Opinion Columnists 06 Mar 2016 Anatomy of oratory
Anil Dharker is a senior columnist based in Mumbai.

Anatomy of oratory

Published Mar 6, 2016, 12:34 am IST
Updated Mar 6, 2016, 12:34 am IST
Kanhaiya Kumar (Photo: AP)
 Kanhaiya Kumar (Photo: AP)

As I write this, my Google App which highlights “search trends of the day” says 100,000 plus people searched for Kanhaiya Kumar. He is second only to Jai Gangaajal, Prakash Jha’s film, which is this week’s Bollywood release. Not bad for a 28-year-old pursuing a Ph.D. in African Studies at JNU. It proves once again that if you want instant fame, there is no better PR agency in the country than the ministry of human resources development.

Thanks to Smriti Irani and her dedicated team, we now know quite a bit about a Kumar called Kanhaiya. First of all, we know what he looks like — young (which he is), seemingly callow (which he is not), sincere and earnest (which he seems to be, but there are now going to be many opportunities for him to prove or disprove this). We also know what he sounds like — again, sincere and earnest, extremely articulate, with a firm leftist line of thought. We knew — at least when the story broke — that he was elected president of the JNU students’ union in 2015. Some of us might even have found out that he is one of the leaders of the All-India Students Federation (AISF), which is the student wing of the Communist Party of India.

His leftist leanings obviously come from his roots: He was born in a village in the Begusarai district in Bihar. His family, as TV pictures have shown us, is poor — a paralysed father who has been bed-ridden for years and a mother who works in an anganwadi for Rs 3,000 per month. He has a brother who is an army jawan. The district is a Communist Party of India stronghold and Mr Kumar’s family, like most families around, are CPI followers. After graduating from Patna, he joined JNU.

His hour-long speech to fellow JNU students after his release from Tihar Jail was as brilliant an oration as you are likely to hear — it was fearless, it had idealism and passion, it had wonderful lines (“We are not asking for freedom from India. We are asking for freedom in India”), it took digs without getting into abuse (“Who is deshdrohi and who is deshbhakt the courts will decide. Smriti Irani won’t decide — she is not our mother”) and it was, above all, without bitterness — after all the young man had spent 21 days in jail on trumped up charges.

A little aside here: Mr Kumar’s trust in our judicial system is touching when you consider that the judge who released him on bail gave him a gratuitous lecture on patriotism, brought in maudlin references to the sacrifices and courage of our Army and warned him against making anti-national statements, thus proving that even the Delhi high court is now infected with the “anti-national-bug”. so that judges have begun to rely on rhetoric rather than applying precedents and well-established laws to the case under review. The judge’s order even begins with lines from a patriotic song from the film Upkar:

Rang hara Hari Singh Nalve se,
Rang laal hai Lal Bahadur se,
Rang bana basanti Bhagat Singh,
Rang aman ka veer Jawahar se,
Mere desh ki dharti sona ugle
Ugle heere moti mere desh ki dharti...

Not just that, but Justice Pratibha Rani appears to have accepted the police’s view that the videos showing students shouting “anti-national” slogans were not doctored! Given this background, it is a foregone conclusion that Mr Kumar will forsake his African studies and become a politician. It is rumoured that the CPI already wants to rope him into campaigning in the Bengal elections. Pity that he is the right man in the wrong party. We should expect his comrades-in-arms (non-violent arms I must stress), Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya will also join politics sooner than later. If they do, they will be creations of the HRD ministry.

What ails this ministry? The answer is clear — it’s Ms Irani. Her fiery speech in the Lok Sabha which transported the Twitter troll community to seventh heaven (and even won over a rational mind like Rajdeep Sardesai), shows precisely where the problem lies. She is a powerful orator all right, but so is every demagogue — what separates a statesman from a demagogue is content, and while Ms Irani’s oratory is rousing, it is always confrontational. In this she has learnt well from her master, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. My response to all this fire and brimstone is just this: Are we at war? Do the Prime Minister and his acolyte always have to take adversarial positions? And if they continue to do so, how will parliamentary democracy function given an already obdurate Opposition?

At some stage — and let us hope in the interests of the nation that it is very soon — Mr Modi must realise that Ms Irani is completely out of her depth in the HRD ministry. It’s possible she was brought in at the behest of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh to saffronise education (as was senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi in an earlier government). But the ministry’s choice of people to head institutions have been truly disastrous.

Examples: Sudershan Rao as chairman, Indian Council for Historical Research, an appointment condemned by every well-known historian and the President of India’s rejection of the HRD ministry’s many moves like the sacking of the vice-chancellor of Visva Bharati University, the appointment of a V-C of JNU or, just a couple of days ago, the rejection of names suggested for a vacancy in the executive council of Aligarh Muslim University (the HRD ministry suggested two names — TV anchor Rajat Sharma, whose political affiliation is well-known and Vinay Bhatkar, president of Vijnana Bharati, an RSS-affiliated body propagating “Swadeshi Science”).

The ministry has also rejected AMU’s request for funds to set up centres in Kerala, Bihar and Bengal. Worse, the ministry has proposed scrapping of all Ph.D. fellowships. Given all this, you begin to wonder if the term human resources development excludes education. In a sense it obviously does, because education teaches you to listen, imbibe and learn, and only then take considered action.

 

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