On Thursday, when Kanhaiya Kumar called for “azaadi” on the JNU campus amid cheers from his fellow students, the JNUSU president, who was relatively unknown before his jail term on seemingly fallacious sedition charges, appeared to be giving a new definition to the concept of “azaadi” - one without any secessionist sentiments.
Many called it the return of “freedom at midnight” - a reference to the famous “tryst with destiny” speech delivered by Jawaharlal Nehru at Parliament House 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 23 days in jail, he looked stronger and defiant in the face of the State’s animosity, even though some TV channels ran a campaign to brand him as being anti-national.
Kanhaiya Kumar repeated what had apparently sent him to jail. He sai that 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 undertones of “sedition” in his articulation 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 as both mainstream and social media gave space to nearly an hour-long speech that had a mix of humour, taunts, sarcasm and, above all, a fiery rhetoric.
And the heat was clearly directed at the growing culture of “intolerance” towards dissent in India.
“Is desh mein 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 over its knee-jerk reaction and senseless muscle-flexing on an obscure Kashmir event that should have warranted the attention of the university, and not the Centre.
“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 continued: “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 despite the increasing intolerance in the country.
By its hamhanded action, the central government may well have given birth to a formidable opponent in the future - and 2019 is not far off.