Kanhaiya Kumar is a National Executive Council member of Communist Party of India (CPI). The former Jawaharlal Nehru University student’s name had hit the headlines in 2016 when he was arrested by the Delhi police on charges of sedition. Following his release, Kanhaiya’s gritty speech at his alma-mater had turned him into a political star. In the 2019 General Election, Kanhaiya entered mainstream politics as CPI’s candidate against BJP leader Giriraj Singh in Begusarai, Bihar.
In this interview, after his electoral loss a year ago, Abhinandan Sekhri talks to Kanhaiya about his political career, his beliefs and the Bihar assembly election.
Initially, Abhinandan and Kanhaiya discuss his political idealism and whether his foray into mainstream politics has affected his values. Kanhaiya answers by saying if he wanted to forego idealism for pragmatism, he’d have “joined the BJP or some other big party.”
They go on to discuss Bihar assembly election in detail, from Kanhaiya’s campaign route, his meetings, the key issues at play to the changing political spectrum of the ongoing polls.
The change in the battlefield of electoral narrative with Tejaswi Yadav’s promise of 10 lakh jobs has thrown a wrench into the NDA’s plans and Kanhaiya believes it is a good sign from the electorate that highlights the changing priorities of the people of Bihar. He believes, “Due to the unbiased catastrophe of the pandemic, we must also meld social-justice politics with economic-justice issues”, because it appears as though people are voting beyond the confines of caste and traditional loyalties. All the opposition parties have to come together for a politics of welfare beyond social justice, he adds.
Abhinandan also asks him about Arnab Goswami's arrest. Kanhaiya says for him, “the reactionary pleasure may seem satisfactory but he won’t derive any sadistic pleasure out of it.”
On the reasons for joining an old and blemished party like CPI when he had the opportunity to start a new one, Kanhaiya claims, “I am not an opportunist and don’t know the machinations required to practice politics.” Using an analogy from Harishankar Parsai which compares politics to, “choosing between two dirty vests hanging on the hook,” he says, politics isn’t about good or bad today but it is about choosing the lesser evil among the many.
Talking about the need to change the political discourse, Kanhaiya says, instead of looking for an alternative within existing politics, one needs to engage in building alternative politics.
Text by Shardool Katyayan.
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