When Kanhaiya Kumar was released from Tihar jail on March 3, he marked his arrival on the political horizon with a rousing speech amidst thousands of people at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
The JNU student union president won over many with that speech, not just from the Left.
For the Left parties, of course, he has become a poster-boy as the university campus rallies behind him to fight for “azaadi” for everything – from colonial sedition law to farm distress.
Many, including some of the most astute political commentators, have hailed Kanhaiya as the new “red star”.
For the Right, though, Kanhaiya is clearly a new political opponent who needs to be brought down a notch or two – or several. One week later, therefore, Kumar’s detractors are still at it, trying every trick in the book to undermine his popularity and appeal on the campus.
Kumar’s public image, took a bit of a hit on Thursday when it was reported that he was fined by the university for allegedly misbehaving with a women in June 2015 who had accused him of threatening her when she caught him urinating in public and objected.
The woman is an ex-student of JNU who detailed this in an open letter she wrote on March 3, a day after Kanhaiya Kumar was released, terming him a “false revolutionary”.
Kamlesh Narwana, a teacher at Delhi University now, claimed that she had confronted Kumar, who called her a “psycho” and told her that it was his right to urinate in public.
When activists of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad circulated a copy of the order by then JNU Proctor Krishan Kumar from October 2015, imposing a Rs 3000 fine on Kanhaiya for this incident, it was bound to make news – and it did.
Kumar’s critics had finally found something to attack him with, even if it pertained to a time when he was just a student, claiming that his stand on women’s security and safety are hypocritical.
Even as the open letter and the university order did the rounds for more than a day on social media, JNUSU maintained a silence on the issue and declined to comment. Meanwhile, Kumar’s organisation All India Students Federation issued a statement claiming that Kumar had not misbehaved with Narwana.
“Kanhaiya had no altercation with her and he wasn’t even called by the proctorial committee in the case. While we respect the girl’s decision to criticise Kanhaiya, we find the timing of this news suspicious. All of this is part of a plan to malign him,” it said.
This is not the first time in recent days that Kanhaiya has received negative publicity. Just a day before the so-called "urination row" surfaced, there was a clumsy attempt to show Kanhaiya Kumar cosying up to a supposed teacher, in what was luridly described as a "compromising position" in a photograph posted on social media.
Even newspapers like Punjab Kesari carried the photo on their online editions which was later removed.
Kumar promptly responded to the same on Tuesday by saying that it was “shameful” that women on JNU campus were consistently “attacked”.
“Is this not an attack on her mental freedom? Is this a victory for Bharat mata or a defeat? You can decide for yourself,” he asked in a video.
So ham-handed was the attempt that even an editor at the right-leaning magazine Swarajya decried the use of this picture. "What public interest does it serve?" he asked the people behind the ploy, referring to them as, "simply put, idiots... an embarrassment".
A controversy a day
While the urination row might not last another news cycle, Kanhaiya’s troubles are far from over. Charged with sedition along with five other students including Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya who are in Jail, Kumar has faced a spate of controversies including physical attacks and death threats.
On Friday, a suspected outsider named Vikas Chaudhary arrived at the JNU campus and manhandled Kanhaiya Kumar, accusing him of being “anti-national” and “anti-Army”. He told reporters that he wanted to “teach Kanhaiya a lesson”.
The police didn’t file a case even as he was taken to a police station soon after the incident, stating that they didn’t receive a written complaint on the issue.
This is only the latest. Kumar’s recent comments on the alleged rapes by army-men have led him into troubled waters legally too. A case was filed against him in the Kanpur civil court for his “objectionable” comments about army personnel.
Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, the student wing of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party filed a case against him and JNU professor Nivedita Menon in the Vasant Vihar Police Station in Delhi, claiming that they had made “anti-national” statements on the campus.
Even as Kanhaiya Kumar is facing the heat from his opponents, JNU continues to protest the sedition charges on the students over an event held on February 9th to mark Afzal Guru’s hanging where “divisive” slogans were allegedly raised as students discussed Kashmir’s right to “self-determine” its future.
Almost every evening since his release, Kumar has addressed students who gather at the administrative block for open lectures and reiterated that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party government is running a well-planned campaign to attack public universities and muzzle dissent.
“We thought the media would get over the JNU issue, but looks like the BJP will fight the Uttar Pradesh elections on the JNU issue this time. That sort of environment is being created,” he said on Monday. “We will return to our key issues – education and jobs for everyone, we won’t let that dilute.”
His comments came after veteran actor Anupam Kher targeted him for insulting the army and trying to divide the country even as a 15-year-old girl Jhanvi Behal from Ludhiana challenged him for open debate by saying that “it’s easy to criticise [Narendra Modi] while sitting at home.”
Even before Kanhaiya Kumar was released from jail, BJP leaders and MPs had started to paint JNU as a university with “loose-morals”. On February 24, Gyandev Ahuja, BJP MLA from Rajasthan said that every day 3,000 condoms and more than 2,000 liquor bottles are found in the garbage at the university.
“They gorge on meat... these anti-nationals. 2,000 wrappers of chips and namkeen are found, as also 3,000 used condoms – the misdeeds they commit with our sisters and daughters there," he said. "And 500 used contraceptive injections are also found.”
Students on the campus stand united in their struggle against the sedition charges but recent spate of controversies have made some of them reconsider the path to take, going ahead.
A student of MA at the School of Social Sciences said that JNUSU should have been proactive in responding to the open-letter that alleged that Kanhaiya had misbehaved with the woman.
“The student community looks up to Kanhaiya Kumar as a potent force against this government but he’s completely silent on it for some reason,” she said. “There are hypocrisies in every movement and we need to debate if there’s an issue like this. It can’t be just defeated with a statement that absolves him of all things.”
Another student who is part of the Pinjra Tod campaign which works for women’s rights in campuses said that criticism is a necessary and important part of the movement and Kanhaiya should make amends for his behaviour quickly.
“The administration and state have used the biases against women and the parochial mentality around men and women’s relationships to target him,” she said. “Yet, the strength of our movement must lie in the strength to be able to challenge even our closest friends and comrades on how they understand their gender politics.”