Book Reviews

Book Review | Bihar to Tihar | Kanhaiya Kumar

Book Review | Bihar to Tihar | Kanhaiya Kumar

From JNU to Raisina Hill?

In February 2016, Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested and accused of sedition by the Delhi police. He is a former President of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union. Kanhaiya ‘s autobiography, Bihar to Tihar: My Political Journey was published in October 2016.

Politics was never really my interest. I knew that Pogoat had read the book. Might as well call him up.

The Jobless Blogger: Whenever I think of politics, this quote from George Orwell comes to my mind, ‘Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past?’

Pogoat: I feel like we have been in retro mode ever since I first heard Bryan Adam’s ‘Summer of 69’, and since then I’m still tormented by the ‘Summer of 69’.

The Jobless Blogger: (Ha Ha) I still like that song, but I feel what you mean. Today’s music feels like the old tunes being recreated with a synthesizer. I feel that most fashion is also just copying the past.

Pogoat: It’s not just music and fashion; our political discourse also seems trapped in the past. One party uses the legacies of the independence movement to claim their control on the present; another party has gone into ancient times, to claim the glorious transcendental past. Moreover, in almost every state, every party has a dead king, dead prince or dead relatives to claim power.

The Jobless Blogger: So Kanhaiya Kumar’s ‘From Bihar to Tihar’, what is the angle into the past? I am too intrigued to know!

Pogoat: One angle is on Kanhaiya’s childhood. The past is represented by his father – a failed communist who just about manages to educate his son.

The Jobless Blogger: Father and son with communist beliefs, didn’t see that coming.

Pogoat: Kanhaiya father’s communist ideals lead to the family into hardships. See these quotes on Page 17.

‘Pitaji, consumed by the fervour of revolutionary politics, could not devote much time to earning a livelihood.’

 ‘Pitaji stayed away from home, living his own dreams of revolution. But living one’s dream is not so easy. Pitaji’s political engagements had a big impact on me, my siblings and Ma. Our financial situation became steadily worse over the years as the rest of our relatives began to prosper.’   

Then Kanhaiya’s father realizes that education is the real revolution, the turning point was the principal who spoke with his father. Read on Page 28.

‘This child (Kanhaiya) works very hard; you need to think about your own work now.’ She told him

Shortly thereafter, Pitaji drew back from his politics and began to focus on his family and my education.’ 

Pogoat: In Kanhaiya’s case it’s not the past redeeming the present. In fact, it’s the actions in the present that redeem the past. His child’s education realizes the father’s unfulfilled dream of revolution.

The Jobless Blogger: I guess that’s the hope of most parents, that their kids realise their dreams. What’s the second angle into the past?

Pogoat: The second angle is missing. I mean, have you heard of Chandu from JNU?

The Jobless Blogger: Chandu? Who’s Chandu?

Pogoat: Chandrashekar Prasad? He was also a JNU student leader from Bihar and an activist of the Communist Party. During his time at JNU, Chandu was elected Vice-President of the student union in 1993, and then President – for two successive terms. The most popular and loved president JNU ever had. JNU owes Chandu a great deal for fighting critical battles on issues such as fee hikes, reservations and privatization of JNU. Chandu was shot dead on 31st March 1997 in Bihar by his political opponents.

The Jobless Blogger: I think I have heard about Chandu.  I believe Mahesh Bhatt, Ajay Kanchan, Imran Zahid are making a biopic.

Pogoat: That’s correct. Chandu’s murder shocked the entire country. Not just JNU, students collectively protested and were badly beaten by the police. At a time when global communism was in decay with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Chandu’s communism had united the poor and the oppressed. One would expect Kanhaiya to have some mention about Chandu.

The Jobless Blogger: But, what’s the angle into the past with Chandu?

Pogoat: It seems like a repetition of oppression and murder. We don’t need another Chandu to be murdered for the revolution. The JNU protests of 1997 and 2016 have the same intensity; unfortunately, the theory has not progressed.

The Jobless Blogger: What you mean by the theory has not progressed?

Pogoat: Hmm, here is an example on Page 16.

‘It is said that women are hard-working and never complain about anything; the reality is that the social structure forces them to become so.’   

The Jobless Blogger: What wrong with this? He notices the pain of being a woman through his mother.

Pogoat: Yeah, but that’s not enough. If he’s fighting for gender equality, then at some point we must discredit the practice of many gender roles. Like, why should only girls be mandated to cook? Does he have an outline on how do you fight the patriarchy?

