Illustration by Soham Sen | ThePrint
Illustration by Soham Sen | ThePrint
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It’s been a week since activist Umar Khalid was arrested in connection with the Delhi riots after that infamous midnight knock. Many have rallied in support while others have questioned Khalid’s actions. But there is one person whose silence has been conspicuous. People are asking, where is Kanhaiya Kumar and why is he silent? Khalid’s former JNU comrade-in-arms and one who went to Tihar jail earlier with him belatedly posted about the arrest on Facebook, but even that did not quell these questions.

But it’s just politics, stupid.

When the likes of Kanhaiya Kumars are not seen standing next to the Umar Khalids, a message goes out to the silent majority. That there must be something ‘right’ about the Delhi riots investigation — there must be something right about the Delhi Police or what the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) says.

Such silences enable the majority to push ahead with its narrative against any Muslim who lands in the crosshairs of the Narendra Modi government. If Umar Khalid is right, why is his ‘friend’ Kanhaiya Kumar silent?

However, it is not just now. Kanhaiya Kumar has been slowly drifting away from the politics of Umar Khalid. Although he lost the Begusarai seat in Bihar in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, Kanhaiya still wants to be a politician, and that just means one thing — having an Umar Khalid by your side is way too inconvenient in Narendra Modi’s India today. And the dates for the Bihar assembly election could be announced any day now.


Also read: Prashant Bhushan, Harsh Mander & other activists want inquiry into Delhi Police’s riots probe


A no-show

A press conference was held in New Delhi on 16 September to protest against the arrest of Umar Khalid under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). The invites went out with Kanhaiya Kumar’s picture — but guess who didn’t show up?

Kanhaiya was one of the six speakers scheduled to talk about the Delhi Police’s “flawed investigation” into the February violence. The media was told he was running late — but the former student leader was ultimately a no-show.

Kanhaiya is merely signalling that he is part of the same cabal of upper-caste Hindu liberals who pick and choose their battles as per convenience — it’s just that in Kanhaiya’s case, the intent is also political.

This isn’t the first time Kanhaiya Kumar has kept conspicuously quiet. After the first set of arrests of anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protesters in February, Kumar was silent for almost two months. He then spoke out in May about how the arrests were being made “to teach a lesson to those who raised their voice against CAA”. He blamed the lockdown for his delay in speaking up.

“I haven’t been able to speak up as actively due to the lockdown. We are bound to respect the lockdown and cannot violate it,” Kumar explained.

In an interview to The Telegraph Thursday, after questions were raised over his absence from the press conference, Kanhaiya asked, “Why am I being personally held accountable for not attending a press conference? Are such questions asked of members of other Opposition parties?”


Also read: After long silence, Kanhaiya speaks up on student arrests: ‘Lesson to those who raise voice’


Being an Umar in Modi’s India

The 2016 Jawaharlal Nehru University sedition case thrust both Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid into public spotlight. And there was little that separated the two in terms of their revolutionary thoughts, their fearlessness, and their activism. Except for one thing — their identities.

Today, Kanhaiya Kumar, a prized leader of the Communist Party of India (CPI) in Bihar, enjoys the freedom to build upon his political career that he kicked off by contesting from Begusarai against BJP heavyweight Giriraj Singh in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Umar Khalid stares at a long period in jail, with no certainty when the trial in his case could begin and no idea about where the case might end up.

The difference is stark. And both Umar and Kanhaiya realise that. And yet, Kanhaiya is keeping a distance from his ‘ally’.

This shows how, politically speaking, the Muslim identity in India has become ‘untouchable’. You steer clear from being vocal for a ‘Muslim’ because you fear being labelled an ‘Islamist supporter’. This enables the RSS-BJP narrative, one that Kanhaiya vociferously claims to be fighting against, of making India’s political class, and by extension the Indian society, distance itself from the many Umar Khalids, who are vocal, articulate, and unflinching in their fight for the rights of India’s Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis.


Also read: In Modi’s India, Umar Khalid preaches peace but is called a ‘terrorist’: Jignesh Mevani


Kanhaiya’s message

Kanhaiya Kumar knows very well what being an Umar Khalid means under the Modi government. He often speaks about the government targeting students and young activists because it fears their freedom of thought. So, when Kanhaiya chooses to place his politics in the galleries of the Congress or Arvind Kejriwal, he is saying that the door is open for the Modi government to come and knock down voices of dissent. He will stand by and watch, and later lament the rubble of crushed hopes.

There is another thing Kanhaiya knows well — his own privilege, which comes from being an upper-caste Hindu, more so in this saffronised Bharat. Kanhaiya can choose to direct his privilege in the service of the country’s marginalised, and fight the good fight. He must know Umar would do the same.

