The man spoke well. He had a flow. And he sounded fearless, objective and bound to an ideology. That is probably the difference age brings – a kind of puritan fearlessness where you don’t really think much of the consequences.
Some years ago, once, I had chance to speak to Dr. Binayak Sen over the phone, after he had got a long fought but ‘temporary’ bail in the sedition case the state had imposed on him along with other serious charges. It was a brief conversation where Dr. Sen sounded very cautious on what to speak and what not to. He was evasive on directly answering most of the questions even during our brief conversation.
Dr. Sen is an inspiration – a great crusader of social rights – and he is still the same Dr. Binayak Sen – that he was – when he had started giving shape to the ‘Mitanin’ programme for the tribal people in Chhattisgarh’s hinterlands.
But when I spoke to Dr. Sen, he was around 60 – with years of incarceration and system’s oppression behind him. He was hounded like a hardened criminal when he had simply done his job – of being a doctor – in places no one else wishes to enter. If it is said that doctors are next only to God, doctors like Binayak Sen give a reason to validate that.
But years of State’s hostility and prison term with ageing turned him into a silent crusader than a vocal activist I can say. Something that is not there in case of Kanhaiya Kumar – the 29 year old JNU Students Union president. He is young. He is armed with an ideology. And he sounded like ready to fight come what may. Yes, the Constitutional sanctity is pristine but every act then is permissible within its norms, irrespective of the ideological affiliations (and difference).
The case against Kanhaiya Kumar was always on a flimsy ground and he should have got bail much earlier. In fact, the whole JNU incident (row) was mishandled. We should wish for more in line developments now onward.
This speech by the fellow, delivered at the prestigious institution a while ago, tells where the system erred. Dissent is a must for democracy. Democracy needs consistent spark at ideological levels. A healthy culture of dissent and debate strengthens the Constitution that runs any democracy. Subaltern history should be as important to us as History is.
Irrespective of the observations like a ‘political leader is born today’ or ‘Kanhaiya is making a career option for him’, we should wish this incident, the whole JNU row, may prove a blessing in disguise for us. It has to be much more than mere a ‘making of breaking of a leader’. It has to be a step ahead in the quest to make a just and responsible society. Let’s not make him a hero or a leader. Let’s not do anything to anyone like Kanhaiya Kumar that could bury the valid hopes anymore.
India has had not meaningful and coherent student moments while even China had one – resulting in one of the darkest chapters in the history of mankind – the Tiananmen Massacre – when China’s authoritarian regime had killed hundreds of protesting students (some reports quote even thousands).
We should hope this be the right beginning for student movements in India – for student activism from the petty levels of student politics that is reeling under the corrupt and ruthless vice-chancellors mainstream political concerns. The ground is ripe – after the hugely successful civil society anti-corruption movement of 2011 and the massive protests by outraged students and civil society in the aftermath of the Nirbhaya gangrape case of 2012.
Technology is a leveller and it is helping us, in our societies – to get connected – to speak out and to reach out. Spiral of silence in our country is peeking now. And in my view, it is the next big leap of social media after the Arab Spring. It is heartening to see the hashtag #KanhaiyaKumar trending at top on Twitter.