Open Letter to The Times of India PDF Print E-mail

By - KK Kak

I have read with interest the flurry of articles in your newspaper on JNU and Mr Kanhaiya Kumar. Of course, your newspaper is not the only one -- most English mainstream newspapers, news websites, and TV channels have been full of JNU and its students union president. However, your newspaper is stated to be India's number one selling English daily, and hence the one which counts the most – numerically, at any rate. You have apparently also deputed full-time two reporters -- Mr Manash Gohain and Ms Shreya Roychowdhury -- to write about JNU, since I have not recently seen them write about anything else.

Hence, I wonder -- why this obsession with JNU? JNU's total enrolment is a little over 7000 -- against a Delhi University enrolment of well over a lakh, and a city population of well over a crore. The great hero Kanhaiya Kumar won a little over a thousand votes in the JNU elections, and that is the extent of his popular support. The three Leftist winners between them won about 4000 votes - compare this to the 20000 votes or so won by each of the ABVP's winning candidates in the DU elections, and you'll see just what the Leftist support base among Delhi's university students really is.

And yet this minor institution with 5% of DU's student base and .05% of Delhi's population has managed to dominate your newspaper for weeks. On a daily basis we have been fed stories of what Kanhaiya was doing in jail, what he was thinking, what his mother was saying, what his brother was saying, what his poet buddy was writing, what his cartoonist buddy was drawing -- he probably had more articles written about him in the English language press than the total votes he got in the JNU elections! And this might not have been so bad if we were getting actual news. Kanhaiya being arrested, and subsequently being released on bail, is news. What he is eating, reading, or thinking, is not.

And what was the sum total of the information we got from this blanket coverage? We learnt that Kanhaiya has declared his faith in the Constitution (whether this declaration was genuine or strategic, even the High Court couldn't decide). We learnt that his mother (and brother and other sundry relatives) believed in his innocence -- so did the mothers of Ishrat Jahan, Ajmal Kasab, and the Boston bomber Tsarnaev. We learnt that his friends are writing poems and drawing cartoons for him -- I hope that if I ever write a poem about someone who's been jailed (shouldn't be difficult, there are several lakh undertrials in this country), you'll be kind enough to interview me.

We learnt that Kanhaiya had said nice things about this country in an inter-college debate a decade ago. It would have been nice if you had gone on to analyze whether positions taken a decade ago necessarily define our characters today (a decade ago, Boston bomber Dzokhar Tsarnaev was a cute 12-year-old -- and many of the teenagers being indoctrinated by ISIS today were even cuter 7 or 8-year-olds)-- but then, you are not presenting analyses, but creating a hagiography. My primary learning from you is that Kanhaiya had been living off taxpayer money as a student a decade ago, and he's still living off the taxpayer today -- just how long does it take to finish college?

As for the great excitement that Kanhaiya is fighting for the underprivileged -- just what actual fighting has he done? There are people who slog in the villages, in the most backward of areas, and never get written about. Kanhaiya's contribution is limited to making loud speeches in the comfort of his university campus while being fed by taxpayer money - - and that makes him a hero? His recent speeches are about how a poor man like him could fight the government. One would have thought that a poor man's primary focus would be to finish his education and get a job so that hecould support his family - but evidently not. Kanhaiya Kumar apparently has a family income of Rs.3000 per month, but his focus at age 28 is to contest elections, not to get a job. Many of us finish college in 3-5 years, get jobs, support families, and pay taxes, all before age 28 -- but then, we're not Kanhaiya. And if we all were, there wouldn't be any tax money to fund JNU and Kanhaiya!

You will note that I am not going into the sedition or anti-national issue -- that is not my point here. My point is that -- innocent or guilty -- Kanhaiya Kumar is a relative non-entity who has been blown up out of all proportion by your newspaper's hysterical (and generally adulatory) coverage. The latest is about Kanhaiya's friends and a victory march -- what victory? Getting conditional bail while being ticked off bythe judge? Enough is enough -- it is time to send Kanhaiya back to the classroom where he belongs, and give us real news to read.

Of course, Kanhaiya may NOT return to the classroom -- he is apparently planning to campaign for the Left in Bengal and Kerala, though after his high court bail he is singing a slightly different song. All while the taxpayers -- many of them several years younger than Kanhaiya -- are funding his JNU fees, board, and lodging. Your reporters are apparently pretty close to Kanhaiya and his family -- could they possibly ask them -- if Kanhaiya isn't planning to actually study -- to refund our tax money?