Kanhaiya Kumar’s Constitutional Song of Freedom
His ‘Laal Salaam’ clearly gives away his ideology. If we get past his ideological leanings, we cannot miss the unmistakable conclusion that his moving ode to Azadi has severely challenged his legion of new admirers in the communist, social justice, caste-based and regional political parties. His passionate tribute to the poor, struggling Indian citizens, who continue to struggle for freedom from hunger and deprivation should shame all political parties bickering in the Parliament for failing to live up to the Indian Constitution.
That’s why for Indian citizens, Thursday was a good reminder of our country’s age – the 67th year of the Indian Republic. Our country has grown for the most part under the tutelage of the Congress Party. There is immutable fairness in the rhetoric that Congress cannot escape the blame for disempowering Indians from being able to lift themselves out of crushing poverty in all its forms and manifestations.
Other than Kerala, the Left parties have been duds elsewhere. They ruined one of the most progressive and economically advanced states in the country, West Bengal, in their three decades of oppressive communism. The caste-based parties further depressed the position of the massively underprivileged and discriminated, nearly half of the Indian citizenry.
In 2014, in spite of all the grudges and suspicions, Narendra Modi’s vision of a fast-growing, aspirational modern India wowed the youth and enthused the entrepreneurial world. His party promised that through growth, development, education and rising incomes, India would solve all its social warts and problems.
But soon after he came to power, instead of unleashing the “animal spirits” of Indian enterprise, as well as the promised strengthening of Indian civilisational ethos that has a continuous recorded history of 5,000 years, his government descended into culture wars and ideological battles.
It is in these uncertain times, with the world watching India waste its miraculous opportunity to fight its way out of its poverty trap, that our politicians were put in place by a youth who many continue to believe has the worst interests of his country in mind. Kanhaiya invaded our drawing rooms with such angry honesty that it took me back to another equally serendipitous moment in my life, whose fiery imprint continues to simmer across generations.
I was in high school, growing up in the badlands of Dhanbad district made famous by Anurag Kashyap’s ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’. We were having a discussion on caste at home and my father’s casual comment changed me forever. “My mother wasn’t allowed to wear a blouse. In fact, all women in our community weren’t allowed to wear blouses. They were only allowed to wrap their body with a woven cotton towel called thorthu. One day, I was walking back from school and I saw her removing the thorthu because she hadn’t managed to get out of the way of a Namboothiri (Brahmin). At that time, it didn’t seem odd or out of place. It’s much later that I realized she was being punished.”
My father was born in 1935. The conversation mentioned above happened sometime after the mid-1980s. Life-changing moments are very disrespectful of timelines and places because they occupy large spaces of our cognitive self. These moments then step out unsummoned, spilling into the cluttered avenues of our everyday thoughts. Those moments then recreate new relevance for itself as they grow in our minds as we grow.
Thursday night was one such moment when the unconscious mind receives thoughts with such power that the barriers of the conscious mind break. He spoke with such amazing clarity about India’s problems that he reminded me of my father, who spoke of harsh realities with such consummate ease. Kanhaiya, a PhD scholar in Jawaharlal Nehru University, a student union leader and an accused under India’s much-contested sedition law, transformed himself into an iconic youth leader. His nearly one hour long, late night passionate speech in the JNU campus, broadcast live by news television channels to a national audience after his release from prison on six-months bail, transformed him overnight into a household name.
In a majestic tour de force, he outlined the vast social and political landscape of inequity and inequality in 21st century India. Overnight, through wave upon wave of inspired oratory laced with humour, sarcasm and emotion, he resuscitated the call for social justice with a rivetingly empowering ‘May the Revolutionary Force Be With You’ speech.
I am not a supporter of Left political parties or their student’s wings – AlSF (All India Student Federation) and SFI (Students Federation of India). As a student of Jadavpur University, I was part of the founding team of Jadavpur University Students Forum which challenged the Left political parties in the Students’ Union elections for the first time in the University’s history and won. It was a classic David versus Goliath story. Even so, as a freedom-loving Indian, a believer in democracy and India’s Constitution, it was exciting to witness the rise of a new dawn, a new star in India’s political firmament.
The miserably failed leaders of the Left Parties – Communist Party of India (CPI) and Communist Party of India (Marxist) are basking in reflected glory. In one gigantic moment of history-in-the-making, Kanhaiya hoisted his youthful, hopeful, visionary leadership to the task of acquiring the voice of the New Left in India. Will he succeed?
His extraordinarily azure articulation of India’s complex social problems has led to wishful ‘add to cart’ thinking – this might just compel India’s Left-oriented political parties to fuse together, or it might compel social justice parties to align at the national level. Thursday night’s events in JNU will have national implications and ramifications, considering the fact that the Election Commission announced polls in five states today.
For India’s millennials, some of whom catapulted the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to power, Kanhaiya mainstreamed Freedom (Azadi) in its entire multi-faceted, democratic splendor. He made Azadi cool for India’s millennials and dare I say as cool as free India’s first Prime Ministerial speech – the unforgettable ‘Tryst with Destiny’: “A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance…”
That soul, once again, found its voice, deep and strong in Kanhaiya’s heart nearly at the stroke of the midnight hour in a University campus, which in its diversity continues to be a memorable island dedicated to the idea of India. Today, for just one day, most Indians – irrespective of their differing ideologies, silences, divisiveness and hatred –are united in the trueness of Kanhaiya’s Constitutional Song of Freedom.
(Shashikumar Velath is a journalist and commentator)