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Yearning for a Kanhaiya?

Kanhaiya’s brilliant oratoricalper fo r mance has catapult ed him into the sta tus of a hero, even for those who don’t quite agree with him ideologically.There are predictions of a future in politics and talk of a revival of the Left. Some have speculated that this is another Anna Hazare moment in the making. Is this the hyperbole that individual and often isolated events routinely inspire in Indian media or is there something more significant at work here?

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Kanhaiya is a product of the state overreaction to protests in JNU, and more particularly towards him. It helps that he is a gifted speaker, blessed with the rare ability of combining flourish and finesse as he reconciles the compression of ideas with lyrical magnification. However effective his speech, the wider context must be considered here before rushing into a gushing assessment of the long-term impact that it is likely to have. There is no evidence to suggest that the Left has become more attractive to the young, or indeed to anybody, or that students are seething angrily against the perceived loss of freedoms under this government.The unrest seen on campus in both Hyderabad and JNU are the results of actions taken by the state and do not represent an organic uprising of any kind.

BJP’s support base has found it difficult to digest its victory and continues to flail against enemies which it imbues with imagined strength. It cannot let go of Congress and gives it more significance than it deserves and it continues to feel victimised by the me dia, in spite of having some channels on its side as well as being able to dominate the social media landscape.It craves for validation from those very outlets and anchors that it sees as its nemeses, and therefore in spite of the fact that according to a recent survey published by a newspaper that gives Modi a 74% positive rating in urban India (sample size of about 1,000), it cannot stop itself from thrashing wildly at the very shadows that it has been tormented by in the past.

In doing so, it is creating real enemies in its quest to subdue imagined ones. The supporters of the students in JNU are not electorally significant but the impact of the Rohith Vemula episode might turn out to be crucial.The idea that it needs to conquer the bastions of the other side is one that reflects the anxieties of the Right rather than reflect its current strategic imperatives. BJP has not learnt to ignore criticism and understand its value in a systemic sense. It is necessary to have enemies, for they help sharpen one’s own self-definition, but it is particularly valuable to have ineffective enemies, and the truth is that one cannot have better enemies today than Congress and the Left. Similarly, media, for all the noise it generates, is a distraction; the English language channels that give so much grief to right-wing supporters reach a miniscule number of people and can be responded to selectively and in a more measured way.Media becomes powerful not because of what it broadcasts but because of how one reacts to what it broadcasts.

BJP’s impulses come in the way of more pragmatic considerations, although in the way in which it has approached this year’s Budget, we do see a step towards steadier, more mature view of governance. It also seems to be taking note of its larger task–to find a reason to attract the larger rural constituency that it had managed to speak to in the headier times of 2014. While it is true that BJP has managed to create a new fault line based on nationalism which has galvanised its base, it is unlikely to yield much by way of incremental constituencies, and in its distracting noisiness, it can derail good sense and push the party into taking positions that end up alienating more sections of voters.

On the other side, the yearning is for a Kanhaiya who can breathe poetry into protests and replace the carping fear felt by the liberals with something rousing and positive, and give them someone to believe in. If BJP’s problem is that it has a leader who inspires a surfeit of beliefs and impulses to overflow, the other side has too many arguments and nobody who can represent these powerfully .Arguments cancel themselves out, the poetry of rhetoric remains. Rahul Gandhi has coined enough catchphrases to put a copywriter to shame, but he is no longer taken seriously as a leader with any heft. Arvind Kejriwal has survived, but unheroically so–he is an effective political player, but no longer a saviour.

For now, too much burden is being placed on the shoulders of a young man who is talented but imprisoned by a framework that is too limiting to be valuable to those who are looking to him for inspiration. It is unwise to make predictions about the future, but structurally, there is little reason for Kanhaiya to become a force of any kind.

Only BJP can defeat itself, and it is trying hard to deliver on its potential. It is too angry to rule; rather than govern in the present tense, it wants to conquer in the past tense.Currently, it lacks a sense of calibration, an understanding of proportion–it counters everything with the same force.

Both sides have a problem today that cannot be solved–one has all the answers, without a way to make them emotionally relevant; the other is in the inarticulate grasp of a driving anger that it cannot channelise into anything useful. One needs a leader that is nowhere on the horizon while the other has followers that it cannot contain. It’s not surprising that both sides need to invent their own version of a Kanhaiya–one side needs him as a counterpoint to define itself while the other needs him as an inspirational spearhead.

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