June 25, 2021
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Life After Kanhaiya

With his name and fame, perhaps Kanhaiya should lead a Kanshi Ram-style all-India campaign which had once energised the Dalit movement in the 1980s.

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Life After Kanhaiya
PTI Photo/Vijay Verma
Life After Kanhaiya

Kanhaiya is a sensation and the country is tripping on him. It feels nice to listen to him. What Kanhaiya has done is something simple. He brings the soldier home, from the cold heights of high-pitch and shrill nationalism. 'That soldier is my brother'. And my father, a farmer, 'grows food for him'. He asks the 'primetime' jingoists: who are these soldiers to you? These same farmers are committing suicide: and you create a divide between them and the soldiers. Do not create false binaries, Kanhaiya thunders, as he then goes on emphasise on social interconnectedness.

The soldier at the border and the struggling farmers now share a warm social solidarity. Kanhaiya extends his lal salaam and azadi right into the jail, where the policeman is now his potential ally who must get azadi from the 18 hrs of mostly unpaid work. Kanhaiya turns his jail-stay into a pedagogical exercise turning the policeman into a likely ally. 'Tihar fell captive to a captive', says a report.

The soldier and police are brought back from the idea of an abstract 'service to the nation'. They are placed in the midst of tangible and familiar social relations, as real humans. Kanhaiya weaves a world we can be sure of and which we know for sure—allowing for a simple unmediated and warm solidarity. The one word he likes is 'spontaneous': 'The enemy is planned, we are spontaneous', he says gleefully.

And then the references to the village, the farm and his mother evoke an authenticity and directness which is almost therapeutic for the tired alienated urban soul, a relief from the highly mediated world of images and the spectacle. Kanhaiya becomes an earthy, lucid voice of the masses which the classes now sit up and enjoy listening. Not just honest and sincere in a narrow political sense, but also real and authentic in a psycho-social sense.

For a change, we do not have to indulge in the false choice between the utterances of say a Chidambaram and a GK Pillai. Instead, here is a chance to unpack this entire 'debate' on the security state and its murky 'false encounter' killings and turn to more tactile real social relations.

The classes of course cannot enjoy or appropriate this authentic voice from the masses without sanitising it. Not only will Umar Khalid or SAR Geelani be omitted from the picture, but Kanhaiya too must be sanitised. The terms of this appropriation 'model' were already set well in time for Kanhaiya to fit in: 'I am an anti-national but a proud Hindu', declared one of the appropriators!

Earlier, one section of the media vilified him. Now another 'progressive' section is on an overdrive to present him as the true nationalist, constitutionalist and law-abiding citizen. Now Kanhaiya amputates (Justice Rani!) any reference to azadi for Kashmir. I will not belabour the point, considering that he is charged of sedition and facing vigilante death threats.

Secondly, Kanhaiya so brilliantly captures the everyday realities but refuses to name this unjust social order. This social order is capitalism (not 'crony capitalism'): and he must name it as such, otherwise he is sure to end up only fighting its rough ends and 'excesses', only fighting the occasional Vijay Mallyas. A fledgling working class movement in and around Delhi, from Maruti Suzuki to Honda, is today fighting against not just the excesses of 'crony capitalism' but against 'normal', 'decent', 'law-abiding' (non-crony) capitalism.

Kanhaiya's emphasis on flow, interconnectedness and spontaneity leads him to construe any kind of naming, or evoking a concept as doing violence. His Marxism now becomes something like a Sufi 'Marxism'. This is populism in the name of openness. Of course this only makes things more enjoyable/appropriable! Anything Sufi is good, right? Kanhaiya does not place the Sangh in the midst of capitalist relations, but that also means that he can treat Modi and Shah as though they were some medieval tyrants. Thus we could enjoy the tactile directness of his desire 'to enter the TV and hold Modi by his suit'. It is like parodying the king in his court in front of the gathered audience. Such direct attacks seem to hurt BJP leaders rather badly.

The more direct, tactile and earthy Kanhaiya is, the more viral and TRP-friendly brand he becomes. He seems all set to be the 'poster boy' of India's liberal intelligentsia. It is as though the insular contrived world of secular Lutyens Delhi has found its own 'outsider' in Kanhaiya's earthiness. So it is hungrily lapping him up as a counter to the 'outsider' chai-wallah fascism of Modi and Shah.

So what happens to the movement starting with Rohith Vemula and the JNU issue and which made Kanhiya possible? I feel that this movement has the potential of inaugurating a new sequence in Indian politics. But, for this potential to be heard, this ongoing enjoyment and appropriation of Kanhaiya must end.

One thought: with his name and fame, perhaps Kanhaiya should lead a Kanshi Ram-style all-India campaign which had once energised the Dalit movement in the 1980s. The left and radical Ambedkarites can come together on this and create a non-Congress alternative to the BJP.

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