An Open Letter To The Indian Media: ‘Why Was Kanhaiya Kumar Made Into Such A Big Hero?’

Posted on March 9, 2016 in Media

By Smita Hegde

Thomas Carlyle in his book ‘On Heroes And Hero Worship‘ said: “Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.” It’s only in the past month (or the past year) that I have come to see the influence of the Fourth Estate.

Kanhaiya Kumar, a Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student union leader, gestures as he addresses a meet inside JNU campus in New Delhi, India, March 3, 2016.  REUTERS/Adnan Abidi - RTS964Y
Image source: REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

I abhor the current government, as much as I despised the governments before this. At the end of the day, they are all cut from the same cloth; they are all wolves in sheep’s clothing. I’m neither a ‘Modi toadie’, nor a ‘Khangressi’. I am not one of those who bestowed upon you the pejorative, the Presstitute. I haven’t forgotten how you exposed the Commonwealth Games scam, or the Vyapam. You brought justice to Jessica Lall. When you streamed live from Kargil, you were partly, if not entirely, responsible for instilling nationalism in the populace. You saved tigers, lit up villages, promoted the girl child. You even took on the VVIP culture.

What I reproach you for today is an offence that has been committed since the days of the Acta Diurna in Ancient Rome. Sensationalism in 24*7 news coverage has long ceased to be the monopoly of ill-informed vernacular channels. Night after night, prime-time after prime-time, news studios have turned into battlegrounds of dissent, discussion, debate and more often than not, pure cacophony.

10 years ago, you turned Prince Kashyap, the 5-year-old who fell into a tubewell, into an instant celebrity and today you have done it again with Kanhaiya Kumar. In less than a month he has been transformed from a student leader into an anti-national, a terrorist, a freedom hero, the next CM of Delhi, depending of course, on which channel you ‘trust’.

If it wasn’t the eagerness of some news channels for ‘Breaking News’, the 28-year-old would still be as anonymous as he has been for the rest of his life. None of the events in JNU during the week in question were unprecedented for JNU. Pray tell us, why must left-leaning sloganeering in a ‘communist citadel’ make national news? Why did certain sections of the media take it upon themselves to bring the ‘perpetrators’ into their studios to lecture them on patriotism? Is the administration at JNU incapable of conducting a disciplinary hearing? Are student politics across all universities in India reported with as much gusto?

Kanhaiya Kumar may not be anti-national (he’s out on interim bail, he hasn’t been acquitted). The youth from across the country that stood with Kanhaiya, did so only because they, like Evelyn Beatrice Hall’s Voltaire, “…disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. They marched in solidarity because they, like him, have faith in the constitution, and the freedom of speech it guarantees, and not because they endorse his political ideology. They understood that receiving subsidised education should not disqualify him from having an opinion.

Kanhaiya Kumar is a brilliant orator, one well-versed in the art of the rhetoric. Period. Nothing more, nothing less. And he most certainly isn’t a hero. His 3-week stint in jail is an accomplishment only in the sense that he gets to walk out free while over 10,000 other undertrials languish in Tihar. His speech upon release may be one of the best we have heard in the recent past, but what in his speech hasn’t been said before? Every 20-something has, at one point or another, overcome by idealism and passion for the country, echoed the very same thoughts. Which politically rally hasn’t reverberated with cries of freedom from capitalism, from casteism? Why must you put Kanhaiya alone on a pedestal?

Kanhaiya Kumar in his speech, the evening before his arrest, made a fiery proclamation, “Talk about caste system, bring reservation in every sector, bring reservation in the private sector.” In what coherent reasoning would the next step after denouncing the caste system be to introduce reservations in the private sector? His political ideology is a blatant antithesis to the party he pledges his allegiance to. To quote Shashi Tharoor, MP, from his blog on NDTV, “He speaks feelingly of democracy and freedom but belongs to a party that believes in dictatorship. He upholds a constitution his ideology deems bourgeois, and demands rights that would be denied to all Indians by the practitioners of the Gulag and Tiananmen Square. He rejects the power of the state but does so on behalf of a movement that has used violence, brutality and even murder to advance its cause in Kerala and elsewhere.” Is someone who is so passionate about this country unaware of the discrepancies in ideology and that of his party? Or does his speech, like those of countless others who have preceded him in politics, have little in common with his philosophy?

In the words of Amit Kalantri, “To assess the quality of thoughts of people, don’t listen to their words, but watch their actions.” What actions do Kanhaiya or any of his comrades have that speak for them? How does a ‘blistering’ speech make him worthy of being interviewed by the biggest journalists in the country, while those adopting villages, teaching children of sex workers do not even make it to the ticker? Is the adage, ‘actions speak louder than words’, just a thing of the past?

Oh, what I wouldn’t give for the news bulletin at 8 pm on DD National. Half hour of the news being read as is, in two different languages: no noisy debates, no hysterical anchors, and no exaggerated stories.

I cannot help but concur with Oscar Wilde:

“In old days men had the rack. Now they have the Press. That is an improvement certainly. But still it is very bad, and wrong, and demoralizing. Somebody — was it Burke? — called journalism the fourth estate. That was true at the time no doubt. But at the present moment it is the only estate. It has eaten up the other three. The Lords Temporal say nothing, the Lords Spiritual have nothing to say and the House of Commons has nothing to say and says it. We are dominated by Journalism.”

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