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Congress and Kanhaiya Kumar: An uneven relationship

Rahul Gandhi was among the few leaders to express solidarity with JNU students

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There is a strong buzz that ex-JNU Students' Union President Kanhaiya Kumar could soon be joining the Congress. The speculation gained momentum after Kanhaiya recently met former party president Rahul Gandhi. However, Rahul and his party have had an uneven rapport with the young face from Bihar.

In March 2016, shortly after he was released on bail in connection with a sedition case, Kanhaiya had called on Rahul to thank him for the support extended by the leader to him and other students when action was taken against them by the Delhi Police.

Rahul was amongst the few leaders who had visited the JNU campus in February 2016 to express solidarity with the students. Visiting the university a day after Kanhaiya was arrested on charges of sedition for allegedly raising 'anti-national' slogans at a students' event, Rahul had compared the Narendra Modi government with the Nazi regime for the action taken against the students.

However, in 2019, when a charge sheet was filed by the Delhi Police against Kanhaiya accusing him of sedition, the response of Rahul and his party was curiously muted.

The silence of Rahul and the Congress concerning the charge sheet was seen by political observers as betraying their concern that any support to Kanhaiya should not be used by the BJP ahead of the Lok Sabha elections to paint them as anti-national.

Also, in the Lok Sabha elections in 2019, when Kanhaiya was fielded by the CPI in the Begusarai constituency, the place he hails from, against BJP's Giriraj Singh, the alliance of parties that included the Congress and the RJD failed to support him. He lost the election against Giriraj Singh by over 4.2 lakh votes.

Now, again there is a twist in the complicated relationship between the Congress and Kanhaiya, and the young leader is said to be on the verge of joining the principal opposition party. Political strategist Prashant Kishor is learnt to have played a role in getting Kanhaiya on board. He was feeling sidelined in the CPI and is learnt to have even packed up his things from the party office in Patna.

The negotiations with Congress are understood to be about what role the former students' leader will play in the party. He is learnt to be interested in working in Bihar, his home state and where he has been politically active thus far. Party leaders say it is still too early to assess what impact he can make for the Congress, but they do point out his excellent oratory skills, his ability to draw crowds and the clarity with which he has taken on the Modi dispensation.

However, as the party gets ready to welcome Kanhaiya, it would have to deal with the reservations that its Bihar RJD is expected to express. The RJD has thus far failed to warm up to Kanhaiya. In the Lok Sabha elections in 2019, the CPI's decision to field Kanhaiya from Begusarai was seen as having led to the RJD deciding not to tie up with the left party.

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