in Bihar.
The leftist culture from which Kanhaiya comes is not necessarily linked to the CPI in the rigid doctrinaire sense. He came up on the strength of his leadership skills and oratory and won the union election without the support of any CPI infrastructure, which is non-existent in the campus.
He was able to forge a wide coalition which included Umar Khaled, Anirban Bhattacharya and others recently charged with sedition.
Kanhaiya, Omar and Anirban are all comfortable under a broad left umbrella. But if the parent bodies – CPI and Marxists-Leninists begin to claim them as their respective wards, there will be difficulties.
The CPI and CPI-M do not dispute the Afzal Guru hanging, but the CPI-ML does. There is a whole lot of confusion as to who shouted which slogans at the function to observe Guru’s hanging on February 9. Bollywood should consider a Roshomon II, where the truth remains tantalizingly elusive.
It was just as well that Kanhaiya’s release was celebrated nationwide thanks to the change of heart of some TV channels. But this is only a release on bail for six months. Moreover, bail has been granted as a kind of largesse handed out by the Delhi High Court to somebody whose guilt is presumed. The JNU faculty has been advised to keep the students on the straight and narrow, something, presumably they were not doing so far. This is the tone of the judgment.
The CPI would like Kanhaiya’s focus to be on the campuses the ABVP is trying to unsettle. “If we bring in the S.A.R. Geelani’s arrest, the focus will get diverted to Kashmir and other issues,” says a senior CPI leader.
The CPI-ML, which has traction on the campus, has a different take on Kashmir, Afzal Guru and therefore on Geelani. In any case the parent party’s hold on Omar and Anirban is, at best, tenuous because the two have had serious difference with the leadership.
At this moment Omar and Anirban have no formal affiliation with a national party. Who then is fighting for their bail? Senior lawyers like Kapil Sibal, Rajeev Dhawan and Indira Jaisingh got involved in the Kanhaiya matter because that is where the BJP lawyers diverted the focus by their undisguised hooliganism in court.
This leaves Omar and Anirban without real political godfathers. Bright young lawyers, holding the brief for these two, are waiting for the police to frame charges. But the two are in danger of being forgotten during the fortnight in judicial custody because the media is capricious and has its mood swings conditioned by ratings.
The only one who can help them remain in focus is Kanhaiya. Because without his cohorts, he too will lose steam.
The general assumption is that the RSS is driving the “nationalism” debate. It is a difficult debate to negotiate in a sound byte format. On the other side of this polarised turf, the Left, Dalit and Muslim convergence cannot give comfort to the Hindutva establishment.
The Left is propagating the line that the Gujarat Police model has been replicated in Delhi. This strengthens the AAP line that the police takes dictation from the union government and does not allow it to function. The Left and AAP have not necessarily been on the same page so far. Is this another novelty emerging?
(A senior commentator on political and diplomatic affairs, Saeed Naqvi can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org)