In his many interviews, Kanhaiya Kumar of JNU fame said he was nobody, just a foot soldier. On that count, I agree with him. The next few months will show what stuff he’s made - is he a creation of the media and politicians in a country starved for role models? I risk a wager – his fall will be sharper and swifter than his meteoric rise for two reasons. Easy goes what easy comes. Secondly he is falsely humble. Compare his ‘nobody’ nonsense to Jahnavi Behal, a 15-year-old who has challenged him to an open debate. She too could be a media creation and certainly must earn her spurs, but adolescence accommodates bravado (Kanhaiya is pushing 30). In 2019, millions of fifteen year- olds will be 18, rearing to cast their first vote in a battle that will be fierce and very different from 2014 where the only suspense was the margin of victory for the BJP.
Speaking of battles, I turn briefly to the allegorical story of the Mahabharata. Lord Krishna’s first words to Arjuna are – survey and behold the Kurus. From the centre of the battlefield Arjuna looks to the Kurus and the Pandus. In the former there is evil and strength in numbers. In the latter there is goodness and the strength of duty-bound virtues that can be counted on five fingers. This is India’s story now with one difference – the numbers are even. In my reading and learning of the Gita, there are only human beings and more human beings. Everything else is a construction, a choice or an absence of it in the here and now. In a country searching for itself labels also come easy.
It is also my view though that India’s children and adolescents are pushing their leaders and politicians to shape up or ship out. The anger with UPA 11 which resulted in Narendra’s Modi’s historic victory in 2014, is returning, now palpable in different ways. It is not the one New Delhi, or other state capitals understand and systematically co-opt for business as usual. It is a force that will destroy the status quo as it constructs a new platform. The first-time voters in 2019 will also be among the architects of our nation.
In the forthcoming state elections in West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Assam and one in the Union territory of Pudduchery, the NDA, by its own assessment, is expected to fare poorly, carrying only Assam. The states will also return dead wood or died in wool loyalists. The NDA appears rudderless in stormy seas despite its handsome mandate. Two recent examples of political dim-wittedness is the way New Delhi handled the Rohith Vemula tragedy in Hyderabad and the student unrest at JNU. The opposition taking advantage of a tragedy and a possible security issue are prime examples of why I believe Kanhaiya Kumar will be a one-trick pony or at best, a bit player. And perhaps Behal as well, but the same cannot be said of the charioteers.
One of the reasons why a young Indian’s voice finds resonance is because it cradles a challenge from the new, the ambitious and the innocent. Fear of being found out is a key reason why Indian public intellectuals and politicians shun strong and riveting public debates. They fear someone will stand up and announce that the emperor or empress is naked. If that happens there is not enough yarn in the world to spin the debate back to the original trenches. We are seeing more and more of that. A sound intellectual challenge of the kind that Lord Krishna poses to Arjuna or the critical thinking enabled by Socrates is alien to people who have never had to work intellectually or physically.
It is not for nothing that Lord Krishna’s teachings unfold in a battlefield. If some of the world’s top business schools offer the art of battle classes based on the Gita, it is because the tome also teaches you which enemies to fight, when to lose and when to leave the stage. Most Indian politicians score a zero on all three counts. Their fights (caste, religion, class) destroy the national fabric, let us not even talk of accepting defeat and as for the third, they go on forever, generation after generation. They speak from pigeonholes of suspicion and despair because they are dancing on pinheads. In this battle of the mediocre, the victor is the most mediocre.
India and India’s future deserves better. Barring a few, the current political crop is mediocre. Which is why I believe 2019 will be even more spectacular than the last mandate. It is bound to throw up new blood and newer warriors.