Prime Minister Narendra Modi has suddenly acquired a major problem. His carefully cultivated political persona is not designed to face off against somebody like Kanhaiya. The boy totally disarms Mr Modi’s claim to “ordinariness”. (The PM’s narrative of having sold tea faces that of a student who could barely afford a cup of tea.) He has even co-opted the police, the government’s dreaded enforcers, by pointing out that constables have the same social background as him and share his views on issues, rather than those of the government.
And then there’s Kanhaiya himself, the darling son of every Indian mother (especially after his shave, which has restored youthful innocence to his face). His oratory, the way he switches registers and vocabularies so nimbly, his lack of rancour or self-pity, his cheekiness, his courage, his eloquence – he matches, arguably even defeats, Mr Modi. The BJP suddenly realizes it is ruling an India which requires the devotees of Krishna Kanhaiya to make room for Kanhaiya Kumar.
Shashi Tharoor, for NDTV. And what Tharoor says, of Kanhaiya Kumar’s easy eloquence, political deftness, his ability to be sharp without being shrill (manifest not only in the post-bail speech that captured national attention, but also in these interviews) is spot on, to an extent. Modi, though, is far too politically shrewd to get sucked into anything remotely resembling a direct match-up against a university student — that is a simulation game for the media to indulge in, on the lines of the Teofilo Stevenson-Muhammed Ali match-up that never was.
Where Tharoor misses the point is when he says:
Kanhaiya represents a voice of hope and aspiration – but he toils in the service of a party that opposed the introduction of computers into India (and smashed the first ones to be installed in government offices), denounced the entry of mobile phones as a toy for the rich (whereas nothing has empowered the Indian underclass more than the mobile phone), and consistently obstructs every progressive reform that would pull the poor out of poverty. His party, moored in a 19th century ideology, is manifestly unsuited to 21st century India.
Nice try at a campus recruitment pitch. But the fact that a party or political formulation carries the baggage of antediluvian ideas is precisely why it needs fresh blood, untainted by the baggage of history.
That prescription — youth — applies equally to a Congress party clinging on to a once-revered name and once-proud history, and despite the accumulated evidence of contemporary history, continues to pin its faith on the fairly ordinary inheritors of that name and that legacy.