There is a reason Bihat-Masnadpur is still called ‘Little Moscow’, a throwback to the times when the USSR was a Communist beacon and this village a hotbed of the Left movement in Bihar. It is the birthplace of comrade Chandrashekhar Singh (1915-76), the torchbearer of Left ideology in this region and a popular CPI leader who put Bihat-Masnadpur on India’s political map. It is also home to Kanhaiya Kumar. The brash, tambourine-playing, azaadi-seeking young leader loved and reviled in equal measure depending on which side of the political spectrum one stands. An upholder of secularism and democratic traditions, they say. For others, an anti-national and a leader of the ‘tukde-tukde gang’ hell bent on breaking up the country (what he will gain by this, however, they won’t tell). An icon of hope; a symbol of anarchy. A towering leader in the making; an overhyped student activist. Kanhaiya Kumar is all that and more. And he is here to stay.
“The perception about me (of being an anti-national) that was created in the minds of people is getting shattered,” Kanhaiya, 33, tells Outlook. “People are realising that I am talking about the country’s welfare, about development, equality, employment, which are in the larger interest of society, not against the nation. It is proving to be a big setback to those who have invested so much to create such a perception against me.” It was at JNU, where he was then the students’ union president, that Kanhaiya shot into the limelight with a sedition case slapped against him and spent about a month in Tihar Jail for his “azaadi” speech in February 2016. Four years later, on February 28, Delhi’s AAP government gave its nod to the Delhi Police to prosecute Kanhaiya. This came a day after Kanhaiya ended a month-long statewide yatra in Bihar organised by a largely apolitical front of about 100 organisations against CAA, NRC and NPR, which concluded with a rally in Patna. Bihar goes to the polls in October-November and Kanhaiya will be fighting his battle on two fronts, political and legal. He is not too concerned though and says the case won’t stand the scrutiny of the court (See interview). But electoral politics is something else, and Kanhaiya’s chastening loss to the BJP’s Giriraj Singh in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls—by over four lakh votes —is a constant reminder of this harsh fact.