THIS WEEK, MEET KANHAIYA KUMAR

The trial will expose the BJP

Kanhaiya Kumar, Politician

INDIA-POLITICS-RALLY Kanhaiya Kumar | AFP

THE DELHI POLICE have finally filed a charge-sheet, after three long years, naming former JNU students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar in the sedition case of 2016. The charge-sheet says he was “seen leading the students, who were raising anti-India slogans”. Kanhaiya dismisses this saying the case is politically motivated, and the charge-sheet is timed to match the election season. “If they really were so nationalist, why have they dragged their feet on this case for so long?” he asks. “Now, 90 days before elections, they are trying to act against us.” Edited excerpts:

Kanhaiya Kumar, former president of Jawaharlal Nehru University students’ union, was born in rural Bihar, in a family traditionally supporting the Communist Party of India. He was the first All India Students Federation leader to have become the JNUSU president. In February 2016, a sedition case was registered against him, along with other student leaders, over an event organised on the JNU campus. Last year, Kanhaiya was elected to the national council of the CPI.

You have been charge-sheeted for sedition three years after you were accused of raising anti-India slogans on the JNU campus—something you have denied.

For three years now there has been a media trial running against us. We have always said that the charges are false. Anchors of certain television channels, who give out certificates of nationalism, have run a malicious campaign against us. The BJP calls itself the biggest nationalists. If they really were so nationalist, why have they dragged their feet on this case for so long? What were they doing all these months? Now, 90 days before elections, they are trying to act against us. I thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi because, firstly, we are now liberated from a media trial; we will get a proper judicial trial. And, secondly, the trial will expose them. So, thank you.

So, you are saying that while the BJP says nationalism is what sets it apart, they have shown no seriousness to act on the case all these years?

The government tried to malign our reputation through two or three television channels. These channels are now quoting the charge-sheet to claim that they have been vindicated. The government and the police did not want to argue with us in court, and instead opted for this media trial. Why? Because they know they do not have a case that will stand in court.

So, you are confident about receiving justice and being acquitted?

Yes, absolutely. I have full faith in our country’s courts.

The police claim that they have video evidence that shows you raising anti-India slogans. What is your response?

I know there is no authentic video that shows any such thing. They tried to use reports of this video even on JNU campus to take action against us and have us thrown out. They even tried to use this to stop me from completing my PhD. None of it worked. I have completed my thesis. The district magistrate who conducted the inquiry for the Delhi government clearly said that there was no evidence to support the allegations in [the statements of] witnesses or the videos produced.

There are television anchors and shows that refer to you as the tukde tukde gang. When you watch these, do you feel anger or anguish?

I find this description ridiculous. Those who live on the tukdes [breadcrumbs] of the Modi government are calling us tukde tukde gang. These are phrases coined by [a section of] media that is so supplicant to power, and literally lives off the crumbs thrown to it by the government.

There have been other students who have been named alongside you. You have all maintained your innocence, but will these fights be individual or is this a collective battle?

This is definitely a collective battle. We are in this fight together. And, this is not a battle of individuals. This is a battle where Narendra Modi is on one side and we, the people of India, are on the other. Take a look at the sort of people they have charged with sedition. Recently they filed a case against Akhil Gogoi and Hiren Gohain in Assam, and Hardik Patel in Gujarat. There is a pattern. They will pick on dalits, tribals, minorities, those who are not well off, backward or extreme backward, or the poor who are trying to raise their voice. I have always said this: If I were rich or powerful, or influential, this would not have happened to me.

When this case first erupted, many prominent politicians, including Rahul Gandhi, supported you. Do you feel their support is more muted now because it is election season?

No, not at all. In fact, they are now being targeted by the Modi government for supporting us. If you see the comments being made by the BJP leaders on our case, they are talking more about Rahul Gandhi, Sitaram Yechury and D. Raja than they are about us. It proves that the BJP is using our case to attack the opposition. It also proves how politically motivated this case is.

Today nationalism has become a political and electoral debate. What does nationalism mean to you?

The answer is very simple. To me nationalism means speaking for all Indians—the poor farmers, dalits, adivasis, minorities and those who live on the margins of public attention. Nationalism is about equality and respect for all. I have always spoken of finding azaadi not from India, but from injustice and inequality.

Will we see Kanhaiya contesting elections?

I do not know the answer to that, yet. But, I can tell you I will not stop speaking for the marginalised communities of the country. I will travel across the country to speak for them.