SEEMA MUSTAFA | 3 MARCH, 2016
A LEADER IS BORN
NEW DELHI: Kanhaiya Kumar, before the police stormed Jawaharlal Nehru University and arrested him for sedition, was just a popular, bright, very intelligent, highly political president of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union. 21 days later he walked out of jail on bail, a leader.
It is not often that one is witness to what is clearly the making of history. But so it was on March 3, 2016 when he came before the thousands of students, karamcharis, faculty and supporters from the other Universities in Delhi with all fists flying. The harrowing experience of the arrest, the violence at Patiala courts where he was attacked, the uncertainty of bail had clearly not fazed the young man, who infused the campus with electrifying courage, in a nearly one hour speech laced with humour, taunts and fire; with idealism; with nationalism and a challenge: “you cannot suppress this struggle for justice and rights for the poor and the marginalised and oppressed, the more you try to do so the more strength it will gather.”
On a day that Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke in Parliament, he was completely overshadowed by a young Kanhaiya Kumar who was trending on social media world wide within minutes. His arguments were clear, his vision straight, and his courage beyond par. And he was embraced by hundreds, perhaps thousands of young people on Twitter as India’s own Che Guevara.
Kanhaiya spoke with the idealism and the confidence of a leader; he spoke with humility and humour; he spoke to the youth; and in the process brought together and gave shape to what is bursting through as a huge youth movement for the first time in living memory. He set the tone, as leaders do, for the struggle ahead in a Hindi that cannot be easily translated into English without losing the colloquial flavour that made his words so distinct and powerful.
He showed the way to the youth, and clearly the young people across the world as his speech became iconic on social media.
And this is the road map that the JNUSU president set in words that seemed simple, but were highly political and courageous in the environment today:
Kanhaiya showed no fear as he smiled about PM Modi, as he referred to the Home Ministers reliance on a fake tweet, laughed at the RSS, mocked the ABVP, fiery and yet not aggressive. And said mischievously at the end that we should raise “our Azadi” slogan now with the campus reverberating with the freedom of a new beginning. This, he demonstrated, was free speech in democracy, without being offensive, abusive, threatening---just politically hard hitting.
‘Awaaz do, hum ek hain’ echoed across JNU, through the television screens, across social media as Kanhaiya emerged from the embers of the BJP offensive to lead the way.