Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad | Manisha Mondal | ThePrint
Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad | Manisha Mondal | ThePrint
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The pan-India movement against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the National Register of Citizens has been described as leaderless by many. However, there are many faces on the ground and online who are grabbing India’s attention. Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad and former JNUSU president and Communist Party of India politician Kanhaiya Kumar are two such leaders in the limelight.

But there are key differences between the two leaders. And it is visible in the way the Indian state has responded to them.

Kanhaiya Kumar is not a threat

A recent Reuters report claimed that Kanhaiya Kumar has emerged as a “major irritant and political challenge to Modi” during the protests. Quoting an unnamed aide to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the report said: “Kumar’s appeal to young and first-time voters has worried Modi.”

There is no doubt that Kanhaiya Kumar is drawing the crowds. People are listening to him and forwarding snippets of his speeches on WhatsApp. Even Deepika Padukone was standing behind him when he was addressing students at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Kanhaiya Kumar is a good orator and his speeches resonate with the masses. But is he the leader who can challenge the demagogy of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah? Unlikely.

The problem with Kanhaiya Kumar is that he is not adding anyone new to the anti-Modi camp. He is just creating an echo chamber of anti-Modi forces, especially among the Muslims. Kanhaiya says things about Modi and the BJP that they want to listen to and that makes them happy. But that is hardly a political challenge to Modi. Muslims gathering in large numbers to clap for Kanhaiya will not worry Modi and Amit Shah. At best, Kanhaiya is able to tickle the funny bones of those who are Modi haters already. And that will not swing the social forces that have helped BJP catapult to this level of popularity.

Kanhaiya Kumar is no threat to ‘ghar ghar Modi’.

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An extensive exit poll by CSDS showed that ‘upper caste’ Hindus are the most aggressive supporters of the BJP. The party also gets support from the OBCs and the SCs. The party will be worried when any of these social forces – ‘upper castes’, OBC, SCs – starts deserting it.

Kanhaiya Kumar is an ‘upper caste’ Hindu, but his admirers are mostly Muslims and elite liberals. That’s why he is a leader who can’t breach the social coalition of the BJP supporters. That is why he is allowed to roam around India and address public meetings.

Also read: Who represents India’s Muslims? Thanks to CAA protests, we now know the answer

Chandrashekhar Azad more dangerous

The Narendra Modi government is reacting exactly opposite in the case of Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad.

Kanhaiya Kumar’s many speeches haven’t been able to create the impact that one image of Chandrashekhar Azad has – him holding up a copy of the Constitution of India in a crowded Jama Masjid.

Chandrashekhar Azad escaped detention and showed up at the anti-CAA protests called by the Bhim Army, only to turn himself in to the police a few hours later.

Delhi Police asked for his custody, which it was given. He spent more than three weeks in Delhi’s Tihar Jail. His bail application was opposed by the public prosecutors on the ground that his presence in Delhi will cause law and order problems. Azad was allegedly denied medical care while in jail, which later the court had to order the Delhi Police to grant.

Additional sessions judge Kamini Lau granted him bail on the condition that he will not enter Delhi for a month. When this order was challenged, the advocates representing the state again opposed his plea for the right of free movement.

It is clear that Chandrashekhar Azad has shaken up the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah government much more. His mural in Jamia Millia Islamia has become a selfie point now. He is the underdog whom that those opposed to the government want to see victorious.

Also read: Jama Masjid’s Shahi Imam changes stance on CAA as Chandrashekhar Azad leads protest

The real opposition

So, what explains the BJP’s rough handling of Azad?

I have four reasons:

1. Azad threatens the Hindu vs Muslim binary that the BJP wants to create with the CAA and the NRC. A Dalit leader, holding a copy of the Constitution, opposing CAA-NRC from the stairs of Jama Masjid is an image that the BJP doesn’t want to see. He is supported by both Dalits and Muslims.

2. Azad has the potential to encroach the BJP vote bank, especially Dalits. That is not good for the BJP at a time when it is trying to woo them with initiatives like Ambedkar Navodaya Schools. The Dalit-Muslim unity scares the BJP.

3. Azad is a novelty in politics. Unlike Kanhaiya, who has already lost an election in Bihar and whose party has fared badly, Azad’s potential is yet to be tested. He may or may not fizzle out in the course of time, but at this moment, he is creating hope.

4. Kanhaiya is not supported by his own social group – the ‘upper caste’ Hindus. This is not the case with Azad. The Bhim Army chief is being seen as the next big Dalit leader in Indian politics.

So, Chandrashekhar Azad, and not Kanhaiya Kumar, is the best icon that anti-CAA-NRC movement has produced. And the Narendra Modi government knows it.

The author is the former managing editor of India Today Hindi magazine, and has authored books on media and sociology. Views are personal.