The Jobless Blogger: (Laughs) …I hate to cook, but thankfully I can afford a cook. I feel what you’re saying. I can totally relate to it.

Pogoat: And on page 154, description of the JNU student’s response to the horrific rape that took place in South Delhi.

‘JNU students went to protest at India gate, and they managed to sneak into the home ministry, catching the police by surprise. Then another big protest was announced at North Block which houses the home ministry.

The Police resorted to lathi charge.’

The Jobless Blogger: Don’t see anything really…

Pogoat: I mean, given Kanhaiya’s JNU background I expected a wide analysis of the problem, not just call out the symptoms. What about the 37 million Indian men that will never find a wife and only rarely have sex?  The killing of the girl child has not only created 37 million surplus men. The states with higher surplus men have a higher violent crime rate against women. Moreover, don’t get me wrong; I absolutely sympathize with the protest for the rape victims. However, what about the millions of sex slaves in Indian brothels that are raped every day. Around 3 to 6 million women in India are kidnapped or sold into sexual slavery. Red lights areas in India have almost become like centres of institutional rape.

The Jobless Blogger: You’re being too difficult with Kanhaiya. Don’t take me wrong, but this is what I feel.

Pogoat: Not really but these lines troubled me on page 214.

Sometimes they (Police) asked me if I’d go out and say that I was beaten up in custody…

After all, countless people left the police station with such stories.’

Pogoat: Police torture is something Kanhaiya doesn’t address head-on. If you see TV shows based on police investigations, police torture is displayed as a regular procedure.

The Jobless Blogger: In that case, criminals would never confess if they are not tortured.

Pogoat: It’s a bad sign that we are willing to debate torture. Think of this way, if it’s normalised for one man to torture another, then it will also be normalised for a man to torture a woman. Rape is classified as an act of torture. Kanhaiya needs to re-imagine communism because we live in a strange age where everyone can imagine the end of the world, like earthquakes, climate change, Tsunami, an asteroid colliding with earth and even a nuclear wipeout, but we can’t imagine the end of capitalism.

The Jobless Blogger: I’m sure this is not your quote!

Pogoat: Off Course not. It’s attributed to Zizek and Walter Benjamin. However, you know what I mean. Through this book, Kanhaiya could have provided his communist ideology for today’s rural and urban India.

The Jobless Blogger: I think you’re being too critical of him. What’s your opinion on JNU, leave aside Kanhaiya and Chandu and the political mess? Do you support JNU?

Pogoat: Absolutely, I support JNU, and we need institutes like JNU all over the country. Mainly because the elite in our country cherish and protect the caste system. JNU represents caste mobility, where Dalits, tribals and poor students can transform their lives.  The intermingling of different castes is possible due to subsidized education in JNU. It seems like the upper caste patriarchy is scared of caste impurity inside JNU. Real women’s freedom is represented in the freedom to choose her spouse. Patriarchy is the means of controlling the caste-based off springs, by controlling a woman’s sexual preference. Ambedkar says that inter-marriage was the only solution to the caste problem.

“Fusion of blood can alone create the feeling of being kith and kin, and unless this feeling of kinship, of being kindred, becomes paramount, the separatist feeling – the feeling of being aliens – created by Caste will not vanish.”

The Jobless Blogger: Hmm…so you think that privatization of JNU will then increase the fees, reservations will decrease, and the poor, minorities, low caste &  tribal students will be left out.

Pogoat: In simple words, the elite are ensuring that their kids, especially girls, don’t have sex with the minorities or lower caste men and produce mixed off-springs.

The Jobless Blogger: Can you refer this aspect to anything in the book?

Pogoat: Sure, on page 127.

‘The Hostels were either girls only or boys only or had separate wings for girls and boys; girls came and went freely to the boy’s rooms. This phenomenon, which I initially found odd, later started to seem natural, correct and beautiful.’

Pogoat: The repetition of the past is used as a weapon by the elite to avoid social change. JNU represents social change.

The Jobless Blogger: This problem seems more prominent than a single person or an institution. I’m intrigued to read ‘From Bihar to Tihar’

Pogoat is a Goan writer. His first novel Fair-Weather Brother is a scary reminder of the times we live in – drugs, prostitution, corruption and fear of an impending nuclear disaster. And, this could possibly be the reason why people are calling Fair-Weather Brother a dangerous book.

You can buy the Paperback version of the book from here –



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