What is it about Kanhaiya Kumar that has attracted so much attention? Why has he aroused a multitude of emotions including a sense of pride and even, for some, feelings of affection? How do we explain the fact that a 28-year-old student, from a background that for many would be unbelievably deprived, has captured the imagination of those who are socially, politically and economically at the other end of the spectrum?
That this can happen in India is something we can all be proud of. But that’s also a further reason for asking these questions. Answering them is the challenge.
I believe the answer must begin with Kanhaiya’s appearance and personality. This is what makes the first impact. He’s small and compact, not big and threatening. His face conveys sincerity and innocence whilst his eyes twinkle with impish mischief. He smiles freely and easily, conveying affability and sincerity. Each of these is a winning quality, together they are irresistible.
Now, add to this the power and melody of Kanhaiya’s speech. In front of thousands he has a rhythm — not just in his words but also in the hypnotic swaying of his body. Second, he uses language with an alliterative and sonorous effect. And on top of this there is his own sparkling intelligence, best conveyed through pithy appositions such as hum bharat se azadi nahin, bharat mein azadi chahte hain.
In his interviews he is soft-spoken, which only enhances the way he runs rings around the people questioning him. And he’s the master of the gentle put down, delivered so inoffensively that it even makes the interviewer smile. Consider this: mein aapke adalat mein nahin phasoonga lekin jawab jaroor doonga.
Clearly, Kanhaiya was born to be heard, which is why millions listen to him in spellbound silence.
Finally, there is the romance of his background. A child from Begusarai in Bihar, whose mother is an anganwadi worker earning just three thousand a month, who’s used his talent, charm, intelligence and the, occasional, god-given opportunity to rise to the top. This is not rags to riches but it is dust to stardust. How could it not be bewitching?
Indeed, there is the quality of a dream-come-true to the Kanhaiya story. It doesn’t seem real. Yet when it actually happens its impact is exaggerated by our own sense of astonishment and delight. We play a key role in making it even bigger still.
Who knows what the future holds for Kanhaiya but few would deny it will shine brightly. Some even believe he could end up as prime minister! The fact that people, otherwise rational and conservative, are prepared to crystal-gaze, so far and so furiously, is part of the impact Kanhaiya has had. It means many are now invested in him.
Yet the paradox is — or do I mean irony? — that his greatest opponents, the police, the BJP and, indeed, Narendra Modi himself, have almost literally made him. Till the 9th of February he was an unknown student, just another JNU activist. He may well have stayed that way if a thoughtless and cruel government had not acted impetuously and foolishly. Such is fate and such is good fortune.
So let me end by saying: Thank you, Mr Modi! You’ve given us a star that will shine brightly in the firmament and by its light millions will now judge your government and your own performance. You did not intend this but how can we deny you credit for it?
The views expressed are personal