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18 Comments Share Your Views


  1. In short Chandrashekhar Azad want to become the next Shri Jogendra Nath Mandal and just like Shri Jogendra Nath Mandal was thinking before he got betrayed , he is thinking that this time the Dalit Muslim Unity Experiment will work out and he will get to power, if he was a real Ambedkarite then he would have demanded an Uniform Civil Code which was Babasaheb’s wish and would have understood who are the Secular and who are the Communal

  2. Azad does not have to win an election , but has to only creative a narrative against Modi . Modi never won any election on his own steam when he was the general secretary of the BJP handling a few states . However, all that changed with the 2002 ,which alone made Modi a ” heart throb” of Hindus , whose minds have been poisoned by the RSS and its various subsidiaries including the BJP instilling a non existing threat to the identity,safety and security of Hindus . It certainly fits the description of fooling all people for sometime and little else given the way India has walked into all kinds of crises since 2014 including, hitherto, external relations with even small neighbours and the worst economic crisis of the last half a century and an ever increasing social cleavage and unbridled violence being spread in the society in the name of the cow, calf, beef and Hinduism

  3. Chandrashekhar Azad and Kanhaiya Kumar are closer to Delhi than Jignesh Mevani was.
    That apart the columnist has not commented on what he thinks about the upholding of constitution on the steps of the Jama Masjid.

  4. Lol 😄😄😄😄 is the writer of this article has any ground knowledge or just building palace in air 🤣🤣 i am from saharanpur from that village in which this so called dalit leader born. He can’t even win a gram pradhan election 🤣🤣

    • Please understand that he does not have to win an election , but has to only creative a narrative against Modi . Modi never won any election on his own steam when he was the general secretary of the BJP handling a few states . However, all that changed with the 2002 ,which alone made Modi a ” heart throb” of Hindus , whose minds have been poisoned by the RSS and its various subsidiaries including the BJP instilling a non existing threat to the identity,safety and security of Hindus . It certainly fits the description of fooling all people for sometime and little else given the way India has walked into all kinds of crises since 2014 including, hitherto, external relations with even small neighbours

  5. Good day dear readers, unless EVM existing no body treat to BJP and RSS, all political parties are understanding but no body courage to drive it. Rest is “Hope for the best Prepare for worst” Bye By

    Save constitution and the nation.

  6. “Unnamed aide of Modi”…wtf…just for the heck of it …u will write anything?…what a shame… The Print is not only supporting such people …they are creating such events in society…


  8. Wow really a person holding constitution in his hand replicating our great Baba Sahib creates lots of excitement in JNU or opposition but he isn’t Baba Sahib who really worked for down and out caste. He comes from a long list of leaders who on the expense of Dalits and Muslims enjoy limelight and power. Just to come to power doing all sorts of drama will he explain which part of CAA is Anti- institutional and same for Kanhaiya Kumar Jignesh shelja Umar and Aisha Ghosh and the whole opposition holding nation at bay

  9. The author here wants to divide kanaiahya. Kanaiahya is more talented than that of the other. So the only possible solution is to create another pillar. Precisely what the author is paid to do. And more importantly anti.communism is key to corporate media coz their news is based on what and which party paying how much.

  10. The nationalist view will prevail…kanhaiya has a congress whom he has to fight..and azad has a mayawati against whim he has to fight..
    BJP is slowly turning it’s promise into reality…and the detractors r just slayed now..

    Divisive opinion is the hallmark of democracy
    More power to moshah

  11. In the last Lok Sabha election in 2019, the BJP garnered 37.5% of votes across India, up by about 6% from 2014. Which implies nearly two-third of the people did not vote for the BJP. Now this non-BJP voters are fractious lot with diverse social identities. With so-called ‘opposition’ leaders and parties driven to near irrelevance, it is up to ‘non-party’ leaders like Kanahaiya & Azad to keep the non-BJP people together. Kanahaiya may be a nominal member of CPI but he is not moulded in dogmatic communist ideology, and therefore appeals to the youth and the downtrodden. It is his duty to keep the non-converted from crossing over to the BJP-RSS base. Yes, he does appeal to the liberal elites who are still a major ‘influencer’ of public opinion. One shouldn’t write him off just because he doesn’t come from ‘low’ caste. Azad on the other hand has a role to consolidate the Dalits and OBCs who in recent times have switched over to the BJP-RSS. I think both have a role to play in our politics given the vacuum created by absence of the usual opposition parties.


  13. Chandrshekhar is real fighter for against CAA NRC because he is very dangerous for BJP RSS very lorge number of voter with chandrshekhar azad Bhim army cheaf so bjp never like this leader

    • If our 56 inch PM is so powerful and has absolute majority in Parliament(not a majority in real sense) and with so maby bahubali around him why BJP is afraid of Azad,Kanhiya, Shaheen Bag and JNU ? Surprising!!

  14. Mandal-ji, does this pitting of one agaist the other even make sense? they are both on the same side, though they fight with slightly different words and with different tools. we are lucky to have both kanhaiya and chandrashekhar, as well as umar, shehla, jignesh, let us keep it that way and not try to drive a wedge into the friendship of these young people.


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