Why Kanhaiya Kumar's battle in Begusarai represents a strong new hope for Indian politics
Caught between communalists and criminals, Begusarai sees more than a single ray of light in these student leaders.
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The JNU students who were accused of sedition in February 2016, like Kanhaiya Kumar, Shehla Rashid, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, have provided the impetus to many other activists like Jignesh Mevani, Hardik Patel and others.
However, the challenges of the JNUSU are far from over.
With Kanhaiya Kumar contesting on a CPI ticket from Begusarai, the biggest challenge that the students’ body faces now lies in this district of Bihar.
Begusarai has always been a stronghold of the CPI. However, the district is fraught with challenges. The most prominent of them is battling dacoity and organised crime.
For instance, two decades ago, the alleged killer, dacoit, smuggler and anti-communist, Kamdeo Singh, was allegedly responsible for the killing of nearly 100 CPI cadre. He was ambushed and shot dead by a CRPF task-force in his village Nayagaon in Begusarai in 2004.
Kanhaiya hails from Bihat village in Begusarai district, from the Bhumihar community — a socially dominant caste. His politics in JNU, besides the sedition charge and the large support of the student community, has made him a sort of legend in the district.
The Battle of Begusarai: Giriraj Singh (L), Kanhaiya Kumar (M) and Tanveer Hasan (R). (Photo: DailyO)
However, Kanhaiya is not the first student leader from JNU to be contesting in the region — in 1990s Chandrashekar Prasad, president of JNUSU and a popular leader, campaigned actively against the criminalisation of politics in Bihar — led by Lalu Prasad Yadav at that point. On March 31, 1997, Chandrashekhar and another activist were shot dead while addressing street meetings in support of a strike called by their party.
The allegation of Chandrashekhar’s — popularly known as Chandu — murder was placed on Mohammad Shahabuddin, who is apparently a gangster-turned-politician from Siwan. Shahabuddin allegedly had the backing of Lalu Yadav, and when former Home Minister Indrajit Gupta sought to have Shahabuddin interrogated, he was baulked by the state government.
When I went there with some JNU students, Shahabuddin warned the District Collector against “interfering”. The public meeting held in Chandu’s memory is considered to be among the largest meetings in Siwan’s history. After Swami Agnivesh and I spoke at the meeting, Shahabuddin’s men were looking for us too. Thankfully, we were sheltered by some progressive people in the area.
I say all of this to highlight the social condition of Begusarai.
Other candidates contesting from Begusarai are Giriraj Singh (BJP) and Tanvir Hasan (RJD). While Giriraj Singh comes apparently flush with funds, Tanvir Hasan has his Muslim identity to back him. In fact, Hasan recently got elected to the state Legislative Council almost entirely, it is said, on the basis of his religious identity.
Kanhaiya has the significant backing of the student community, not only from JNU but from universities across the region in Kolkata, UP and Punjab. Not only the students but the teachers from these universities are also seeing Kanhaiya as their hope. Kanhaiya has managed raise funds innovatively and transparently by crowdsourcing.
Universities have always paved the way for progressive political thinking — Allahabad University and others led the way to the Quit India movement in 1942.
However, the challenges this time around are massive. Forces are actively seeking to take apart JNU’s secular and progressive thoughts. For instance, JNU Vice-Chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar is reportedly an RSS sympathizer and apparently has the strong backing of the Ministry of Human Resource Development and is thus seemingly impervious to diverse voices and pressures.
Now, in order to tackle communal and/or criminal forces in positions of power, there has to be mass empowerment across communities, classes, castes, genders and financial positions.
This election in Begusarai stands as the beacon of that hope.
Begusarai goes to polls on April 29, 2019