Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Kanhaiya Kumar— the new leader-turned-neta—has raked a controversy with his latest statement calling the 1984 Sikh riots ‘different’ from the 2002 Gujarat riots. He has been quoted as saying that the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat was carried out with the active collusion of the state machinery while the killing of Sikhs in Delhi was the result of mob frenzy.
“There is difference between emergency and fascism. During emergency, goons of only one party were engaged into goondaism, in this (fascism) entire state machinery is resorting to goondaism. There is difference between riots of 2002 and 1984 Sikh riots.
"There is a fundamental difference between a mob killing a common man and massacring people through state machinery. Therefore, the threat of communal fascism we are faced with today, there is an attack being launched on universities, because like Hitler, Modi ji does not have support from intellectuals in India. No intellectual is defending Modi regime.”
His comments led to a massive debate on the State’s role in both the pogroms. A long underlying schism between the left parties has also surfaced as the All India Students’ Association (AISA) immediately distanced itself from Kumar’s remark.
JNUSU Vice President Shehla Rashid in a statement said:
“I would just say that both 1984 and 2002 were acts of state sponsored violence and we must not draw contrasts between two human tragedies. We have equally spoken up against state sponsored violence, be it by the Left front government in Bengal, the Congress government or the BJP governments. That is what makes us ‘Left’.”
From being called insensitive to a Congress sympathizer, Kanhaiya Kumar is feeling the heat from the political parties and intellectuals alike.
JNU Professor Ayesha Kidwai shared her opinion on the matter saying that the unity of intent to defeat the ‘fascists’ cannot be created by agreeing to set aside differences(between the Left) , as such a unity will not last.
Both the riots—one anti-Sikhs, another anti-Muslims— targeted the minorities. According Nadim Asrar’s article in DailyO, Kumar’s comment can also be seen in the light of ‘minority appeasement’ in the wake of upcoming elections in Left predominant states namely Kerala and West Bengal.
“For Kanhaiya, the operative difference between 1984 and 2002 lies in Islamophobia, a more contemporary global ideology which paints Islam as antithetical to modernity, and hence a pariah. But by making a special case for 2002 Muslims as bigger victims of state-managed pogrom as opposed to the Sikhs, he is resorting to a version of identity politics already mastered by the secular centrist parties of the Hindi heartland like the RJD, the SP or the JD-U.”
Swaraj Abhiayan’s Yogendra Yadav, a JNU alumni, also slammed Kumar’s comment.
Here are few other reactions on twitter:
kanhaiya : '84 `riots' due to mob frenzy, differ from 2002 riots. confirms he isn't educated or JNU educates moronshttps://t.co/zLJkzUIc18— Hartosh Singh Bal (@HartoshSinghBal) March 29, 2016
If Kanhaiya Kumar believes that state machinery was not used to kill Sikhs in 1984 he has bigger problems than ideological idiocy!— Tavleen Singh (@tavleen_singh) March 29, 2016
Kanhaiya Kumar suggests 1984 wasn't a state-sponsored massacre? Can't think of anything to say that won't put me in Tihar. So I won't.— Shiv Aroor (@ShivAroor) March 29, 2016
Nonsense. Congress leaders, Bhagat, Tytler, Sajjan Kumar and others were involved. With RSS and Cong footsoldiers https://t.co/sgcn6ygbD2— IndiaExplained (@IndiaExplained) March 29, 2016
Disgraceful statement by @kanhaiyajnusu that 1984 anti Sikh riots were done by mobs and not state sponsored. 1/3— Kirron Kher (@KirronKherBJP) March 29, 2016
So many Cong leaders are in the dock for the 1984 riots. Statement by @kanhaiyajnusu wilfully ignorant. 2/3— Kirron Kher (@KirronKherBJP) March 29, 2016
Under pressure from all the fronts, Kumar later came up with a clarification posted on Facebook saying that his comment was misinterpreted.
Though his cleaning up act was not of much help in rectifying the damage, CPIM(L) politburo member Kavita Krishnan said that it would have been better had he admitted his mistake rather than blaming other people of misinterpretation.