On a dark Thursday night in the noisy JNU campus, when Kanhaiya Kumar called for “azaadi”, the student leader little known before his jail term on seemingly fallacious sedition charges appeared to be giving a new definition to the concept of “freedom” that doesn’t appear secessionist.
Many called it the return of “freedom at midnight” – a famous “Tryst with destiny” speech by Jawaharlal Nehru at Parliament House towards the midnight on August 14, 1947. Incidentally, the university where Kanhaiya Kumar is grooming his political acumen is named after India’s first prime minister.
As Kanhaiya Kumar, a son of a lowly paid social welfare department worker, walked into the campus after some 23 days in jail, he looked stronger and defiant in the face of the distress even as the state had thrown its full might at him and some TV channels ran a campaign to brand him as an anti-national for raising “azaadi” slogans during a February 9 Kashmir event in the Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Kanhaiya Kumar repeated what had apparently sent him to jail. He said he indeed fights for “azaadi”. But “a freedom in India and not from India”.
“We want azaadi from oppression, from corruption, from manuvad, from discrimination, from fascism, from the RSS,” he said in setting the record straight for those who had read “sedition” in his concept of freedom.
Kanhaiya Kumar arrived to a hero’s welcome – not only at the JNU campus but also at the center-stage of Indian politics and both mainstream as well as social media gave space to nearly an hour-long speech that had a mix of humour, taunts, sarcasm and above all fire.
And the heat was clearly directed at the growing culture of “intolerance” towards dissent in India.
“Iss desh main jan-virodhi sarkar hai. Unke khilaaf bologe tou inka cyber cell doctored video dikhayega,” he said, smilingly taunting the government for producing doctored video tapes as evidence to prove the sedition charge against him.
He sent a clear message to the Narendra Modi-led BJP government for its knee-jerk reaction and senseless muscle-flexing on an obscure Kashmir event that would have been best left to the university authorities to tackle at their own level.
“I have many differences with the PM. But I agree with his tweet ‘Satyameva Jayate’ because these are the words in our Constitution,” Kanhaiya Kumar threw a taunt at Modi, referring to his tweet after union Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani’s fiery Rajya Sabha speech about Hyderabad student Rohith Vemula’s death.
“The honourable PM was talking about Stalin and Khrushchev, I say Modi-ji speak about Hitler too sometimes. Or maybe Mussolini,” he said and contunued: “You want to silence one Rohith, today look how big that revolution has become.”
“The more you suppress us the more we will stand. It is a long fight. We will continue fight without bowing down. We have created history, we will create history. We will fight. We will win,” the 28-year-old student leader thundered.
History seems to be in the making in the JNU campus. A new leader was born with many on the social media lauding India’s democratic ethos that even allows mainstreaming of an otherwise seditious “freedom” slogan, long being shouted in Kashmir and some northeastern states of India.
By its hamhanded action, the central government may have given birth to the political aspirations of a youth which may have laid dormant in him.