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Kanhaiya who? Why RJD will ignore ex-JNU student leader inducted by ally Congress

Kanhaiya Kumar joined Congress on 28 September in Delhi. He was earlier a member of CPI, and lost his maiden election from Begusarai in 2019.

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Patna: In the 2020 Bihar assembly polls, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the major party in the Grand Alliance, did not call former JNU Student Union president Kanhaiya Kumar — then a member of ally Communist Party of India (CPI) — to campaign for its candidates. 

Kanhaiya just campaigned for the 3 CPI candidates contesting under the Grand Alliance. With the former student leader now with the Congress, another Grand Alliance partner, the RJD does not have any intention to change its stance on the Begusarai native in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.  

Members of the RJD say former deputy chief minister Tejashwi Yadav, party chief Lalu Prasad’s son, is the only leader they want to work with.

“The RJD candidates and even Congress candidates wanted Tejashwi Yadav and not Kanhaiya to campaign for them,” RJD national vice-president Shivanand Tiwari told ThePrint, referring to the 2020 campaign. “There is no contest between Tejashwi and Kanhaiya. What Congress does with Kanhaiya is their problem.”

During his induction into the Congress Tuesday, Kanhaiya had spoken about the need to save the party to “save smaller ships”. He said the ideological war in the country can only be fought and led by the Congress. “This is a historical responsibility I have on my shoulders which I cannot deny.”

Tiwari had subsequently mocked Kanhaiya, saying since it was his “historical duty” to save the Congress, the Grand Old Party should make him its president. 

The apparent disdain for Kanhaiya, 34, is echoed by other RJD leaders. 

“Who is Kanhaiya Kumar? Never heard of him. To us, it is only Tejashwi Yadav,” said RJD MLA Bhai Virendra, a close confidant of Tejashwi.

Also Read: Congress must be saved for ‘smaller ships’ to survive, Kanhaiya Kumar on joining party

‘The Kanhaiya split’

Kanhaiya Kumar emerged on the national stage in the light of a 2016 protest march at JNU that was held to mark the third anniversary of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru’s execution. He and a few other students were subsequently charged with sedition over the alleged raising of “anti-national” slogans at the march.

He made his political debut as a CPI candidate in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls from Begusarai, where he lost to Union minister Giriraj Singh of the BJP. The CPI fielded Kanhaiya from Begusarai after being left out of the Grand Alliance’s seat-sharing calculations.

That Kanhaiya Kumar overshadows Tejashwi in a nationwide anti-Narendra Modi image is just one problem. The RJD blames him for splitting the Muslim vote in the 2019 election, which it believes caused the defeat of its candidate, Tanveer Hassan, an MLC. 

While Kanhaiya lost the election by a margin of over 4.2 lakh votes, the RJD’s voteshare was even lower. The RJD was shocked not because of the loss in the Modi wave, but because Kanhaiya had managed to split about 50 per cent of the Muslim votes while his own caste — Bhumihars — remained solidly behind Giriraj Singh. 

“But what Kanhaiya did after the polls sent the danger signals. He toured Muslim dominated areas of Bihar — like East Champaran, Kishanganj and Purnea — when the anti-CAA agitation was at its peak and projected himsef as the saviour of Muslims and did not make a single reference to Tejashwi Yadav,” said an RJD leader. 

“As a result, Tejashwi also went to the places and addresed meetings in Muslim dominated areas against the CAA and showed solidarity with Muslims. According to our sources, Kanhaiya’s tour was sponsored by the Congress and aimed at wooing Muslims.” 

The RJD has been keen on its alliance with the Congress because it believes that the latter contesting solo can make dents in its Muslim vote. It is a lesson Lalu learnt the hard way in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, when he contested with the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), leaving the Congress to contest alone. 

Lalu ended up winning just four of the state’s 40 seats, with the Congress ensuring the defeat of RJD candidates in many seats because of a split in votes. 

However, the RJD does leave seats to the Congress where upper castes hold sway. In the past, many upper caste leaders of the Congress have demanded that their party should contest alone. 

“In case of Kanhaiya Kumar, we have seen he is incapable of making a dent in the upper caste vote, but manages to disturb Muslim votes,” said a senior RJD leader, insisting that they would continue to ignore Kanhaiya. 

Leaders of the RJD say Kanhaiya’s ‘Tukde Tukde Gang’ image has stuck and it would be difficult to convince voters otherwise. 

“Kanhaiya may be a better orator and educated than Tejashwi Yadav. He may get plaudits for his speeches. But when it comes to delivery of votes, Tejashwi is far ahead,” said the leader.

CPI ‘relieved’

Meanwhile, Bihar Congress leaders believe Kanhaiya’s entry will help the party. “He is a youth icon and his entry will help the Congress, but it is for the high command to decide what role they want to give him,” said Congress leader Madan Mohan Jha. 

As for CPI leaders of Bihar, there appears to be a sense of relief after Kanhaiya’s departure. Party leaders had earlier accused Kanhaiya of ignoring traditional party leaders and depending more on his JNU friends. 

“The Bihar CPI has existed before Kanhaiya Kumar and will continue to exist without Kanhaiya. The onus is on Kanhaiya. He raised sogans ‘Punjiwad Se azadi (freedom from capitalism). Today, he has gone and sat with punjiwad,” said CPI state secretary Ram Naresh Pandey.

(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)

Also Read: In Congress, the command has no control — Punjab or Delhi, Sidhu or Amarinder


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