Kanhaiya Kumar will not campaign for the Left parties in the forthcoming assembly elections in West Bengal and Kerala. After announcing that he might, top leaders of the Left parties have had second thoughts in sending him to two states where their principle enemy isn’t the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
According to top leaders of the Left parties, Kanhaiya, the president of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students’ union will continue to lead protest marches or address students in colleges and universities across the country, including in Kerala and Bengal.
A Left leader told this website that Kanhaiya’s speeches would focus more on “the dangers that face India’s pluralism and its secular democracy from the current government”. It is apparent from posters and hoardings featuring Kanhaiya put up by the Congress party in Guwahati that he isn’t an icon just for the Left parties.
By campaigning actively for a particularly party in Kerala and Bengal, Kanhaiya runs the risk of losing the support he has received not just from the Congress, large sections of the intelligentsia and also those who are vehemently opposed to the Left ideology. Thanks to Kanhaiya, the Left has has managed to occupy the mainstream discourse after decades and has also come across as a strong bulwark against Hindutva politics. The Left leaders now say that Kanhaiya has emerged as a youth symbol against all that is ostensibly wrong with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre, and they are unlikely to expend him for their immediate electoral gains.
The statement that Kanhaiya might campaign in Kerala and Bengal for the Left parties – the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI (M), Communist Party of India (CPI) and their other allies – was attributed to CPI (M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury. But there’s been a rethink since. “Kanhaiya’s message will go to Kerala and Bengal, just as its spreading across the country,” a top Left leader said, adding that Yechury’s statement was taken out of context. “The battle that the country faces currently is much bigger than winning an assembly election or two,” said a Left leader.
This realisation among Left leaders has come after Kanhaiya himself made it amply clear and conveyed as much to the Left leadership that his focus at the current juncture was on completing his doctoral dissertation and serving out the remainder of his term as the JNU students’ union president. According to sources, Kanhaiya’s professors have also advised him against jumping headlong into electoral politics.
There is also hard political analysis behind Kanhaiya’s decision to turn down the offer by Left parties to campaign for them in Kerala and Bengal. Kanhaiya is with All India Students Federation (AISF), which is affiliated to the CPI. The CPI is non-existent in large parts of the country, including in Kanhaiya’s home state of Bihar. It is a marginal player even in Kerala and Bengal, surviving in the shadow of big brother CPI(M).
Kanhaiya is product of a Left movement that is in steep decline. The situation is different from when student leaders of the 1970s, like Sitaram Yechury and Prakash Karat, were propelled to the heights of Indian politics on the strength of a vibrant Left movement in several parts of the country.
Kanhaiya can either joining politics now and run the risk of becoming yet another student leader who might fall into political oblivion in the years to come, or he can focus on academics, start teaching and continue with his political commitments.