Dissent

An Electric Evening at JNU With Kanhaiya Kumar

JNU students and supporters spoke to The Wire about what it means to have Kanhaiya Kumar back on campus.

JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar with the union Vice President Shehla Rashid addresses a news conference at the JNU campus in New Delhi on Friday. Credit: PTI Photo by Kamal Kishore

JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar with the union Vice President Shehla Rashid addresses a news conference at the JNU campus in New Delhi on Friday. Credit: PTI Photo by Kamal Kishore

JNU students’ union (JNUSU) president Kanhaiya Kumar received an upbeat welcome on campus on Thursday, March 3, after his release from Tihar jail. Addressing a huge crowd of students, teachers, supporters and the media, Kumar’s powerful and passionate speech was a subtle but direct attack at those in power.

The energy and enthusiasm was unmistakable as the crowd chanted slogans, laughed at his wit and were angered by the issues he raised. In a speech that lasted more than an hour, Kumar was able to hold the attention of a large and varied crowd that fed off his charisma.

“The most inspiring thing about it was that he was able to give convincing answers to all the questions that have been raised in the past few days by the public, media and students, particularly on the issue of azadi,” Salini, a student of English at JNU, told The Wire, adding, “It was a really good speech, and his return to campus has uplifted the students”.

“What was great was that he managed to get his point across without pulling others down explicitly. He put forward his own arguments,” added Tarini, a student in Leiden University who came to JNU to celebrate Kumar’s return. “It was really electrifying, you couldn’t be there and not be excited,” she added.

Other students shared this enthusiasm for his speech and his return to campus. “We’re extremely happy to have our president back,” said Rohit from JNU’s Kaveri hostel.

“Kanhaiya told us about his experiences in jail, the perspective he gained. That was something we weren’t aware of, and now we have a renewed energy to go on,” said Shiv, a friend of Rohit.

“Though of course we can’t be completely positive until we know what is happening to Umar and Anirban,” Rohit added.

JNU students Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya remain in judicial custody, facing the same sedition charges as Kumar for raising ‘anti-national’ slogans at an event held on the campus on February 9.

Suryaprakash, a student of social medicine, also spoke of the continuing struggle ahead. “The news of bail is good because it proves that the charges are weak, actually false. But the struggle for freedom of expression isn’t over yet,” he said. “The good thing is that students and teachers, who otherwise have different views and arguments on a lot of things, have all come together to fight this imposition on institutional freedom and freedom of expression. Everyone is agreed on these basics. These struggles will continue.”

However, some students felt slightly let down by the way things were portrayed. “Of course we’re happy that Kanhaiya is back,” said Romyorup, a student of history at JNU. “But look at the bail order, it is far from positive. Why are we calling this a ‘victory march’? It is becoming more about the spectacle and the performance than the issues,” he added.

Perhaps in reaction to some of these worries, the JNUSU held a press conference on Friday, March 4, where Kumar addressed the gathered students and media persons. “I am a student representative, not a politician,” Kumar said. “Right now my only plan of action is to study, and ensure that others are able to study. We will continue to protest when things come in the way of that, like fellowship cuts”. Kumar went on to say that the JNUSU wanted the sedition charges against all students dropped, calling the legislation “an archaic remainder of colonial rule”. The statement released at the event also said that the JNUSU would continue to “challenge the undemocratic practices of branding, targeting and with hunting of students who are political opponents to the current regime.”