Student politics

Full text: From Hitler and Khrushchev to Modi and Azadi – Kanhaiya Kumar's remarkable speech at JNU

A rough, literal translation of the JNU student union president's speech after his release from jail on March 3, 2016.

Friends, all of you present – be they students, be they workers, be they teachers, be they security guards, be they shopkeepers, be they workers in shops – my revolutionary greetings and welcome to all of you.

Friends, from this platform, on behalf of all students, as the JNUSU [Jawaharl Nehru University Student Union] president, I thank all the people of the country via the media channels present here. My salutations to them, my thanks to them.

Friends, I want to thank people from all over the world – be they academicians, be they students – who have stood by the JNU [unclear audio because of applause].

And I want to thank all those – be they from media, be they from civil society, be they from the political class, be they non-political people – all those people who are standing up to save JNU, those who are standing up to get justice for Rohith Vemula. I salute them all. My laal salaam, my red salute to all of them.

And I specially want to thank all those big and very important personages of this country who sit in Parliament and claim to be deciding on what is right and what is wrong. My thanks to them, my thanks to their police, my thanks to those TV channels.

There is a saying in our parts, ke badnaam hue to kyaa huaa, naam nahii huaa? So what if we were made infamous, at least our name was taken. At least they gave us space on prime time even if it was to try and bring disgrace to JNU.


We have no hatred for anyone – particularly for ABVP. That is because the ABVP [Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad] on our campus is actually far more rational than the ABVP outside.

And I want to say that all those who consider themselves political experts, they should check out the last presidential debate video at least once. Please do see what the ABVP was reduced to, particularly the "most intellectual" person of the ABVP, and how he was left overwhelmed and speechless. Perhaps you can get an idea of what will happen in the rest of the country from that.

That is why, we have no ill-feeling towards the ABVP. Because we are truly democratic people. Because we really believe in the constitution, we do not look at the ABVP as an enemy but as a political opponent – and that is how it is for those who believe in the democratic process.

My friends, I will not do any witch-hunting. Besides, even when it comes to hunting, only those are hunted who are worth the trouble.

And this whole process... I tell you, this is the first time, I swear – and it is not like someone who, if born in the month of Saavan, when it rains, complains about the flood in the very next month of Bhaadon – I tell you, truly, the way JNU stood up in the country, and what JNU has shown – and the way JNU has stood up to call what is right, right, and what is wrong, wrong – and the best part is that this is spontaneous.

I’m saying this because all of their actions were planned, but ours were spontaneous. This country’s constitution, its law, and its judiciary and the legal system, I have faith in, I also have confidence that change alone is truth, and we will change things, we stand in support of change and progress. I stand here with confidence in the constitution, with belief in what I started with, socialism, secularism, equality, it is with this that I stand here.

Photo: V Arun Kumar
Photo: V Arun Kumar

Someone asked, I wanted to say, that I’m not going to lecture. I just want to tell you of my experience because before I used to study more and suffer less from the system, this time I studied less and suffered more. This is why I have to say JNU people actually do research. I have primary data. I have first hand information.

The first thing is that the judicial process, I don’t want to comment on . I just want to say to all the people who truly love the constitution, who want Babasaheb Ambedkar’s dreams to become reality, they will understand. That which is sub-judice I don’t want to talk about. But the Prime Minister has tweeted. He said, Satyameva Jayate (the truth always triumphs), I also say, PMji, satyameva jayate is not just yours, it’s this country’s so I too say, Satyameva Jayate.

To all the people, don’t believe that sedition is being used as a political tool against a student. Think of it this way, we come from the villages, and for us every railway station has magic shows, where a magician does magic and sells you a ring that will fulfill all your wishes. There are people like this in the country, who say “black money will return,” “Har Har Modi”, “Inflation will come down, “Sabka saath sabka vikaas.” All these jumlaas… it is true that Indians forget things quickly, but this time the tamasha was such that we can’t forget it.

Their effort is for us to forget their false promises. How? By cancelling the fellowships of all the research fellows in the country. Then what will they start doing? Start saying, please give us fellowships, then the government will say, the Rs 5,000 or 8,000 we used to give before, we will continue giving that. Meaning, there is no question of increasing this. Who will raise this? JNU.

So when you are being insulted, don’t worry. You are reaping as you sow. In this country, if you call them an anti-people government, what will their cyber cell do? They will deliver a doctored video. They will send you insults. And they will count condoms in your dustbins. But there is very little time, so in this short time, we need to think with trepidation.

This attack on JNU was prearranged. And this was planned because they wanted to delegitimise the Occupy UGC movement.

It was planned because you were fighting for justice for Rohith Vemula.

You are running JNU’s struggle on prime time, respected ex-RSS, because you want the people to forget that the PM promised Rs 15,000 to each person’s account. But let me tell you this getting admission into JNU is not easy, and getting JNU to forget is as hard.

