It is often hard to assess how successful a political speech really is. Journalists use turnout, crowd response and their own formulations to gauge, but on Thursday night, the press pack at Jawaharlal Nehru University was unusually unanimous.
Hanging around the edges of the cheering JNU crowd, they were all drawn by the voice they had last heard on a cell-phone recording pleading his case in front of a Supreme Court panel. That voice which almost seemed broken by police brutality, was now transformed. Kanhaiya Kumar, fresh and energetic at close to midnight, made the crowds chant his name, made them laugh, spoke of freedom and shouted "Azaadi
," again and again, in a span of 45 minutes.
"I saw Modiji on TV today,'' he said, the crowd by now hooked to his words, "I heard him talk about Kruschev and Stalin, I really wanted to get inside the TV." Loud laughter.
"I wanted to get in there and say, Modiji, let's talk of Hitler a little.'' Roar of approving laughter.
As someone who's covered political speeches for the last 17 years, this one was a little different, if only for the setting. After the last few weeks of much hate and suspicion directed at JNU, entering the campus was like entering a war zone. Barricades prevented broadcast vans from driving in, while a posse of policemen stood guard. But once inside, it was just the kind of idyllic island that universities are meant to be.
At one end of the famous Ganga Dhaba protesters had gathered; on the other end students sat on stone benches, grabbing dinners of paneer rolls and parathas
. They weren't too exercised by the presence of so many media crews, even though the media had behaved abominably.
Even a single negative story has often led to beatings and bans from other campuses, but in JNU, I saw a reporter from a particular TV channel moving freely around campus displaying his mike ID; this despite a Delhi government inquiry having just established that his channel had first aired tampered footage which led to so much trouble for Kanhaiya and company.
No, the jibes towards our fraternity were only limited to the speech. Otherwise, there was no pushing, shoving, no threats. The students did what they had to do - decry their opponents, whether the media or the Modi government, in their speeches.
The students were also conscious perhaps that were many women present. Women of all ages - faculty and their families, students, were all gathered at the administrative block to listen to Kanhaiyya speak. When you saw some faculty members or ex-students carrying children on their shoulders or holding their hands, you knew it was a hatke
crowd. It was impossible to see this campus as the hotbed of anti-nationalism when you witnessed a woman handing over her sleeping baby to her husband, so she could move closer to get a better view of Kanhaiya speaking?
Yes, maybe the press is swayed because the bougainvilleas on campus make it picture perfect, and the March evening feels just right to be out and about. Maybe, the press is only viewing the swooning when Kanhaiya's preaching to his own crowd.
"I salute those soldiers dying at the borders. But what about farmers committing suicides in abject poverty? Those farmers are the fathers of majority of those soldiers. My father is a farmer, my brother is a soldier. And who is responsible for those wars where they make the supreme sacrifice? People making them fight are responsible. Don't create these false binaries.''
Maybe the problem is a giant misunderstanding. As Kanhaiya explained, those in JNU speak in academic terms, which many outside failed to understand. But on Thursday night, Kanhaiya was able to make sure that he was understood by all.(Sunetra Choudhury is Editor, National Affairs, NDTV 24x7)Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.