By promising to hold the mirror to Indian politics and then breaking it for political compulsions, Kanhaiya Kumar no longer speaks for those disillusioned by the direction India has taken. In any case, by staying quiet on Umar, Kanhaiya’s politics play into the hands of the RSS-BJP.


Also read: Suspect all, fix all? Is that the motto of our new ‘National Suspicion State’?


Why Kanhaiya matters

It’s not enough to say, ‘Of course Kanhaiya Kumar is with Umar Khalid’ — he must be seen to be standing by him. Both due to his political position and his personal ties with him, Kanhaiya is an important person in Umar’s life. He knows him well. And he commands power. He can tell Indians — those who care to listen — who Umar Khalid is, and why they should look beyond WhatsApp conspiracies.

But India has put even a Kanhaiya Kumar on the back foot.

The reason Kanhaiya is questioned over his silence is that he is a result of the student movement. He gained many allies and so much prominence because students rallied for his release in the sedition case night and day. So, there will inevitably be an expectation that he stands by those students now that he has gone on to do better and bigger things.

By not speaking up unequivocally in Umar’s defence, Kanhaiya is breaking his promise of providing alternative politics. In Modi’s India, it’s easy to speak up in support of a Hindu than a Muslim or a Dalit, much easier to show solidarity with the community rather than an individual.

India has enough political parties and leaders to play the softer version of the BJP — besides its allies, there is the Congress, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) to name a few. And that’s just on the political front. What people need today is a leader who can publicly support a Muslim whom the government all but wants to prosecute as a ‘terrorist’. For all his eloquence and clarity, Kanhaiya Kumar looks right now as one who can very well turn around and say ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’.

As David Roediger writes in The Sinking Middle Class: A Political History, “Social movements will have to look for their poetry, and their clarity, beyond the social analysis offered by electoral politics.”

Views are personal.

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23 Comments Share Your Views

23 COMMENTS

  1. It seems the dixit guy gets paid for writing such articles from the upper caste hindu liberals who have always been working against the left. Seems he has not read the telegraph interview, he himself refers. Dude the answers are in there. So Kanhaiya cannot stay away from social media for a while, and spend time for a party where he holds a national level position. And he actually have posted something on fb recently condemning the UAPA charges against Umar. And look at the title of this piece of trash .

  2. If you want to beat up Modi. please do provided you can. Do not support a JNU monster Umar Khalid even if he were a Brahmin Hindu.
    People who do not want to risk their skin against Modi are backing up a monster called Khalid.

  3. The author mentions the telegram article but didn’t read it himself/herself Kanhaya has lost many friends, family memebers and teachers to covid he can’t vist his mother and has been traveling helping comrads and people in this pandamic, you only want to sell his words, vampire journalisum

  4. It very difficult to comment against the author of this article or kanhaiya. I hope Kanhaiya will speak his views on Khalid’s arrest. The problem is media channels who can misuse support of kanhaiya to the so called criminal Khalid. The upper caste comment holds right in today’s scenarios. Had it been a hindu upper caste arrested, support would have poured from all corners of politics. This will surely gain votes in Bihar election and no one wants to lose this at any cost.

    I don’t think anyone here has give a reasonable comments. All the comments are so communal. No one wants to say that Umar was arrested for speaking during CAA protect. Not for slogans. If you watch his videos ,there is nothing against the nation. The point here is to keep their ideology floating, they can drown anyone. There is alot of hatred against the Muslims. No doubt BJP is leading it.

    I think the only solution for india is education with all the best human values. We should look at Germany how they de- radicalised their ppl arr WW2. I don’t understand what kind of Muslim they want. I don’t generalized all the Hindus ,there are many left with human values, I admire many of them…

  5. So now kanhaiya becomes privileged upper caste Hindu because he didn’t behave in a way you wanted him to. I didn’t know and never cared about his caste. Thanks for enlightening me. Seems like you guys have labels readily available in your pocket for every human being on this planet.

    • I too wonder what Prashant Dixit is trying to portray.He is exposing leftists using Muslims card for harming India .He has maligned Kanaya by terming him an upper cast Hindu.Kanaya is a Hindu interested in teaching profession which makes him Brahmin.Leftists must be thumping their chests for finding Kanaya getting freed from clutches of Anti nationals .Hope Ummar Khalid also gets freed from Urban Nexal influnce & serves the nation as a nationalist

  6. Why no background is given of the author of this article? Is he a student leader? Is he an anarchist? Is he a politician? I would be worried if he is a journalist. He is more busy giving lables than actual writing.

  7. It’s all about politics baby. The ultimate goal of these so called student leaders is to get a ticket from a political party and get elected as MP or mla. In that sense Kumar was smarter than Khalid. That’s it! No need to cry and write a lengthy article.