You might think we will make them forget, but we will keep reminding you, that when the people of this country rose up, the loudest voices came from JNU and that’s what we are raising now. The Sangh cannot dilute our struggle. What are they saying, on one side the soldiers are dying? I want to salute our soldiers. I have one question, I have learnt one thing in JNU, when the struggle is over ideas, one shouldn’t give someone unnecessary publicity, so I will not take that leader’s name. One Bharatiya Janata Party leader said in Parliament that our soldiers are dying. I want to ask him, is he your brother? Or instead, the crores of farmers who have committed suicide in India, who produce the food for us and those soldiers and who are the parents of those soldiers, what have you said about them?

I want to ask, those who work in the farms are my father, my own brother, goes into the army, and dies there, and you cannot use this to bind the people with false claims. Tribals are dying, the marginalised are dying, so I want to ask, who are you playing politics against in the Parliament? Those who are dying, who will take responsibility for them? The ones fighting aren’t at fault, the one who are making them fight are to blame.

Shanti nahin tab tak, jab tak bhaag na sab ka sum ho,
Nahin kisi ko bahut adhik ho, nahin kisi ko kum hoga!

There cannot be peace in this world until everybody gets a fair share.
Nobody should have too much, and nobody should be left needy.

Who is responsible today? Who is the one causing the fights?

In this atmosphere, is there something wrong with asking for freedom? They ask, who are you asking for freedom from? You only tell us. Has India enslaved anyone? No. That’s why we’re not asking for freedom from Bharat. We are not asking for freedom from India, we are asking for freedom in India. This is a crucial distinction.

We are not asking for freedom from the British. That the people of this country fought, and got. Now I come to laal salaam. The police asked me, what is this laal salaam, laal salam. This was not a part of the investigation. When they were giving me food, or taking me for the medical test, and even at that time we JNU people can’t survive without talking, so I started talking to the policeman.

And it turned out that he was just like me. In this country, who are the policemen? The ones whose parents are farmers, labourers, their kids are policemen. I too am from one of the backward states in the country, from a poor family, I am from a farmer’s family, and even in my family there are people in the police. I am speaking of constable, head constable and inspectors, not about the IPS [Indian Police Service] – I don’t have much information about them.

Photo: V Arun Kumar
Photo: V Arun Kumar

But the constable started talking to me and I wanted to tell you about that.

He asked: What is this "Laal Salaam", "Laal Salaam"?

I said: Laal (or red) means revolution and salaam means salute, so a salute to the revolution.

He said: I do not understand the meaning.

I asked do you know "Inquilaab zindaabad" [”Long Live the Revolution!”]?

He said he knew it.

So I said: Kraanti or revolution is called Inquilaab in Urdu.

He said: This slogan is also chanted by the ABVP.

I said: Do you now understand? They are the fake revolutionaries and we are the real revolutionaries.

Then he said: You’ve got everything so much subsidised and cheap in JNU.

I said: Should I tell you something?

He said: Sure, do tell.

Then I asked: Why do you also not get it?

I realised that he was having to work for 18 hours.

I asked: Do you get overtime?

He said: No.

Then I asked: How do you manage?

He said: This is what happens – what you call corruption.

I said I understood. Now, what they get – I realised that they get Rs 110 for their uniform. Now you tell me, in this much one can’t even get undergarments, how can one buy uniform?

This is what those policemen themselves were asking.

I said this is exactly what we want Azadi from: from hunger, from corruption.

Meanwhile, a protest movement started in Haryana. And all of you know very well that the maximum number of people in Delhi Police come from Haryana. I salute them all because they are very hardworking people.

So I said: This reservation...

He said: The caste-system is really bad...

I said this is the caste-system that we want azaadi from.

He said there was nothing wrong in this, there was no sedition (desh-droh) in this.

I said: Please tell me, who has the maximum power in the system?

He said: My stick (danda).

I said: Absolutely correct. But can you wield this stick as you want, of your own will?

He said: No.

I said: The entire power has gone to whom?

He said: The one who is giving statements on a fake tweet.

I said we want azaadi from exactly such Sanghi-people or those from the RSS who make fake tweets.

He said: Should I tell you the truth, friend? It now seems as if you and I are now standing together.

I said: Yeah, but there is one problem with it.

And I am now aiming this at all the friends in the media. I am saying it humbly. Because all the people in media do not get their salaries from there. Some of them indeed get their salaries from there.

And while working in media, while reporting from Parliament, some of them are trying to enter Parliament and they are the very people who have created such an atmosphere that... while I talk to you one to one, they go, “See this – sensationalism!”

They have created such an atmosphere, friends, that, he said: I felt that when you come here, because your name had appeared in the FIR...

I said: Before it appeared in the FIR, it had appeared in the ABVP paper.

