By Chris Emmanuel D'Souza
Apr 27: The Begusarai battle between fiery student activist Kanhaiya Kumar and the foul-mouthed hardliner and the Bihar BJP supremo Giriraj Singh is turning out to be a David vs Goliath fight. A little over a month ago, nobody would have given a chance to a new face of the likes of Kanahiya Kumar, against the Hindutva stalwart.
Giriraj Singh is an influential politician in the state of Bihar, and big ticket for the Modi government. He has been picked to run from Begusarai for a reason, and without his permission. He has repeatedly expressed his disappointment. But the reluctance on the part of Giriraj Singh to fight from Begusarai, away from his home seat, exposes some of his inherent fears against the gallant debutant. Having a wild past, Giriraj Singh has been taunted by Kanahiya in his speeches as the 'Pakistan's visa minister', a line that has hit hard. Is it Giriraj’s uneasiness in a new seat or is it fear against the opponent?
The battle between these two figures banking with poles apart ideologies, also brings to light the original David vs Goliath fight. It was the 1967 Lok Sabha election, and the Bombay (now Mumbai) south constituency had an incumbent king S K Patil, the Congress bigwig and the principal financial controller of the party. S K Patil had seen three consecutive victories previously and had declared to the nation 'even God cannot defeat me'.
Those were the days of rampaging trade union movements in Bombay largely headed by trade union activist George Fernandes. Fernandes was largely labeled as the 'Bandh Samrat', after several successful worker strikes. He had galvanized taxi drivers, textile mill workers and other league of industrial labourers across Bombay, and led an intense campaign against big corporations. With this massive grassroot level base, Fernandes was set up against S K Patil, by a little known Samyukta Socialist Party. Patil and the Congress party brushed this scare off, and prepared for a walkover. The press of the time was predominantly in favour of Patil and Congress. But Fernandes and his union workers weren’t going to bow down without a fight. They rallied door to door and people to people - with the slogan 'Only you can defeat the king'! The strategy worked, the movement stuck a chord, Fernandes and his workers had done the unthinkable by defeating the undefeated. The King was humbled. The Indira-led Congress was drenched in humiliation, Patil’s career came to an end. Fernandes was hailed the ‘Giant Killer’, emerging thereon as a national figure.
Kanhaiya Kumar has become a symbol of resistance movement in the Modi era. His iconoclastic oratory blended with craft, satire and humour has surgically sent nervous signals to his opponents. Just a few years ago, the man was spending nights behind prison bars, after some section of 'Godi media' ran a fabricated clip of him and his student union activists raising anti-national slogans at Jawaharlal Nehru University campus. Three years later, the little known union leader has stormed out the media limelight and is making goonda politicians sweat.
In the last few years, Kanhaiya has been able to ignite the 'dead horse' old school socialist movement, but hasn’t found enough fodder to feed its faster growth. The left-leaning parties and activist groups are deeply divided and haven’t found a common ground, and are mostly operating among India’s marginalized population. The middle class and the affluent would avoid it. But some political pundits believe that this bits and pieces movement will unify at some point, and may blossom into a powerful counter narrative ideology to hindutva nationalism.
This election, as many claim is a event that will determine the fate of the idea of India, has brought many rebellious voices at the fore. If Kanhaiya can crack the glass ceiling of caste and creed politics of Bihar’s Begusarai constituency and do a George Fernandes style 'Giant Killer' act, it may spark the beginning of a long career of a robust and gutsy leader and a counter idea that can challenge the poison of hyper nationalism and fascism.
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