Kanhaiya: A manufactured icon

In this age of instant communication, celebrity status comes fast. Especially if one fits into the scheme of things of our opinion makers, as Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union president Kanhaiya Kumar does. So, unsurprisingly, prominent journalists are falling over each other to interview him; newspapers and channels are enthusiastically publishing and broadcasting the inanities he has been mouthing ever since he came out of jail. The enthusiasm is to invent an anti-Bharatiya Janata Party, anti-Narendra Modi icon.

If God did not exist, we would have to invent him, wrote Voltaire. And if there was a dearth of anti-Modi warriors, media Brahmins shall invent them. They found one in Arvind Kejriwal some time ago; recently, they have found another in Kanhaiya Kumar.

It must be pointed out, though, that the midwifery services in the birth of the revolutionary leader Kanhaiya Kumar were provided by the saffron brotherhood. Without the gross incompetence of Home Minister Rajnath Singh (where else in the world would you find an important minister acting on unverified tweets?), the shenanigans of a more-loyal-than-the-king police chief, the theatrics of Human Resource Minister Smriti Irani, the hoodlumism of the Delhi legislator O.P. Sharma, and the hooliganism of deshbhakta lawyers, Kumar could not have had more than 15 minutes of infamy.

In fact, the February 9 event, where anti-India slogans were raised and Afzal Guru was lionized, provided an excellent opportunity to expose the likes of Kanhaiya Kumar as the B-team of separatists and jihadists. The man in the street was fuming. How could JNU students praise a traitor? How could they talk about the dismemberment of India? And how could they do all this while living on taxpayer money? But the saffron hotheads messed up badly; they made a hero out of a nobody. They have bestowed respectability to an ideology, communism, that would have burnt out in the public outrage; instead it is now shining bright as a beacon of hope. And the jihad-friendly mob of journalists is making it shine bright.

Meanwhile the guy is enjoying the moment. With a huge fan following in JNU and a fawning media, he indulges in pompous gibberish in bad Hindi. But this mesmerizes liberals like Congress leader Shashi Tharoor: “With his compelling fluency and brilliant rhetoric, his impish smile and sardonic humor, his mastery of idiomatic Hindi and his manifest sincerity, Kanhaiya seems to represent the idealism and passion long felt to be absent in the political class. In explicit contrast to the practised and cynical politicians running the nation, he offers an authentic voice of the people,” Tharoor wrote in a blog.

It may be mentioned here that whatever his sins may be, Tharoor is an erudite and polished man. One reason for such praise of Kumar from the former Union minister is that the young student leader is taking on India’s most powerful man, Narendra Modi. The more important reason, however, is that we often see what we want to see. And the liberals and Leftists of today yearn for anti-Modi leaders. So, pedestrian oratory is valorized as “compelling fluency and brilliant rhetoric” and platitudes are viewed as profound statements suffused with “idealism and passion.”

Editors are no less fascinated by Kumar. In her interview with him, an obsequious Barkha Dutt asks all kinds of silly questions, as if he were a film star. The interview drags on and on, giving the impression that a very important personage is in conversation. All questions in his comfort zone.

But the chap is uncomfortable in the terrain where the clouds of treason hang. He is extremely cautious, indeed disingenuous, when he is asked about Afzal Guru: “Personally, Afzal Guru is not my icon, it is Rohith Vemula. Afzal Guru was a citizen of India, a resident of Jammu and Kashmir which is a part of India, and he was punished as per the law of the land. The same law permits citizens to discuss that punishment. Those who were discussing it have been granted the right to do so by the Constitution.”

Notice that after the first sentence, he only states facts; we still don’t know about his opinion about Guru. Guru is also not the icon of BJP leaders, but they have an opinion about him. What is Kumar’s opinion? He doesn’t say, and the jihad-friendly journalists don’t ask him. After all, he is their hero, and in postmodern times a man can be a hero even to his valet.