The ABVP paper had put down all the names of all of us accused in their paper much before it was noted in the FIR.

He said: We had thought that when you come here, I will really beat you up but after talking to you I feel as if I should go and beat them up.

It’s something very serious he has said and I want to attract the attention of the people of the entire country.

That policeman, who like me belongs to an ordinary family, and like me also wanted to do PhD. But he could not get into JNU. Like me, he too wanted to understand the system of this country and fight the battle like me, he wanted to understand the difference between being literate and educated, today he is working for the police.

Photo: V Arun Kumar
Photo: V Arun Kumar

This is where JNU stands. This is why you want to stifle our voice so that a person from the weaker sections does not end up doing a PhD because education that is being sold out will cost in lakhs and he will not have the money to pay the fees and that is why he will not be able to do his PhD and that is why you want to shut down JNU.

You want to shut down all those voices that could unite – whether he’s standing at the border, giving up his life working in his field or battling in JNU for his azaadi – you do not want these voices to come together as one.

I want to tell you that Babasaheb [Ambedkar] had said that political freedom will not be enough, will not do – we will establish social freedom, which is why we keep talking about the Constitution. Lenin has said, “Democracy is indispensable for socialism”. That is why we talk about democracy, that is why we talk about freedom of expression, that is why we talk about equality, that is why we talk about socialism – so that the son of a peon and the son of a President both can go to the same school. [next sentence gets drowned in applause]. And you, you want to stifle our voice.

But what a coincidence. Science tells us, the more you press, the more will be the resultant pressure – but they have nothing to do with science. Because to study science is one thing and to be a scientist – or have a scientific temper – is something else altogether. So if we establish a dialogue with those who have a scientific temper, we will be able to get the azaadi that we are demanding – from hunger and poverty, from oppression and exploitation, for the rights of Dalits, Tribals, women and minorities – we will not give up till we get that Azaadi. And we will ensure that this Azaadi will come to this country via this very constitution, this very Parliament, and this very legal system – that is our dream.

This was Babasaheb’s dream. This indeed is Comrade Rohith [Vemula]’s dream. Now just watch – you have killed one Rohith, but in continuation of that, the one protest you wanted to suppress, that protest and movement has now emerged in such a huge manner, and how massive this movement has become. Just note this.

Photo: V Arun Kumar
Photo: V Arun Kumar

There is something else I want to say from my experience in prison – we people from JNU – and this is my self-criticism, and if you feel it’s a self-criticism, do acknowledge it for sure – we people from JNU do speak in a civilised and measured manner, but we use very heavy terminology. And the common people of this country do not follow that. It’s not their fault. They are honest, good, sensible people – but you do not manage to put things at their level in a manner that they can understand.

And what do they receive? And what do they get? “Forward it fast and you will get what you want.” Forward it fast and you will get what you want? Send it to as many groups as you can! Now they see [no more?] and sell it on OLX. We have to establish a dialogue with this mentality of selling.

Now I want to share something I experienced in prison. I was served in two bowls. One of them was blue and the other one was red. Now when I saw these two bowls, I was repeatedly reminded that while I do not believe in destiny, that I do not know God either, but something good is sure to happen soon in this country – after all, the red and blue bowls came together on one plate. And that plate seemed like India to me, the blue bowl seemed like the Ambedkarite movement to me and that red bowl seemed like the colour of ... [unclear]. It seemed to me that if this unity could be achieved in this country, then I tell you the truth – now we will have to see no more and send out the seller. We do not need those who are selling out [the country], we will make a government that would be able to ensure justice for all. “Sabkaa saath, sabkaa vikaas” – with everyone, development for all – we really will establish this. And that is our battle.

There was strict watch in the jail. I have brought – I have brought chanaa [gram] for all of you. And there is a saying, as long as we have chana in our pockets, we will keep going and coming. Although it’s been quite some time since anyone from JNU was sent to jail – but let me tell you something funny that is linked to it. Today, the respected Prime Minister, the honourable Prime Minister – it will have to be said after all – who knows, this too might get doctored and sedition charges levelled once again – Hon’ble Prime Minister was saying, he was talking about Stalin and Khrushchev, and I felt that I should enter into the TV set, tug at his suit and say, “Modiji, please say something about Hitler as well... OK, forget Hitler, at least talk about Mussolini whose black cap you wear [the reference is to the RSS black cap], the one whom your Guruji, Guru Golwalkar had gone to meet and who preached to learn the definition of Indian-ness from Germans...”

So talking about Hitler, Khrushchev, the prime minister, we were discussing, Mann ki Baat he discusses, but he doesn’t listen. It’s a personal matter, I spoke to my mother after nearly three months today. Whenever I went home, I wouldn’t talk much. After going to jail, I realised I should be in touch better, you all should talk to your family also. I told my mother, you pinched Modi well. She said, i didn’t pinch him, that those people do, joking and playing is their job, we speak of our pain, those who understand, appreciate, and those who don’t, they laugh.

