The Azaadi Kanhaiya Seeks Can Only Come From These Azaadis

by Seetha - Mar 5, 2016 12:28 PM +05:30 IST
The Azaadi Kanhaiya Seeks Can Only Come From These AzaadisKanhaiya Kumar in JNU after his release (CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP/Getty Images)

Dear Kanhaiya,

It was great to see your speech. Your oratory is extremely powerful. The way you engage the crowds is marvellous. I was spellbound. But then once I got over how you speak, I started thinking about what you spoke about.

I am glad you clarified that you do not want – never wanted – azaadi from the country, but azaadi within the country. You made it clear in slogans both before your arrest and after your release that you want azaadi from bhukmari (hunger), berozgari (unemployment), punjivaad (capitalism/big business), brahmanvaad (brahminism) and manuvaad. This is the usual leftist line – that the independence we got in 1947 is meaningless if we don’t have freedom from hunger, if we don’t have jobs, education, health. But if you are really seeking this azaadi, then you should be chanting a different set of azaadi slogans.

You should, first and foremost, chant: samaajvaad se azaadi. Because if, close to 70 years after independence we are still battling hunger, unemployment, poor education and health indicators, then it is because of the stranglehold of socialism on policy making for 44 years. The belief that the state alone had the wisdom to decide on who should produce what and how much, that it should be the sole provider of education and health services, is what is resulted in India lagging not just in economic development but also social indicators. Look at the post-1991 data on a range of issues – economic growth, poverty reduction, literacy, education indicators – the difference between the pre and post 1991 period is clear. Remember, the socialist stranglehold hasn’t been removed completely; so think of the gains that could come if the socialist mindset is erased completely from policy making.

You should also chant poorna aarthik azaadi – complete economic freedom. A friend pointed out that this is what socialists also say; that the poor are not economically free. But socialists find no contradiction between this lament and insisting on the state playing an interventionist role in the economy. For them economic freedom can come only from doles or from government programmes and schemes – removing impediments to economic activity does not figure in their list of priorities.

The azaadi that you seek will only come from license raj se azaadi/permit raj se azaadi/neta babu se azaadi/taxman se azaadi. This is what economic freedom is about - udyog karne ki azaadi/vyapaar karne ki azaadi – freedom to set up business, to trade. When a babu is set up as an arbiter of the fate of a businessman or trader – when he knows nothing about doing business or trading – he kills entrepreneurship and the jobs that will come with it. Even the smallest industry and a street vendor will provide direct employment to at least two people and indirect employment to people or businesses that supply to them. They may not be high quality jobs, but they are jobs nevertheless. So you should be chanting: chotte udyogon ke liye azaadi/rehri-patri waalon ke liye azaadi/babuvaad se azaadi.

You have hit out at poonjivaad (capitalism). I presume you mean big business – the Tata-Birlas that an earlier generation of leftists reviled and the Adanis-Ambanis that your generation reviles. The only way to prevent monopolistic big businesses is not to bring in laws as socialists and communists tend to do, but to give more azaadi to small businesses. Besides capitalism is not only about big business. It is also about small businesses, micro-enterprises, street vendors. Read Hernando de Soto, child. But will your party give you azaadi to read him? The Maoist Shining Path rebels tried to assassinate him. They didn’t want him to have azaadi to propagate his views.

But is big business necessarily bad? Look at West Bengal which has already got freedom from capitalists and capitalism – where is the big industry in Bengal after 30 years of left rule? Has that made the state a better place for jobs? Didn’t Buddhadeb Bhattarcharya try to set a course correction and woo industry? Look at your own state after the bifurcation in 2000, which saw all big industry going to Jharkhand. Isn’t Nitish Kumar trying to woo industry? Instead of chanting poonjivad se azaadi try chanting poonjipati banane ki azaadi (freedom to become a capitalist). Capitalism does provide jobs.

Look at the Dalit capitalists who are being brought to the forefront by the Dalit capitalism movement that Chandrabhan Prasad and Milind Kamble are spearheading. Prasad is a Dalit from a poor family in Uttar Pradesh who studied at your university and was also a Marxist like you when he was there. Talk to him and listen to his nuanced views on reservations and empowerment of Dalits.

You will probably never chant aarakshanvaad se azaadi. But have you ever stopped to think whether the country’s reservation policy has any meaning any more, with castes who can by no definition be called backward demanding and getting various quotas? You start your speech with Jai Bhim, but what was Bhimrao Ambedkar’s idea of reservations and what has come of it? Stop and think about it. Remember Rohith Vemula, who you say is your idol, got into university as a merit student. The manuvaad/brahmanvaad se azaadi that you seek will only come from empowering Dalits in myriad ways, not just through government doles and programmes.

You are a student from a poor family, so you know the plight of children from such families who don’t get access to quality education. You would have been told about the Right to Education, but did you know that the RTE is resulting in thousands of budget private schools, which provide education to children from poor families, closing down? You would have been told that private schools are evil because they are driven by the profit motive, but it is because of this profit that they are able to provide to a section neglected by the government. You should really be chanting profit banane ki azaadi.

You spoke feelingly about suicides by farmers - you are the son of a farmer as well – but have you ever wondered about why the farm sector is in so much distress today?

In indoctrination sessions, your senior comrades would not have told you that agriculture is the largest private sector activity and also the most regulated. They would have told you about governments cutting back on subsidies, about farmers not being able to repay loans, about rising fertiliser and input prices and procurement prices not keeping pace with rising input costs. But did they tell you that subsidies, farm loan waivers, interest subvention schemes etc are cornered by the large farmers? Did they tell you that minimum support prices benefits only farmers producing two crops in five states? They might have told about the evil middlemen who short-changing the farmers, but did they tell you that these middlemen are the creation of socialist policies of controls on whom farmers can sell to?

To end hunger and rural poverty and improve farmers’ incomes you should be fighting for kisanon ke lye azaadi. Read Sharad Joshi’s writings on the subject.

There were other azaadi slogans I noticed you did not chant: vyaktivaad (individualism) ke liye azaadi, udaarvaadi (liberal) hone ki azaadi. That would not have been in conformity with the party line, would it? Communism does not respect individuals. In your party, will you have kuch bhi bolne ki azaadi? I notice you did not chant parivarpanth (dynastic rule) se azaadi – was it because in your state, a key political figure heads a powerful political dynasty and is hailed as a socialist-secular icon?

String all the above slogans, Kanhaiya, and you will come up with a much more powerful set which will take your appeal far beyond the boundaries of JNU.

To make it easier for you, I have collated it:

Samaajvaad se azaadi

Marxvaad se azaadi

Poorna aarthik azaadi

License raj se azaadi

Permit raj se azaadi

Neta babu se azaadi

Taxman se azaadi

Udyog karne ki azaadi

Chotte udyogon ke liye azaadi

Rehri-patri waalon ke liye azaadi

Kisanon ke liye azaadi

Poonjipati banane ki azaadi

Profit banaane ki azaadi

Aarakshanvaad se azaadi

If you chant these slogans, I will chant “I salute, red salute, red salute to comrade” as your friends did the other day. But will your party give you azaadi to do this?

Lal Salaam.

Seetha is a senior journalist and author
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