  8. People like you and other Journalists are the biggest culprit of spoiling the harmony. When you try to defend the people and ideologies which takes whole city , whole country at Ransom, by blockading crucial roads. They wanted to protest, they could have gone to some other place, why Crucial roads, because intent was to Put everyone else at Ransom, Do you forget the scenes of Policemen mobbed and beaten up in the starting days of this Farce congregations.
    If it had been any other country they would have immediately used brute force.
    What kind of people could chase and attack a cop ? what kind of people would point a gun on a cop ?
    I know for myself that if I am ever confronted by a cop, I become conscious and I follow them with respect, even if I have to argue. Attacking a cop ? Never in my dreams.
    Intent of these congregation was to create inconvenience to masses to lower the flash point, for a future trigger and it happened.
    Kanhaiyya Kumar is aware , even you must be aware and conscious of this, but for the sake of being journalist you would do anything.

  9. Perhaps you know that law doesn’t distinguish between Omar and Kanhaiah… None has the right to work against the country. Simple as that. This is the New India, new government, voted to power second tenure by absolute majority.

  10. His silence sends a strong message to ignore him instead of giving him importance. He turned out to be another one from the same lot of politicians. What a waste of time giving him much attention.

  11. Aww…is’nt it nice seeing so-called ‘liberals’ eating there own. Look they even already started giving him labels..part of” upper caste hindhus”, whatever that means. Still its a mystery to me then why oppose modi who is not upper-caste Hindu but from a backward caste. And also it seems the Muslims need some special care. But why do they need special attention? But people wanting to have special attention there is Pakistan for you. You should go there and get ur required attention. in this country, every one should be treated the same and also every community should shoulder the weight of secularism equally. Country first ur identity next should be the slogan. Which can be a little tough to swallow for the left who thrive on identity politics of victimhood.

  12. This article is a brilliant example of how one can launch into an exhaustive, convoluted and bitter argument with oneself – and finally and with immense self-congratulation, lose the argument.
    No hard feelings, Mr Dixit. I entirely agree with your view that India needs young ‘revolutionary’ political alternatives like Kumar and Khalid to the fossilized likes of Congress, BJP, CPI, CPM et al. But it is laughably immature and shallow to suggest that Kanhaiya Kumar should support Umar Khalid till doomsday come for reasons like: “…there was little that separated the two in terms of their revolutionary thoughts, their fearlessness, and their activism. Except for one thing — their identities. ” Actually, we are all human; we are all fearless, revolutionary, separated by our identities. And let us thank Allah, Krishna, Jesus, Marx and and other secular deities for that, Mr Dixit – for it is individual identity alone that makes us human, that separates us from the amoeba and the bacillus.
    Jai Hind, Lal Salaam.

  13. Unfortunately the author lost me at “cabal of Upper caste Hindu liberal” . The problem with such authors is once you do not agree to their view they will dig up the choicest of crass class and casteist slur. They are the greatest of illiberals and the grandest of hypocrites who stand by a non caste based society only to bare their fangs by bringing up caste and religion and creed of the lot who doesn’t agree with them. One thing they do not do is – Convince the other side by their arguments.

  14. Maybe kanihya knows what the Muslim Umar really is. And possibly must have tried his best to dissuade his friend from becoming a terrorist like his religion suggests

  15. you guys are so good at cancelling your own
    no doubt this country does nt have an opposition
    last week it was arundhati roy now its kanhiya kumar
    hypocrisy was always an under current , welcome to politics
    ever questioned why prashant bhushan took 8 yrs to call the anna team as BJP stooge did he not know being part of that troupe what it was about
    what has been done to have a more representative CPI , most of the top brass is from historically dominant community and still dosent have a base , I mean how bad are you guys at communicating . CPI still has a weakness in china , WHY?? for god sake china is not even communist and worst in human rights , also china dosent give two cents about indian leftist , SO STOP !
    also stop making the assumption that there are only two kinds of people in this country
    there are so many gaps with you neither mend nor address
    do some groundwork, political work meets its succes in delhi but the process has to start from the rest of india
    the fact that your despair lies in a political personality not saying anything rn should tell you that you havent gathered any base of your own
    the whole country has not just overnight changed
    there are dynamic principles in politics even for voters , but you guys cant weave an alternative narrative which brings people under one umbrella
    instead like mr dixit here you are still calling people according to the categories you think are united politically
    ever wondered why a dalit party BSP supported scrapping 370 or for that matter the fact ambedrakite dosent have to always mean communist , for sure on the ballot

  16. If Kanhaiya Kumar does not respond to Jihadi-communist Umar Khalid’s arrest, what is this writer’s beer? It is not politics, Indian Jails, STUPID! Kanhaiya kumar has been softened after he spent some time in Indian Jail. Now , Jihad Khalid will also be softened.

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