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Who is afraid of Kanhaiya Kumar?

February 18, 2020 11:50 IST
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For two-and-half weeks, as Kanhaiya Kumar's Jan Gan Man Yatra opposing the CAA-NPR-NRC makes its way through Bihar, it has come under sustained violent attack.
Archana Masih/ discovers that the yatris, who include teenagers wanting to save the Constitution and the Nation, are unfazed by the threats and loathing.

Kanhaiya Kumar addressing a sabha in Aurangabad, Bihar

IMAGE: Communist Party of India leader Kanhaiya Kumar addresses a meeting in Sasaram during the Jan Gan Man Yatra in opposition to the CAA-NPR-NRC in Bihar. Photograph: Kind courtesy, Nivedita Jha

For the past 19 days, Nandini Kumari, 17, has been travelling through Bihar in the Jan Gan Man Yatra against the CAA-NPR-NRC, spearheaded by Communist Party of India leader Kanhaiya Kumar.

"Unko dekh kar log pagla jate hai (people go crazy seeing him)," the teenager says over the phone from Pawapuri where the entourage had halted for the night and had a meal of puri and aloo sabzi.

Nandini started the yatra from Gandhiji's ashram in Bhitiharwa, West Champaran and will be at Patna's Gandhi Maidan on February 27 when the yatra culminates in a rally.

"Kanaihya bhaiya is telling people about the CAA-NRC. He speaks about the Constitution, the Dalits, the poor. He says we have to save the Constitution to save the nation."

"I like that," says the Class 10 student, the daughter of a Dalit farmer from Araria district which borders Nepal. Her parents allowed her to go for the yatra, but her friend Priyanka's mother wept for hours before giving permission.

'What if you don't come back? Who will marry you if you go off like this?' the mother had asked.

"You must understand the background that they come from -- they are coming from a milieu where grooms are being found for girls their age," Tanmay Kumar, an activist, tells me over the phone from Araria, taking the call from a public meeting addressed by activist Kavita Krishnan.

Nandini, along with Nitu and Priyanka, are amongst the youngest members of the yatra's 60 to 70 member entourage. The girls are activists of the Jan Jagran Shakti Sangathan, a trade union of landless workers, where Tanmay is an office member.

Nitu, Nandini and Priyanka are amongst the youngest in the yatra.

IMAGE: Left to right, Nitu, Nandini and Priyanka, the youngest members in the yatra, belong to a village in Araria. They collect donations from the crowd at every sabha for petrol and other expenses. Photograph: Kind courtesy, Tanmay Kumar

The entourage consists of 4 to 5 cars and a bus with 'Hum Bharat Ke Log' (We are the people of Bharat) written on it. And images of Gandhi, Ambedkar and Bhagat Singh as well.

The three girls have taken the responsibility of collecting donations from the people who come to hear Kanhaiya speak. The money they collect is used for petrol and towards expenses for the grand rally in Patna.

Before every public sabha, an announcement is made from the stage and the girls weave through the crowd with boxes to collect whatever people contribute willingly. The amount ranges from Rs 10 to Rs 2,000.

"The yatra is people funded, we don't get money from any political party or corporation. It is crowd funding in the real sense," continues Tanmay, adding that the girls have raised Rs 150,000 from their humble chanda dabbas.

A hundred people's organisations, including those aligned to the Left parties, women's groups, human rights organisations, workers unions etc, opposed to the CAA-NPR-NRC, are participating in the movement.

"Political leaders, NGOs, journalists, activists -- the oldest is 70 and youngest 17," says Tanmay. "Their energy is commendable."


SEE: Snippets from Kanhaiya Kumar's Jan Gan Man Yatra in Bihar


On February 14, Valentine's Day, the yatra was attacked by goons for the eighth time. Nandini and several others in the travelling party have been witness to every attack. Once a stone hit the window where she was sitting and she ducked and moved to the other side to escape being hurt.

The Valentine's Day attack was the most brutal, says Nivedita Jha, a former journalist and acting Bihar president of the National Forum for Indian Women, who is a member of the yatra's coordination committee.

Kanhaiya Kumar's police escort -- 4 to 5 constables -- pulled him out of the car to safety in the nick of time. Some among the travelling party were injured. A woman sustained a blow to the head.

First came the eggs.

The yatra had set course from a dharamshala in Buxar for Arrah when eggs were thrown at it. Few struck some people in the yatra, says Tanmay, who was seated in the bus.

Then came the stones and lathis.

"There were men on bikes who had covered their faces with hankies. They started throwing stones on the entourage and broke Kanhaiya's car window. A 70-year-old man in our group who got down to document what was happening was injured."

On the weekend, a delegation from the yatra, met Bihar Home Secretary Amit Suhani to express their concern about the continued attacks. "He gave instructions to district officers to look into it seriously and arrest the attackers," adds Jha.

Three arrests were made on Monday, February 17, in connection with the attacks.

Still, as Kanhaiya addressed a sabha in Lakhi Sarai on Monday, a slipper was flung at him.

Crowds at a meeting in Aurangabad, Bihar

IMAGE: A meeting in Aurangabad, Bihar. The yatra started at Gandhiji's ashram in Bhitiharwa and will culminate in a rally at the Gandhi Maidan, Patna. Photograph: Kind courtesy, Nivedita Jha

"Bauklahat hai (there is upheaval among the yatra's detractors) that hordes of people are coming, who are not Muslims alone. The BJP wants to project the CAA-NPR-NRC as a Muslim problem," says Nivedita Jha over the phone from Patna where she is planning for the Gandhi Madian rally on the 27th.

Jha attended the sabhas in Sasaram and Aurangabad.

"Kanhaiya is a great communicator; his rural andaz (manner) touches people. He doesn't only talk about the NRC alone, but also about umemployment, farmers and women."

"He says if you don't get a job then you won't get a bride either. Who will want to marry a jobless man?"

"People -- especially the youth -- treat him like a hero and have a lot of love for him. They want to take selfies with him, but he carries his stardom with responsibility," says Jha.

"When people chant 'Kanhaiya Kumar zindabad!', he stops them and asks them to say 'Samvidhan Ki Jai! and Jai Hind!"

"He has a political maturity and people have a lot of hope from him," says Jha.

The former JNU student union president and now a Communist Party of India leader, Kanhaiya Kumar's fledgling political career suffered a setback after he lost the 2019 Lok Sabha election to the Bharatiya Janata Party's Giriraj Singh in his home district Begusarai.

Meanwhile, plans are afoot for a huge rally in Gandhi Maidan, Patna, where the organisers estimate that 500,000 to 700,000 people will be in attendance.

The maidan has been booked for two days. Tents will have to be erected, water and bathroom facilities provided. "Rs 20 lakh to Rs 25 lakh will be spent on the yatra," says Nivedita Jha. Local stay and food is looked after by individual organisations in the districts the yatra passes through.

Nandini returned to her village on Monday and will take a bus from the village to Araria town, 70 km away. She will then board the train to Patna along with others to attend the rally on the 27th.

"Hum apne baap ke baap ka naam bhi nahi jante tho kagaaz kaise dikhayenge? (I don't know my grandfather's name, so how can I show documents?" she asks, speaking on a group member's phone.

She says she has an Aadhar card, but does not have any other document.

I ask if she wasn't scared when the yatra was attacked eight times in front of her eyes.

"Hum nikle hai samvidhan bachane, toh dar kiska? (We have set out to save the Constitution, so why should we be afraid?)"

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