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How The Persecution Of Kanhaiya Kumar Pulled The Left Out Of The Red

07/03/2016 12:53 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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Kanhaiya Kumar, the president of the students' union at the country's premier Jawaharlal Nehru University is produced at a Delhi court, in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016. Dozens of lawyers, many with links to India's ruling nationalist party, clashed Wednesday with protesters demanding the release of the student leader arrested under India's colonial-era sedition laws. (AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal)

It was a demonstration of classic schoolboy idealism--bringing in fairness and equality into the world, a strong iteration of Lenin's precepts, the coexistence of democracy and socialism. It was something that, typically, would have been ignored by a mind convinced of market-based enterprise being the path to achieve the most equitable distribution of fruits of labour.

Yet, the 50-odd-minute video of Kanhaiya Kumar's speech at JNU's campus was riveting, captivating and inspiring--not so much for the content as for the context. Kanhaiya--as a fledgling politician with a reasonably bright future and a boyish gift of the gab--made the entire nation, including every right-winger, every capitalist and every politician of every hue sit up and listen to all he had to say.

For nearly two decades, communist ideology never got such a widespread hearing in India as it did when Kanhaiya spoke after his return from jail.

Given that he's a student who still has plenty to experience, it is not unlikely that eventually Kanhaiya will become a hardcore pro-markets economist. History is replete with folks of one extreme persuasion swinging to the other extreme over time. However, it was his currently held Communist ideology that was heard in virtually every household having an internet connection, showcasing the power of "counter-productivity" (if one can coin that phrase) that suppression of ideas can bring about.

If Kanhaiya had not been ill-treated, arrested, charged with sedition and ruthlessly beaten up by cynical lawyers, the young student's speech would have not found half the audience it has today. Many would have dismissed it as a rant against non-Communist economics. Many others would not have bothered to figure out what he stands for. Perhaps no one would have listened to every word with rapt attention to see if anything he said could be considered to be 'anti-national' or as provocation of disaffection towards the Indian State.

In other words, the Delhi Police with its excesses, the black-coat-wearing assailants in Patiala House, and the hate-mongering television 'news' anchors have achieved what folks like EMS Namboodripad, Jyoti Basu, Inderjit Gupta, Prakash Karat, Gurudas Dasgupta, Sitaram Yechury and the like, could never have achieved. No one would not have invested so much time in listening to the views of a young student given to a certain worldview had it not been for the insecurity and aggressive censoriousness of those holding the contrary opinion. For nearly two decades, communist ideology never got such a widespread hearing in India as it did when Kanhaiya spoke after his return from jail.

The more pressure one builds up to suppress an idea, the more likely is it to become interesting to a wider audience.

There is no idea that gets more traction than a physically suppressed one. The more pressure one builds up to suppress an idea, the more likely is it to become interesting to a wider audience. The greater an attempt to kill a thought process, the higher the chances of people investing in knowing what the thought process is. This is pretty much why Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf has such wide readership in Israel today. This is pretty much why a few in Germany want to risk committing the local crime of questioning the scale of the Holocaust. This is pretty much why Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses became a bestseller. This is pretty much why Wendy Doniger's book on Hindus (withdrawn by Penguin in fear of backlash) has been published again. This is pretty much why a book on Air India by Jitendra Bhargava (withdrawn by Bloomsbury) made big news with the author's self-published electronic version.

This is indeed pretty much why a controversy before the release of a book or a movie supports its appeal and potential success. In fact, it is the fear of what the book or movie could do to people's minds that provokes and agitates the minds of those opposed to it. If the mental agitation leads to fighting the content of the book or movie with the content of another book or a movie, it would be a clash of ideas. If it leads to physical assault and intimidation of anyone holding the view, or worse, of anyone sympathetic to the right to hold that view--or even worse, dehumanising the holder of the view as one afflicted by "infection" of a "virus"--it would provoke far greater interest in the view.

The ideologues on the right have certainly lost a battle with the declaration of war against those harbouring sympathies for the left.

This, after all is the point in a democracy--to have, to allow, a clash of ideas and views, however violently one may disagree with others' ideas. Terming one idea as 'nationalist' and another as 'seditious' will necessarily backfire. Indoctrination has limits to its effectiveness. Once that limit is reached, the ideology of indoctrination becomes a virus that infects the laboratory in which it was germinated, and potentially, even the scientists who nurture the virus. History tells us that many spies working against a nation were at one point blindly loyal to it.

Right now in India, the ideologues on the right have certainly lost a battle with the declaration of war against those harbouring sympathies for the left.

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