Communist ‘Poster Boy’ Kanhaiya Kumar's Defection To Congress Fails To Evoke Enthusiasm Among Bihar Congressmen

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Sep 29, 2021 04:22 PM +05:30 IST
Communist ‘Poster Boy’ Kanhaiya Kumar's Defection To Congress Fails To Evoke Enthusiasm Among Bihar CongressmenKanhaiya Kumar on joining the Congress (Twitter)
Snapshot
  • Kumar contested the 2019 Lok Sabha elections from Bihar’s Begusarai, his home district, against BJP’s Giriraj Singh. Singh had never contested from Begusarai and had won the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from the neighbouring Nawada.

    Even so, he defeated Kumar in Begusarai by a mammoth 4.2 lakh votes.

The Congress ‘high command’, especially Rahul Gandhi, may be crowing over communist poster boy Kanhaiya Kumar’s induction into the party, but its state unit in Bihar is far from enthused over the development.

Kumar gained nationwide notoriety when seditious slogans calling for the fragmentation of India were raised at an event within Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus in February 2016 to mark the anniversary of the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru. Kumar was one of the main speakers at the event and was arrested on charges of sedition.

Kanhaiya Kumar was a leader of the All India Students' Federation (AISF) that is affiliated to the Communist Party of India (CPI) and was also the president of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union. He joined the CPI--a natural progression for most members of the AISF--and was elevated to the national executive council of the party.

Kumar’s February 2016 meeting in JNU where the tukde tukde slogans (calling for fragmentation of India) were raised was not the only controversy that dogged Kumar. He has lent his voice to Pakistan’s allegations that the Indian army had been raping Kashmiri Muslim women. He was also found guilty by the JNU administration of vulgar behaviour with a female student.

Kumar contested the 2019 Lok Sabha elections from Bihar’s Begusarai, his home district, against BJP’s Giriraj Singh. Singh had never contested from Begusarai (he is a native of Lakhisarai district) and had contested and won the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from Nawada.

But despite being an ‘outsider’, Singh trounced Kumar by a mammoth 4.2 lakh votes. The results came as a big blow not only to Kumar, but also the ‘left-fliberal’ brigade that had projected the controversial student leader as a ‘rising star’ in India’s political firmament.

Kanhaiya Kumar was the toast of the leftist media and was held up as a youth icon with a mass appeal, a young man who is “destined for unprecedented glory” (as a gushing TV anchor said). All those projections and hopes came crashing down and met an ignominious end with Kumar’s crushing defeat in 2019.

Even the 22 per cent vote share that Kumar bagged in Begusarai was because the Congress threw its weight behind him. The Congress had won this Lok Sabha constituency many times in the past and has been organisationally strong there. The JD(U)--an ally of the BJP--wrested the seat from the Congress in 2004 and retained it in 2009, while the BJP won it in 2014 and then in 2019.

But that is not why most leaders and workers in the Bihar state unit of the Congress are not enthused with Kumar's entry into their party. Most feel that Kumar, a communist, will be a misfit in the Congress. Kumar is highly ambitious and is not a 'team-spirited' persona. Thus, he will refuse to defer to senior leaders of the party in Bihar and upset the balance of power within the state unit. "He will trigger a lot of turmoil. His entry will result in a lot of infighting and bad blood," a senior Congress leader told Swarajya.

"That Kanhaiya Kumar is over ambitious and has an exaggerated sense of self-importance is evident from the fact that he demanded the post of President of the Bihar unit of the CPI and a final say in selection of candidates in all elections. It shows his scant regard for his seniors in that party who had groomed him," said the Congress leader.

Kumar, fear senior Bihar Congress leaders, will be given a free hand in Bihar by the Gandhi siblings (Rahul and Priyanka) who he is close to. The duo, surrounded by and heavily influenced by their coterie of Left radicals, were instrumental in winning Kumar over to the Congress.

Kumar's ambitious nature, and his lack of sensitivities, will plunge the Bihar unit of the party into a crisis. Just as the Gandhi siblings' decision to make Navjot Singh Sidhu the president of the Congress in Punjab has done.

"Developments in the Bihar Congress will soon mirror the crisis in the Punjab Congress. Kanhaiya Kumar is quite like Sidhu and has little respect for elders, for established norms and conventions and for rules and procedures. He does not believe in taking every one along with him and cannot tolerate opposition or competition. He has strong dictatorial tendencies," said a senior CPI leader from Bihar who has known Kumar from his days as a student in an undergraduate college in Patna.

Kumar's positioning as a leader of the Congress in Bihar will also cause tension between the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). The Congress high command wants Kumar to lead the rejuvenation of the party in Bihar. But that will not be taken too kindly by the RJD, which will not want to concede any space to the Congress. The Congress plan to position Kumar in a top ranks of the party will put him in direct competition with RJD's Tejaswi Yadav.

The RJD is bound to push back against that and the rivalry will result in a lot of tensions within the RJD-Congress alliance in Bihar. Given Kumar's nature, Bihar Congress leaders fear that he will ride roughshod over RJD's sensitivities. "If relations between the RJD and Congress deteriorates, the RJD can push the Congress into a corner and make things difficult for our party. That will harm our party," said the Congress leader.

Many are also uncomfortable with Kumar for his proclivity to shoot off his mouth, his many indiscretions and the controversies he seems to attract.

There are many incidents involving Kumar, say Congress as well as CPI leaders, which provide a good insight into his character. Some cite a recent incident: Kumar removed an airconditioner he had installed in his own chamber at the CPI state office in Patna for his own comfort. That was the first time an air conditioner--considered to be a luxury and a bourgeois indulgence by communists--was installed in the CPI office.

“The installation of the air conditioner in his own office chamber at the party office provided enough proof of Kumar’s ‘uncommunist’ need for comforts. He also prioritised his own needs over that of others--had he been egalitarian that all communists lay claim to, he would have installed the air conditioner in a general meeting hall for the benefit of all party workers and office-bearers,” said political analyst Sudhakar Dubey.

“Removing the air conditioner once he made up his mind to leave the CPI displayed Kumar’s attachment to material things, his petty mindedness and his narrow mindset. He ought to have been generous and left the air conditioner behind,” added Dubey.

There’s yet another question that arises: without any known source of income save for the paltry sum that the CPI had been giving him as a national executive member, where did Kumar get the money to purchase an air conditioner for his office chamber in Patna? Kumar has also installed air conditioners in his own residence and his love for luxury--stay in five star hotels, frequent travels by air and on AC first class, air conditioned SUVs and his newly-developed ‘taste’ for the good things in life--have raised many eyebrows.

There are, thus, many reasons why Congress leaders and workers in Bihar are wary of Kumar's entry into their party and the role that he will play in Bihar.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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