11/03/2016 2:20 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST

What Kanhaiya's Urination Scandal Says About The Political Moment We Are In

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
NEW DELHI, INDIA - MARCH 4: JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar during a press conference at JNU campus on March 4, 2016 in New Delhi, India. Kanhaiya Kumar was granted interim bail for six months by the Delhi High Court after spending 20 days in jail. Kumar was arrested on February 12 on charges of sedition and criminal conspiracy after alleged anti-national slogans were raised on the JNU campus on February 9. (Photo by Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Kanhaiya Kumar was fined for urinating in public and “misbehaving” with a female student who protested. The incident happened before he became president of the JNU students union. The Rs 3,000 fine was imposed on him after he became president.

Is bringing up that now that fair game? Yes, Kumar is a public figure now and his past record cannot be off limits.

Is bringing that up relevant? Not particularly. Kanhaiya Kumar is not a candidate for Special Rapporteur on Women’s Rights. Nor is he being vetted for Goodwill Ambassador for Swachh Bharat.

It is just more evidence of bankruptcy of arguments, that we gravitate towards easy character assassination in lieu of arguing with ideas.

Those who think this is a “gotcha” moment for the student leader fail to realize that even if he is proven to be a closet misogynist, that does not mean clinching proof of sedition. One has nothing to do with the other. TERI’s RK Pachauri being accused of sexual harassment does not make global warming and climate change bogus science. Smriti Irani’s past as a soap opera star has no bearing on the pros and cons of education policies she comes up with and yet her small screen past is always dug up for a jeering headline. It is just more evidence of bankruptcy of arguments, that we gravitate towards easy character assassination in lieu of arguing with ideas.

It is a fact that some in the media and political circles, relieved at finding a genuine non-Macaulayputra liberal voice, have turned Kumar into the second coming of Che. They have inflated one rousing speech into the clarion call for a revolution. There are already comparisons and inevitably political obituaries being written for Kumar. Is he aaj ka Anna Hazare? Or the new Arvind Kejriwal? Would he campaign for the Left in the coming elections? Would he be the shot in the arm that the Left desperately needs or is he a flash in the pan?

Media has inflated one rousing speech into the clarion call for a revolution.

And now comes the flip side of that adulation – digging up whatever dirt can be found to knock him off his pedestal, a pedestal he did not really seek out for himself but was handed to him by a ham-handed political leadership, the police and uber-patriotic lawyers. Peeing in public apparently is the beginning of Kanhaiya Kumar’s downfall. As one journalist comments, “The lack of shame in what has transpired sits uncomfortably. Messiahs don’t do this. You can scarcely look upon him now without imagining the incident in your mind’s eye. The crack has formed.”

In a week where Vijay Mallya thumbs his nose at law enforcement and flies the coop with seven outsized bags of luggage, and the World Culture Festival is fined Rs 5 crore for damaging the environment in the name of world peace, public urination is going to be Evidence No. 1 of “lack of shame”? Really? If Kumar misbehaved with the woman who scolded him and called her names, shame on him. But if peeing in public is to be counted as the beginning of someone's downfall then an enormous chunk of those who accuse Kanhaiya Kumar — politicians, policemen and lawyers — had better make sure they mind their pees and q’s. When it comes to public urination, much of India unfortunately lives in glass houses.

But the basic point lost in this argument is that while former JNU student Kamlesh Maheshwari who filed the complaint, is perfectly within her right to be upset and outraged by the incident, Kumar's legal travails have nothing to do with whether he is a good, polite, and zipped-up person or not.

Whoever does these things does not realize that it can also end up backfiring.

It was not just the urination incident. A photograph of Kanhaiya Kumar with a woman went viral with the message “This is JNU’s education. Here Teachers teach by sitting on the lap of students. Red Salute.”

Now that is a bona fide dirty trick, not as much as a doctored video, but dirty enough, trying to smear Kumar, the university and the unnamed woman. She had to finally identify herself and say she was not a professor and Kumar was a friend. But social media has allowed people to twist someone’s private moments for public humiliation.

Media have also reported another photo of a young woman in shorts, smoking and drinking, going viral with the caption “This is what happens to poor girls who come to JNU.”

Whoever does these things does not realize that it can also end up backfiring. The aim of these underhand messages is to show JNU as a den of vice, something that the BJP’s Gyandev Ahuja tried to literally enumerate with his condom counter. But the Kanhaiya Kumar public urination story also ends up sending out exactly the opposite message than some of JNU’s dogged foes intend. It might show Kanhaiya Kumar in a bad light but the university, which is the actual target of political opposition, comes out looking pretty good. After all, now its foes have unwittingly leaked to the world un-doctored proof that JNU takes complaints of harassment and misbehaviour towards a woman student seriously. It actually slapped a fine on Kanhaiya Kumar and warned him of “strict disciplinary action” if he was “involved in any such incidents in the future.”

Think about it. In a country where the police are happy to dismiss attempts at filing an FIR for accusations of rape, what would the average police officer have done faced with a complaint about public urination? In the rush to catch Kanhaiya Kumar with his pants down, the university’s foes have unwittingly done JNU a favour.