New Delhi: The hopeful Left prospect from the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) who rose to national fame after a sedition case, Kanhaiya Kumar has been all but missing from the political circuit since his massive electoral defeat in the Lok Sabha elections in May.
In the four months since the Communist Party of India (CPI) candidate’s loss to BJP’s Giriraj Singh in Begusarai, Kumar has been keeping a rather low profile.
While he has been nearly absent in the television and print media coverage, Kumar has also ensured a level of inconspicuousness on social media platforms like Twitter — the biggest communication tool for any leader in these digital times.
Kumar’s aides say the former JNU Student Union (JNUSU) president’s public absence is a measured move, but he can be found in Begusarai working for the people in the Bihar constituency, and in Mumbai’s Bollywood, where he has “a lot of friends”.
The last time Kanhaiya Kumar found some media space was earlier this month when he reportedly got into a “slanging match” with CPI national secretary Atul Anjan over a delay in submitting his election expenditure report to the party.
The former JNUSU president’s Lok Sabha campaign coordinator Dhananjay Kumar confirmed the report to ThePrint, but added the expenditure details have now been handed over to CPI’s Bihar state executive.
“It took time to collect all the data because Kanhaiya’s funds were all crowdfunded. Even though some other candidates had also opted for crowdfunding, he raised one of the highest amounts among them. Taking stock of where the money was spent ended up taking time”, said Dhananjay.
Kumar had raised Rs 70 lakh for his election campaign on the crowdfunding platform Our Democracy.
Anjan told ThePrint that the incident was “blown out of proportion”.
Away from media
In January this year, the Delhi Police filed an over 1,200-page chargesheet against Kanhaiya Kumar and other JNU students, accusing them of sedition for raising “anti-national” slogans at a JNU event in 2016.
The case brought the JNU student leader much prominence, with many political parties and leaders coming out in his support — some even demanded a repeal of the sedition law. But along with political support, Kumar also found himself on TV debates, arguing for the cause of free speech and intolerance in the country under BJP.
However, the former student leader, known for his oratory and repartee skills, stopped appearing on TV debates after the election results.
“He was always conscious about not going to TV debates that have more than two people as guests. This was his position even before the elections, because he doesn’t want his voice to get lost in a pool of noise. But now he is completely avoiding TV debates,” one of Kumar’s close aides told ThePrint.
Kumar also hasn’t tweeted much in this period — he didn’t post a tweet at all in June and July, and has tweeted rather sparingly since.
“All anti-BJP voices expect him to tweet every time (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi does or says something. But he believes that the opposition’s politics can’t just be a politics of reaction,” the aide said.
“He believes that we should also do something to which the BJP reacts. We shouldn’t just keep reacting to BJP’s moves,” he added.
Last week, a Delhi court asked the state government to take a decision within a month on whether to sanction the prosecution of Kumar and others in the sedition case. But Kumar isn’t rattled.
“Kanhaiya, in fact, wants the case to go to trial soon so that it can be proven that their allegations are far from the truth,” said Kumar’s aide. He added that neither the Delhi Police nor the government has called the CPI leader once since the chargesheet was filed.
“Most of what we get to know about the case and about these claims of sedition is through the media only,” he said.
The Begusarai factor
Beyond his cold approach to the media, however, Kanhaiya Kumar has been working towards building a base in the constituency where he suffered a major loss on his national debut.
He visits Delhi on-and-off to attend CPI’s national executive meetings in Ajoy Bhavan, but Kumar prefers spending most of his time in Begusarai where he has also started teaching part-time at a college.
“Elections aren’t won easily. He knows that he has to now focus on his constituency and cultivate support there,” said a senior CPI member who didn’t wish to be named.
The leader said Kumar is in politics for the long run. “What other option does he have? This is the only career path he can continue with.”
With Begusarai being one of Bihar’s worst flood-affected districts, Kumar tries to garner goodwill of the people in the constituency.
“Even when he’s not in Begusarai, he is ensuring his team keeps sending food and ration to the flood-affected people of the district,” said his aide.
While the election loss hasn’t taken a hit on his political ambitions, Kumar also spends considerable time in Mumbai.
“He has a lot of friends in Bollywood, and is also close friends with some people in the comedy industry. So he often spends time with them in Mumbai,” said the aide.
During the Lok Sabha campaign, Kumar was often flanked by Bollywood celebrities like Swara Bhaskar, Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar.