It’s hard escaping the limelight if you are Kanhaiya Kumar. The latest controversy over fines and punishments is only about happenings within Jawaharlal Nehru university in New Delhi, but the president of its Students Union immediately turned into a national icon after being charged with sedition along with five others in February. He was released from jail on bail under the condition (among many others) that he won’t indulge in any provocative or “anti-national” activities.
But far from dissuading him from dabbling in politics, Kumar seems to have taken to politics even more seriously than before. In just about two months after being released from Delhi’s Tihar jail on March 3, he has already managed to visit at least five different cities and addressed public meetings in each one of them. Even as a section of national and local media jostled everywhere to get a piece of Kanhaiya Kumar wherever he went, his political opponents have also turned out to protest his presence there.
He had been away from headlines for some days, though. But for not too long. On Sunday, he tweeted:
Kumar was apparently on his way to Pune from Mumbai to address a public meeting and the incident that happened before the flight took-off from Mumbai was described by him in a series of tweets.
Deka was detained for a few hours following the incident but the Mumbai Police later claimed that it was a minor scuffle between the two individuals.
But this wasn’t all. The Pune Police promptly stopped Kumar’s motorcade, just as it entered the city by road after being deplaned in Mumbai, to hand him a prohibitive order signed by the Police Commissioner barring him from making any “provocative” speeches.
His words, the order said, shouldn’t disturb the “peace and tranquility” of the city. The order, valid for 15 days, added that Kumar would be charged under section 188 of the Indian Penal Code if he violates the stipulations. Kumar, meanwhile, went ahead with his public meeting at the Balgandharva Rang Mandir auditorium, undeterred as ever.
An aide who spoke to Scroll said that Kumar wasn’t “scared” of the order and he would say what he had gone there to say.
Meanwhile, Pune’s Film and Television Institute of India decided to shut its doors for three days for all outsiders, journalists – and specifically for Kanhaiya Kumar. Students of the institute who have been protesting against the nomination of Gajendra Chauhan as its chairman have received vocal support from JNU and Kumar time and again. But the city police chose to bar entry to Kumar and even sought details of those students from the institution who were in touch with Kumar.
That makes it three newsworthy controversies surrounding Kanhaiya Kumar in a day – more than some parliamentarians and so-called national leaders can manage.
No place in Mumbai
The day preceding the eventful Sunday wasn’t any less exciting either. Kumar attended a public meeting of student leaders from various universities in Mumbai. He called the Narendra Modi government a “selfie sarkaar”, launched what has become a routine attack against the Bharatiya Janata Party, and called for a “social justice” revolution, away from electoral politics.
Even the Mumbai event has its fair share of trouble. The venue had to be changed multiple times because many major auditoriums denied permission to the organisers. The police, allegedly, forced the school management to deny permission for the event until the very last day.
“After everything had been finalised and even the posters had been printed, the police put pressure on the school management to cancel our hall booking,” an organiser of the event was quoted as saying by Mid Day. The police commissioner, however, gave a green signal hours before the event. The student supporters of Kumar, meanwhile, claimed that the police was attempting to derail the Mumbai event on purpose.
In the middle of all this, those on social media, however, were riled up for yet another reason. Many on Twitter questioned how Kumar, whose poor economic background has received enough media attention earlier, was managing to pay for airfares for shuttling from Delhi. This got a mention in Kumar’s speech in Mumbai, but he didn’t actually declare his sources of funding.
“If one rupee each is donated by those in the assembly, I will get my Delhi-Mumbai fare,” he said rhetorically. “I am willing to tell people who is funding us if Modiji can declare who is paying for his world travel.”
Shoes and slippers
Two weeks ago, on April 14, Kanhaiya Kumar was in Nagpur to address a rally on the 125th birth anniversary of BR Ambedkar. Shoes and slippers were hurled at him while he spoke at the rally. Earlier in the day some people, reportedly belonging to right-wing Bajrang Dal, attacked his car when he arrived in the city.
The police later detained five people in connection with the incident.
Before this, Kumar had been to Hyderabad University as well to express solidarity with students protesting in the aftermath of the suicide of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula. Kumar was not allowed entry inside the university despite waiting outside the main gate for a few hours. He ultimately left and addressed a gathering at the townhall.
But it isn't as if all students, even those protesting, are appreciative of Kumar's travels and landing up to show his support. Some of these students on the Hyderabad University campus spoke to Scroll earlier questioned his motives.
“What has he done for us except appropriating Vemula’s struggle and showing up for his five minutes of fame?” a student of the joint-action-committee on the HCU campus said.
Further opposition awaited Kanhaiya in the state of Telangana. A shoe was hurled at him during his address in Hyderabad. The youth, belonging to a right-wing organisation, was subsequently arrested by the police.
A day later, he was to address students at Siddhartha college in Vijayawada but the venue had to be changed because of opposition by the student wings of the BJP. Subsequently, the meeting was shifted to a hotel. However, BJP leaders and activists landed up there to shout “Kanhaiya, Go Back” slogans there as well and the police had to intervene to contain the scuffle that broke between them and Kumar’s supporters.
Hyderabad was his first visit outside Delhi after he was charged with sedition in February even as his visit to Aligarh Muslim University was cancelled after some right-wing groups on the campus objected to it.
It’s not just university politics that Kumar has been involved with. Earlier, there was some speculation about plans to rope him in to visit and campaign in poll-bound states for the Left parties. Kumar denied these plans then but it seems likely that he will be going to campaign for Muhammed Muhassin, a "comrade" from the Communist Party of India contesting in Kerala polls.
“I still maintain that mainstream politics is not my calling and I have no intention of joining it,” Kumar told PTI. “I still plan to stick to my goal of being a teacher but with Muhassin it was different. He has stood by JNU, stood by me all the time, I couldn’t refuse him.”