Kanhaiya Kumar: from the shadows, into stardom

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Amid all the debate around democracy and nationalism, Kanhaiya Kumar's emergence now raises questions about the credibility of the charges against him and the significance of his slogans

Are we seeing a Students' Spring in India? It sure looks like it.

After spending 20 days in jail on a highly contentious charge based on disputed (if at all credible) evidence, Kanhaiya Kumar was offered a warm welcome in JNU, from where his spirited address to his comrades was live-telecasted by most national TV channels. This could be the first time national channels (oops, except Times Now ) have live-telecasted an entire public speech by a Left leader. Lal Salams rose in Indian drawing rooms. BJP just made it possible. But how? Let’s do a recap.

February 12, 2016

Kanhaiya was arrested under sedition charges. The Delhi Police wrote on Twitter that “Abetment of any kind of anti-national activity is a punishable offence”, indicating that that's what Kanhaiya had done. Sections of the media, particularly Times Now and Zee News, went after Kanhaiya and JNU. The video clips these channels aired showed Kanhaiya taking part in demonstrations in which students give anti-India and pro-Pakistan slogans. Arnab Goswami breathlessly attacked “anti-nationals” in his studio.

The likes of Mohandas Pai, Chetan Bhagat and others expressed concerns about tax-payers' money being spent on JNU. Swapan Dasgupta, the pro-BJP journalist, tweeted a video, again showing “anti-national” activities in JNU. Sangh supporters called for hanging Kanhaiya and shutting down JNU.

Question >> If a person does not need to actually incite violence to be deemed seditious, how many of us are being seditious every day, while lamenting the state of affairs to our neighbour or cursing the PM or government in our mind?

February 14

Union Home Minister said the protesting students in JNU had the support of Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed. >Apparently, Singh's claim was based on a tweet by a fake Hafiz Saeed account. Delhi Police swung into action. It warned against LeT's support for students. After many questioned whether the minister's claim was based on the tweet, Mr. Singh said he had intelligence reports.

Question >> Where are those reports? Did the Delhi Police argue in the court that JNU students are backed by LeT? (A source told me last week there was no such intel report: ‘We have to take the blame now because how can we contradict the Home Minister?’)

February 15

Lawyers attacked JNU teachers, students and journalists at the Patiala House Courts complex. Several of them — including Vikram Chouhan, a photo whom sitting with Rajnath Singh went viral on social networks — were caught on camera unleashing violence. O.P. Sharma, a BJP MLA and former private secretary to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, was shown by channels beating up a man in front of the courthouse.

Question >> Why did Delhi Police do nothing to stop the violence? Nor arrest them after the violence?

February 17

The same lawyers ran amok at the same place. They roughed up Kanhaiya under the watch of the police. The special delegation of lawyers sent by the Supreme Court to investigate the violence were verbally abused. Commissioner B.M. Bassi defended his force, saying Kanhaiya was safely delivered to the court. Later, though, a video shot by Supreme Court–appointed lawyers surfaced in which Kanhaiya described in tears how he was badly beaten up by “people dressed like lawyers” in the court premises under the watch of the police. On the same day, Commissioner Bassi said the Delhi Police would not oppose Kanhaiya's bail, though it was not giving a clean chit to the student leader in the sedition case.

Question >> If the sedition law is justified as a preclusion to anarchy, shouldn't vigilantism too be punishable on similar grounds?

February 19

Journalist Swapan Dasgupta tweeted that there’s a part of the video clip he tweeted that “may be dodgy”. His tweet came only after the emergence of the original video of Kanhaiya shouting slogans such as ' manuvaad se aazaadi [freedom from caste system]'. A few days later, Vishwa Deepak, a Zee News journalist, quit over what, according to him, was biased coverage of the JNU protests by the channel. He says none of the video clips he and his crew shot had 'Pakistan zindaabad ' slogans, but the ones aired by the channel had been morphed to include them. “We played repeatedly [the doctored video] to spread madness. How did we establish that Kanhaiya and his associates were chanting slogans when all we heard were voices coming from the darkness. Our biases made us hear Bhartiya Court Zindabad as Pakistan Zindabad,” he wrote in his letter.

Question >> If Kanhaiya and his mates never actually chanted anti-India slogans, who was responsible for the foul play that twisted the narrative? How much is the media guilty of irresponsible, if not maleficent, treatment of news? Is the media guilty of doctoring the video or of not verifying a video doctored with mala fide political intent?

February 24

Vikram Chouhan, the ring-leader of the Patiala violence, was arrested, after more evidences surfaced. In an India Today sting, the lawyers gleefully owned up to the brazen attack on journalists and Kanhaiya at the Patiala court, saying they had intended to teach the “anti-nationals a lesson”. Chouhan got bail moments after being arrested. Earlier, O.P. Sharma, the BJP MLA, had also been arrested and released on bail. But Umar Khalid and other JNU students surrendered to police and were sent to judicial custody. Delhi Police made a U-turn, saying they would now oppose Kanhaiya's bail. "We have reasonable apprehension that if he [Kanhaiya] comes out on bail, he is bound to impact the investigation and influence witnesses. He is also likely to indulge in activities that are violative of penal laws,” said Commissioner Bassi.

Question >> Why the U-Turn? If Kanhaiya's sloganeering was the precedent that rendered his intentions suspect and justified the call for his detention, why are the lawyers who displayed violence still not under restraint?

The case started collapsing as soon as evidences surfaced which showed the videos were doctored. A forensic investigation ordered by the Delhi government found that two videos of the controversial JNU event, taken as evidence against students charged with sedition, were doctored. Words in the videos that are seen to incite violence have been spliced, says the forensic lab report. A Delhi government-appointed magisterial probe did not find any evidence of Kanhaiya raising anti-India slogans. While hearing Kanhaiya's bail plea too, Delhi Police admitted in the High Court that there was no video evidence of his having raised anti-India slogans, but maintained that they had eyewitnesses.

March 2

19 days after Kanhaiya was arrested — 19 long days during which he was abused, imprisoned and, of course, mentally tortured — the Delhi High Court gives him interim bail, along with a Bollywood song on patriotism, and asked him to stay away from “anti-national” activities actively or passively.

Question >> Was the court referring to the slogans Kanhaiya raised against caste, poverty, capitalism as being “anti-national”? Or was it warning him to ensure no one doctored videos of his sloganeering this time?

March 3

Back in JNU, Kanhaiya delivered an electrifying speech in which he took on Prime Minister Modi head on, saying he and his comrades did not seek freedom from India (as the right-wingers insinuated in their campaign against him and the campus) but freedom in India, from hunger, from patriarchy, from Brahmanism, etc. No student leader has got the national momentum like this in India in decades. Kanhaiya is a young boy from a poor family, a PhD student who seeks azadi in the country, just returned from Tihar jail after being implicated in a case without basis, addressing the nation, taking on the country’s mightiest Prime Minster in decades.

Question >> Are we witnessing a Students’ Spring in India? From FTII to Occupy UGC to Hyderabad Central University to JNU, the students’ protests are only getting stronger and louder. And when it reaches JNU, it’s become a national issue and the strongest challenge before this government. How will Prime Minister Modi implement his agenda if his government is going to be at a permanent revolt with the youth of this country?

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