Kanhaiya Kumar, the former JNU student union president, shot into the limelight overnight after being arrested for alleged sedition following an incident at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) on February 9 this year. Anti-India slogans were allegedly raised by a section of students at the event to commemorate the death anniversary of Afzal Guru. Kumar was charged for being present in the crowd and raising such slogans. He was later released on bail, but has been fined by the university authorities for the event.
Ideologues and activists have come out with two extreme positions post the brouhaha at JNU. While one goes to the extreme limits of defining what all is anti-national, the other states that freedom means you can do anything. Somewhere between these two ends, the classic definition of liberty as taught in political theory—freedom from having to do something rather than freedom to do anything—gets lost.
It is no secret that the Left parties, student wings associated with it and people having allegiance to its ideology have a distaste for the BJP and a pathological dislike for Narendra Modi. However, his mandate and the current state of the Congress have made them look for anyone and anything that has the potential to become a rallying point against Modi. In this quest, even the most unlikely person can become a hero overnight. Kumar was one of them. His release from jail and his subsequent speech at JNU used the power of social media and made him look like a messiah or a revolutionary leader. Buoyed by it, it seems Kumar thought it’s time to tell his story. He has not disclosed his age in the book, but a rough estimate suggests that he is not less than 30 years old. He’s still to complete his PhD and, barring his matriculation, he’s always scored a second division. The only entrance exam he has succeeded in till date is that of JNU.
There’s not much the book has to tell. Of the five chapters, two are devoted to JNU and Tihar, leaving three for his childhood and college days, all said in some 249 pages. Kumar was born into an upper-caste poor family in a village in Begusarai in Bihar. He’s not a Dalit, but has not disclosed his exact caste. Also, it is not that his entire family is poor. Extended and immediate relatives and even friends of his father are well to do. His family’s poverty is due to his father’s activism and alignment with the communist party. Anyone familiar with Begusarai will know that it’s a traditional stronghold of the communists.
Kumar grows up in poverty, goes to a government school, briefly even to a public school, witnesses disparity, discrimination, communalism, etc, and being a perceptive student, starts developing a political ideology—that Dalits, Muslims and Adivasis comprise the weaker sections and the system always discriminates against them. Hence, he will fight for them. However, no thought is spared for the poor. His dubbing of Dalits, Muslims and Adivasis is such that they seem to be a homogenous group with no stratification. But we will have to take Kumar at face value, because he says he understands sociology very well.
Throughout his student days, his dilemma was whether to study and become an engineer or an IAS officer, or get into activism. Somewhere in senior classes, Kumar found that he is weak in math and science, but good at social sciences. He devotes a lot of time to reading, but barring Premchand, has not named a single other author he has read. Despite being weak in math and science, he opted for the science stream in class XII to become an engineer. It seems his choice was made to please his parents, but he chooses to blame the system again. In college, he switched to social sciences and opted for subjects like geography, history, sociology, Hindi and English despite not having any special interest in them, but just because he read in some competitive magazine that an IAS topper of a particular year had geography and Hindi as optional subjects. However, he never discloses which subject/s interest him. Even when he joined MPhil in JNU in African studies, it was because he knew a professor from that department.
He’s inclined towards Left ideology, but never examines it critically. He grew up in Bihar during Lalu Prasad’s hegemony, but never discusses his tenure and what he thinks about it. All his hatred is reserved for the BJP, its student wing ABVP and, of course, Modi. There’s no word on the USSR and its collapse, the fall of the Berlin wall, Stalinism, Mao or the Tiananmen Square in China. No word about Emergency and the CPI’s support to it. No word about the Communists’ role in the freedom struggle, their attempt to sabotage the Quit India Movement and their calling Mahatma Gandhi an agent of the bourgeois. Strangely, while he has hailed a host of leaders, there’s no mention of Gandhi.
In the end, one is at a loss to understand the purpose behind this book. Perhaps Kumar wanted to tell his side of the story of the February 9 event and its aftermath. Because conventional wisdom suggests that one should write an autobiography or a memoir only after having lived a full life and having the satisfaction of achieving either what one set out to do, or reaching an age when one can satisfactorily look back to tell a wholesome story. Kumar has achieved neither.