Kanhaiya Kumar is India's latest political rockstar.
His address in Mumbai on Saturday evening gave Mumbaikars a glimpse of the heyday of the Communist movement in the city of textiles mills and mill workers.
Prasanna D Zore/Rediff.com and Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com report.
After addressing students in Hyderabad and Nagpur for the passage of the Rohith Act, All India Students Federation leader and president of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union Kanhaiya Kumar pitched for the same in India's commercial capital on Saturday, April 23, evening even as he spent almost all his energies lashing in his trademark sarcastic style against the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Kumar also painted Mumbai, which was once a Communist citadel, red by igniting causes -- jobs and education for poor, social justice for India's downtrodden, increase in government spending to improve social infrastructure -- that were espoused only by the Communists in Mumbai.
The crowd, mostly youth from various student federations affiliated to the Left, that had assembled at Adarsh Vidyalay, Tilak Nagar, Chembur, north east Mumbai, were all fired up despite a last-minute change in the venue from Mumbai's Worli, once a red bastion because of its preponderance of textile mills, the lifeline of Mumbai.
AISF and DYFI (Democratic Youth Federation of India; both affiliated to India's two Communist parties) cadres, relegated to inconsequence as the Communist movement crumbled in the city with the closure of its iconic textile mills, milled around the school, taking care of Kanhaiya's internal security.
They were spread out across the bylanes that connected the city's arteries to the venue to welcome their "comrade" to the chants of "Lal Salaam," "Inquilab Zindabad" and "Jai Bhim", the latter slogan that was hardly heard among the Communists earlier, but which is currently in vogue across the country as India celebrates the 125th birth anniversary of the father of its Constitution, Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, who apparently every political party now wants to hijack for electoral gains.
"Kanhaiya has the potential to help lift the morale of our cadres," says DYFI member Santosh Kamble. "He seems to have the earnestness of purpose that is winning the hearts of India's poor."
Another DYFI activist Rajesh Gaikwad adds, "Kanhaiya is making all efforts to bring together anti-Manuvadi, anti-RSS parties onto one platform. He is also making fervent appeals to the two Communist parties to merge into one. But political leaders have their own egos."
Both Gaikwad and Kamble want more rallies from Kanhaiya in Mumbai to help reignite the red flame in the city.
Kanhaiya reiterated the same during his speech when he dared all those opposed to the BJP, RSS and other communal forces to join cause with India's poor.
Invoking the teachings of Tukaram, the 17th century saint, Savitribai Phule and Jyotiba Phule, Kanhaiya dared Prime Minister Narendra Modi to make education free for children of those who work as domestic help in the country.
"Chaliye, tweet-tweet bandh karte hai Modiji," Kanhaiya, who was dressed in a red check shirt, jeans and chappals, said taking a jibe at the PM's fondness for tweeting. "Let's do something concrete and make education free for children of people who work as domestic help, be they from any class, caste or religion."
Kanhaiya also dared Modi, who, he said, has toured many global capitals after taking over the reins of the country, to visit drought-stricken Marathwada. "Our prime minister acts like Vasco da Gama and has all the time to visit world capitals, but why hasn't he bothered to visit drought-hit Marathwada?" Kanhaiya asked.
Kanhaiya laced his 50-minute speech with aggression and sarcasm.
Reminding the nation about the skewed policies of the BJP government in Maharashtra as well as at the Centre over the death of a 12-year-old boy who drowned in a well where he had gone to fill water in scorching 41 degree Celsius in Beed in Marathwada, Kanhaiya mocked Modi for publicising his Madame Tussauds' wax statue.
"In 41 degree Celsius, not just a wax statue, but you will also melt away," Kanhaiya said.
"This is a selfie government where ministers are only interested in tweeting their selfies," Kanhaiya said, referring to the controversy sparked by Maharashtra minister Pankaja Munde shooting selfies in drought ravaged Marathwada.
"We will speak out against injustice, casteism and communalism," he declared. "Take whatever action against us as you deem fit," he challenged his political opponents as well as those who flung chappals at him during his public addresses.
"Look at the hatred of these opponents against me," he said. "They have been throwing only their right chappals at me. I request them to throw their left chappals at me so that I can at least have an extra pair."
Kanhaiya said he and many others like him would only shut up "when you will pass the Rohith Act, stop exploitation of Dalits and Adivasis, stop caste discrimination against students in colleges and universities across India and stop farner suicides."
"If you do stop these injustices, then we will have no chance to speak out against you and your policies."
Lashing out against the RSS for appropriating Dr Ambedkar, Kanhaiya said, "Sangh ki kathni aur karni main kafi antar hai (the RSS has been misleading the nation with what they say and how they act). But now we need to see some action and not just empty talk."
While these attacks on the BJP and RSS has now become the hallmark of Kanhaiya Kumar, who is striving to unite all the secular forces under one banner, his Mumbai address appears to have galvanised the cadres of Left affiliated students organisations.
DYFI's Gaikwad whose father Subhash Gaikwad has seen the likes of Shripad Amrut Dange, Ahilya Rangnekar and S M Joshi (all stalwarts of the Communist/Socialist movements in Mumbai) says, "Kanhaiya is giving this generation of young Communists a glimpse of what Dange, Joshi and Rangnekar did in their heyday. I only hope the red flag once again gets its glory back in this city of mill workers."