Interview: Kanhaiya Kumar on the 'Natural Alliance' of Ambedkarites and Leftists

In his quiet, poised manner (quite unlike his passionate public speeches), he talked about his inspirations, the future of left and democratic politics, and the movement in JNU.

JNU students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar returned to the campus 3 March after being released on bail from judicial custody. A day after his return, he sat down with The Wire to discuss some of the issues that have come up in the last few days. In his quiet, poised manner (quite unlike his passionate public speeches), he talked about his inspirations, the future of left and democratic politics, and the movement in JNU.

Who are the leaders and individuals who inspired you into becoming politically active?

The first inspiration who made me want to join politics was Bhagat Singh. Then the path continued into Ambedkar, Gandhi and Marx, and also to Birsa Munda and Jyotirao Phule. From more recent times, people who have been killed including Govind Pansare and MM Kalburgi also serve as an inspiration for me today. It is reading all of these people that gave me the desire to be politically active.

You made a reference in you speech yesterday to red and blue bowls in prison (talking about communist and Dalit politics). The communist movement till now has been accused of not understanding the reality of caste, focussing only on class politics. Do you accept that this has been a problem in the past that you and others like you are trying to remedy?

The new generation is understanding the internal struggles of our society much better. The spirit today is definitely that the left movement needs to be made broader. Everyone asking for justice and democracy needs to come onto one platform and work together. For me, it is clear that the most natural alliance in this is between Ambedkarites and leftists.

You also pointed out in your speech yesterday the problem with politics in JNU is the inability to engage with people outside. How do you think this can be remedied?

We are in the era of the new media. So longer discussions in heavy political jargon is not able to easily connect with people. What works is short clips and simple language – it is the era of the ‘punch line’. That punch line needs to be spectacular, such that it has a deep ideological discourse. We need to develop these tactics.

Are you worried that Umar Khalid in particular might be made a scapegoat for the JNU controversy and be treated differently?

The government is on the back foot, they are trying to run away from all this now. First they tried to frame me, but I don’t want to say too much about the case because it is sub judice. All I will say is that the truth cannot be turned into a lie. Wrong can’t be proved right, and right can’t be proved wrong. The truth will come out, and we will all be in this struggle together and put up a unified fight. And we will win, that is our belief.

You mentioned in your speech a lot of the informal discussions you had with the police, how you were able to put forth you side of things to them. But what was it like in the ‘interrogations’? What kind of questions did they ask you?

They would give me questionnaires, say one would have about 20 questions. For me, about 19 of those 20 would be answered by ‘I don’t know’. Their questions were of the type, ‘who were the organisers of the programme?’, I said ‘I don’t know’, ‘Who were present there?’, I would say ‘I don’t know’, and so forth. There were no particularly complicated questions. But this is also a part of the investigation, I am not allowed to talk about it much. We respect the legal system. But I can say that altogether, the last 22 days were definitely a good experience. Now I understand the difference between studying a system and bearing it’s burden.

BJP and AAP politics have both been criticised for becoming quite individual centric. Some fear that the JNU movement might be heading the same way. How can the left and democratic forces avoid this?

This cannot happen in JNU. I say this with confidence because yesterday when I returned to campus, I shouted slogans for the other accused students, and they were shouting slogans for me. JNU students have a very collective approach in the student movement, in the left movement. We articulate everything through this collective approach. Individualism will not be able to dominate here.

Is there anything else you have been concerned with in the last few days that you would like to add?

There is one thing. You all know now about the doctored videos, and some things of that type are still happening today. People may be distributing unsigned pamphlets in my name, or asking for donations on online campaigns by creating fake accounts. So I just want to say that relying on rumours has been wrong before, we are seeing that now. Go ahead, let us try not to believe rumours, search for the truth, and not take anything to be the truth until we have all the information.