The former president of the JNU students' union garnered national attention as the face of the anti-government protests at the university three years ago. He has been a vocal critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi ever since.
With the support of JNU students, activists and a section of the Bhumihar community to which he belongs, Kumar is touted as the prime challenger of BJP's Giriraj Singh in Begusarai constituency.
Excerpts from an interview with THE WEEK.
After pursuing students politics in JNU, was it a natural progression to join electoral politics. Or was there any trigger?
Rohit Vemula (the late dalit activist) said, “My birth was my fatal accident.” Similarly, politics is my fatal accident. Like any ordinary student, I went to Delhi to prepare for civil services exam. As the CSAT rules are against students who studied in Hindi medium, I decided to join JNU and become a teacher. So, what should we call the trigger—the CSAT rules or something else?
From student politics to electoral politics, what change has come into your style and thinking?
Ideals do not change, only the canvas becomes bigger. Here, a panchayat has a population of 15,000. The university’s strength was the same. In a smaller place you can deal with the nuances, but it is difficult on a bigger canvas. So, in terms of pragmatism, you make compromises. You can have a detailed discussion on the role of religion in society, but not in the mainstream as someone may offer you prasad, others might give you a garland or put a cap.
What are you promising to the people of Begusarai?
I don’t promise anything or ask for votes. I tell them that I have not read about poverty in books, but have lived it. I have stayed here and grown up so I know the people’s strength. Begusarai’s agriculture needs a chain of small and medium scale industry to supplement farmers, which can help farmers use their produce effectively. I also want to address the issue of traffic jam and infrastructure development.
How do you react to your opponent Giriraj Singh? You two belong to the same caste, which is a factor here.
Singh refused to contest from here initially as he wanted people to go to him and plead.
I don’t believe in caste. I could not have controlled my birth. I used to speak for dalits and the oppressed, but those people who felt threatened by me have started calling me a Bhumihar.
Why didn't the grand alliance support your candidature? Were they worried of your image or felt threatened that you will hog the limelight?
They should answer that question. Why couldn't they spare even one seat? The issue is to strengthen the secular votes.
How do you react to the allegations of being anti-national?
Whoever opposes the BJP is an anti-national. For them (the BJP), almost everyone is anti-national as only 31 per cent voted for them. They call everyone anti-national, thus diluting the intensity of this debate. Please understand this discourse. One who is a bigger thief shouts the loudest. Their history showed that they did not participate in the freedom struggle. So, they are just trying to hide their mistakes. The discourse on nationalism is already settled. There is no need to open it again.
You are contesting as a Left candidate. How do you see the Left movement?
Left needs new terminology. The issues are the same. But we need new words and terminology to explain, talk, and deal with it. For example, fascism. Now, masses will not be able to connect with it. Fascism has to be deconstructed in country’s local dialect to explain it to people. Earlier, when USSR was there, the communist movement worldwide was following it as an ideal. After its breakdown, there was pessimism that there was a problem in the ideology. During the last recession, Karl Marx’s Das Capital sold the most. Now, that was also a philosophy and it could have had some limitation, but the basic premise of Marx remains relevant, like exploitation and reasons for inequality. No one can deny it. Ideals are not the problem, but how to take it to the people is the question.
So, you saying there is a chance of a revival of the Left movement?
A remarkable thing has happened. Communist party may not be visible to a great extent in the country or people may not have anything to do with its ideology. But if you are rational, talk about scientific temper, democracy, believe in multiculturalism, and if you were to express your views, question authority, many will be terming you a communist. This means it is not a problem of ideology. This appeals to people as they do not use the jargon.
(This story was first published in The Week.)