Kanhaiya Kumar shot into national limelight in February 2016 when, as president of Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union, he was arrested and charged with sedition.
A video purporting to show the student leader shouting slogans demanding “azadi” turned out to be doctored. Almost three years later, a chargesheet was finally filed against him in January, but there were gaping holes in the police account of events.
In the meanwhile, Kumar has completed his PhD and is now contesting the Begusarai Lok Sabha seat in Bihar as a candidate for the Communist Party of India. In this article, he explains his decision to contest.
Events unfolded in ways that I didn’t realise when I became an “accidental politician”. I have always been political, but just a few years ago my friends and I would have laughed at any suggestion of contesting the Lok Sabha election.
I am an academic by training. But we live in a society where we see violence around us, be it literal, mental or systemic. So more than anything else, I am an activist.
And now, after five years of the current regime at the Centre, I am in politics. And yet, I am not a “politician”.
I see it as my social responsibility to be part of an alternative politics.
A politics that stands up and fights against hate and oppression.
A politics that dreams of an India that rises beyond what divides us, and celebrates what unites us.
A politics that dreams of a society that truly values individual rights, inclusive development and progressive thinking.
A politics that dreams of a democracy strong enough, not just to undo the damage of the past five years, but to grab the opportunities of the coming 20.
That is why we fight. And this, is my story.
The story of who I am is not special. I was like most people around me. In school, I gave polio drops. In college, I worked at a coaching class. In Delhi, as I studied for Union Public Service Commission exams, I took up a job. My brother worked as a guard in Assam, and sent me money for UPSC coaching classes.
The government’s addition of Civil Services Aptitude Test to UPSC however, destroyed my chances of ever being in the civil services. This aptitude test made the possibility of Hindi-medium and, especially, students of humanities entering the services almost negligible.
Moreover, I could not afford the CSAT classes. But I do not look at it with any regrets. It is while studying for UPSC that I had my academic and political awakening.
So far, so normal.
It is when I came to the Jawaharlal Nehru University that I realised I could contribute, through my research, to the betterment of my people. But for me the JNU was never just an institution. It was a space with a life of its own that let you learn freely – not just from texts but from lived experiences and from social movements.
Activism was always a priority. Even when I contested for the post of the University Students’ Union President, I never thought that students would support me in such large numbers. This is where my life changed track completely.
Throughout my political journey, I have always questioned and criticised the people who abuse their positions of power. However, the current regime was different. Police intimidation and lathi-charges used to happen earlier also. But co-ordinated campaigns of slander, fake-news, absolute hatred, and absolutist labels like “anti-national” were very new indeed.
There is an old adage, usually attributed to Pericles, the Greek statesperson, which goes: “Just because you do not take an interest in politics, does not mean politics does not take an interest in you.” Well, I took interest in politics, and politics certainly took interest in me.
When we were attacked by the state, we had two options – to fight or to surrender. But in my opinion, we only had one.
So we fought, and that fight has brought me where I am today.
I am not here to show you what will be the alternative of this or that party. I am here to show you what should be the alternative politics of this country.
This alternative politics is not just a fight against oppression, but a fight for freedom and equality.
It is not just against the Bharatiya Janata Party and Rashtriya Swaywamsevak Sangh’s Hindutva chauvinism, but for Ambedkar’s social inclusiveness.
It is not just against a mobocracy, but for a truly participatory democracy.
It is not my fight. It is ours.
A new framework
The first step to bring about any change is to take politics out of the pockets of the rich, and put it back into the hands of the average taxpayer.
It is she and he who fund the government, but her and his issues are completely missing from our debates.
Why? Because this is not a government for the taxpayer. It is a political machine for the rich. It is such systems that must be brought down. The government must be returned to the people.
Our second step should be to establish an issue-based alternative politics.
We must speak of the state of public education, public healthcare and public infrastructure.
We must speak for the marginalised – not only for minorities but also for trans-genders and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community.
We must speak against the patriarchy, and for the right to consent.
We must speak of the new challenges our country is facing today – from environmental sustainability to the digital revolution and the right to privacy.
Most crucially, we must organise, exert pressure and vote based on this alternative politics.
Finally, it is through this alternative politics, that we must shape our democracy from a procedural democracy to a participatory democracy.
This alternative politics will help us build a new framework for welfare-ism. One that is not just accountable and transparent, but most importantly, one that is inclusive.
It should listen to the marginalised and speak truth to power.
It must stand for true participation, for the right of every citizen in this nation to speak, to organise and to contest elections.
Only with this framework can we build a democracy that stands the test of time, a democracy that helps the India of the future realise the dreams that remain unfulfilled from the past.