She said: This is my pain. Modiji is also someone’s son. But your son has been called anti-national and jailed. So sometimes there is Mann ki Baat, and sometimes Ma ki Baat.

I had no reply, because what is happening in this country is frightening. This is why I’m not talking about one party or one media channel. This is why I don’t only speak of soldiers. This is matter for the whole country, What kind of a country is it if there are no people in it? We have to keep saluting those who stood up to support the people of JNU. Because they understand what kind of people come here.

Here, we have 60% women. I can say this with pride that reservations are applied in JNU. And where they don’t apply, we are struggling to make sure they come in. The people who come here, this I haven’t said until today and you wouldn’t have realised, but my family runs on Rs 3000 per month. Can I do a PhD in any of the big universities? The way JNU has been attacked and the people who supported it have been attacked, and I’m not associating with a specific political party here, but the people who spoke up for us, they were also called anti national.

Sitarama Yechury was also called anti national? Rahul Gandhi was also called anti national? D Raja also? And the people of the media were threatening – Kejriwal too – and the media people who were supporting JNU, don’t support us, just set the record straight. They are being insulted, threatened, what kind of nationalists are these?

A few constables asked me in jail, did you really raise those slogans? I said yes. They asked, would you raise slogans again? I said yes. I asked them, can you tell the difference, Bhaisaab, this government has only been in power for two years, we have to suffer them for three more years. Because 69% of the people voted against these people. Only 31% voted for them. And out of those, some were drawn in by false promises. Some you pulled in saying ‘har, har’, and now they’re troubled by the price of Arhar dal.

Don’t think of this as your permanent victory. This is true that if you tell a lie a 100 times, it becomes the truth, but this only works with lies. If you called it the moon instead of the sun 100 times, would it suddenly become the moon? It will still remain the sun. You can spin lies and lies, but you can’t suppress the truth.

Photo: V Arun Kumar
Photo: V Arun Kumar

Outside the Parliament they bring distracting proposals, and distract from the legitimate demands of the people. There are new agendas to divert the people. Occupy UGC was happening here, when Rohith was murdered. When voices were raised for Rohith, then suddenly they cried, look at the country’s biggest anti nationals, this den of anti nationals. It won’t go on for too long.

They are preparing again. "We will build the Ram Temple". I’ll speak of today, today I spoke to a constable before leaving. He asked me: Do you believe in religion? I said I don’t even understand religion. Let me understand it, then I might believe.

He said, you must have been born into a family, I said by coincidence I was born into a Hindu family. He said, so do you know anything about it? I said with the knowledge I have, God created the universe – even a pebble has god inside it. God is in each and every particle. He agreed. So I asked him: some of these people want to build something for that God, what do you think of that? “It’s a terribly silly idea,” the constable scoffed.

How many times will you flog the same horse? You went from 80 to 180 once by fooling the people, but that won’t work again. But they’re still at it, trying to pull wool over our eyes so that no once discusses or debates the legitimate questions that need to be asked about the country. As your stand here today, it feels like someone has attacked on you. And it’s true – this is a big attack. However, this hasn’t started today. I’d like to remind you that the RSS’s mouthpiece, the Organiser had a cover story in JNU. Subramanian Swamy had a statement on JNU too.

I have full faith in democracy. If my friends from the ABVP are listening, it is my humble request that they get Swamy in for a debate, face-to-face. If Swamy can logically prove that JNU needs to close for 4 months then I’ll agree with him. If not, however, I’ll request him to leave the country, just as he had once done earlier.

It’s interesting how much planning and co-ordiantion went into this attack on JNU. The same anti-JNU posters have been used by the Hindu Kranti Sena, the ABVP and even “ex-armymen” on their march. This means all of this is being strategised at Nagpur [the RSS headquarters]. There is nothing spontaneous about this at all.

The main takeaways are: plans to crush the voice of struggle in this country. To distract the public away from the foundation questions of his existence. To brand Umar, Anirban, Anant, Ashutosh Kanhaiya and every other JNUite as a seditionist and to crush, delegitimise JNU’s voice. But this isn’t going to be that easy. You’re not going to be able to crush our struggle – the more you try, the greater our movement grows.

We’re in this for the long haul. The people who want to divide this country, both within and outside JNU, the RSS and the BJP people who want to bring the country to the brink of destruction – we need to unite and stand against them. The fight that has been sparked off by Occupy UGC, Rohith Vemula, you, all the peace loving and progressive people in the country – we will fight that fight and we will win it. I thank you, everyone who has been involved in this fight and I appeal for you to continue the fight. And with this, I end my speech. Thank you and long live the revolution!

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