Back from Begusarai: My mother asked me to go and campaign for Kanhaiya

Kanhaiya Kumar has become a cult figure in Bihar’s Begusarai. The youth and women cutting across caste and religious divides firmly backed him. The middle aged men hedged their bets

 Kaneez Wizarat (left) and Masoom Fatima (right), the sisters who stood up to challenges
Kaneez Wizarat (left) and Masoom Fatima (right), the sisters who stood up to challenges

Gauhar Raza

My mother, Kaneez Wizarat, is 95 years old and reads Urdu newspapers daily. She is more aware of what is going on in the country than most of us are.

Last five years have been quite traumatic for her. Frail and fragile as she is, her movement is restricted, especially after her hipbone broke and she refused to get operated. About fifteen days back she asked me to take her to participate in a women’s protest at Jantar Mantar. My first reaction was, ‘no way, come on Ammi, you will not survive the motion sickness that you suffer from, and will reach there weak and dizzy, how will you participate in the protest’.

I thought that she will not be able sit even on the wheel chair. I was dumfounded for some time, didn't say a word, and then thought that I am no one to pass the judgement, my responsibility is to fulfil her wish. Of course, making arrangements for her to travel is never an easy job. But I could deal with it. The possibility of convincing larger family that she should be taken to Jantar Mantar was almost zilch. The solution was easy. Don't inform anyone.

On the way, to and from Jantar Mantar, vomiting and dizziness took its toll, but her resolve was as robust as a rock. Every kilometre or so, we had to stop the car, but she never said turn back, just took a sip of lemon water and asked us to move on. She yet again proved that those who had participated in the freedom struggle were made of a different mettle. In the kiln of anti imperialist struggle metamorphosis turned millions of ordinary citizens into stainless steel. Along with my father who was a Communist Party member she had endured repression, both during British days as well as after independence.

She and her younger sister, Masoom Fatima, my Khala Jaan (Masi), as all of us called her, had worked with Indira Gandhi in Allahabad. Both the sisters were revolutionaries in their own way, broke many shackles of oppressive social traditions. They were the first Muslim women who participated in election campaigns, without Burqa in Allahabad. A historic city, which, in recent times, faced onslaught of communal politics of Yogi Aditya Nath, who has made all efforts to erase its name from the planet. She was very upset when Yogi did that.

A file photo of Kanhaiya Kumar

About a week after her tryst with the women’s protest, she suddenly asked me, are you not going to Begusarai ? Go and campaign for Kanhaiya, it is important for the country, Kanhaiya must win. Though a few comrades had already asked me to visit Begusarai for campaigning, I was a bit hesitant. The reason was that Shabnam, my wife, had planned to go there to campaign along with the ANHAD team and leaving Ammi alone for almost a week, made me desist.

Ammi had realised the problem and said, ‘don't you bother about me, I will be fine with Seher (my daughter) and Meloni, (the maid who takes care of her). Kanhaiya’s victory is far too important compared to any inconvenience that I may face. Go.’ The last sentence was delivered like an order, ‘Wahan Jao, Begusarai Mein Kanhaiya Ki Jeet Poore Mulk Ke Liye Aham Hai (Go there, Kanhaiya’s victory in Begusarai is important for the entire country)’.

Like many other organisations and individuals, ANHAD had decided to organise its campaign independently. I joined the team. Unlike others, who were going from door to door, the methodology adopted by ANHAD team was quite different.

We after reaching a village raised slogans, sang songs and collected residents in an open space and addressed them. This was followed by intense interaction with the men and women who attended the meetings. The gathering strength varied between 50 to 250. In all, ANHAD team had covered about 60 villages and addressed 70 meetings. I along with other team members addressed about 20 meetings.

We had also covered remote villages of Begusarai, and had met every possible denomination of caste and religion. It was very clear that the youth and women, cutting across caste and religious boundaries, stood solidly with Kanhaiya. Even without our intervention they would have voted for him. No amount of efforts to divide people along communal and caste lines would have worked.

Kanhaiya was their hero. ‘Kanhaiya is our Bhai (brother)’, ‘he is our Betwa (son)’, ‘Kanhaiya is fearless’, ‘Kanhaiya has faced false charges and repression’, ‘Kanhaiya is Bhagat Singh of Begusarai’, ‘Kanhaiya is fighting for our rights’, ‘he will raise our voice’, ‘he is fighting against the strongest man in the county’, are some of the sentences which I heard repeatedly.

It is the men in the age group 40-60 who were waiting for some lame excuse to firmly give up their prejudices and vote for an idea of India where divisive forces will have no place. In some case the presence of outsiders like us provided the impetus.

Without exception we were received by the residents with enthusiasm and respect, people were thankful to Kanhaiya for one more simple reason, and almost everybody expressed it in so many words, that the intellectuals, artists, poets, writers, filmmakers, students, teachers from all over the country have converged at Begusarai because of Kanhaiya. Now it is our turn to ensure his victory.

I left Begusarai on 26th April 2019, and had no doubt that Kanhaiya was going to win with a comfortable majority. The caste and religious arithmetical equations have gone haywire. Kanhaiya has already won the battle against hate and divisive forces led by Modi.

Begusarai is witnessing an election between Kanhaiya and Modi and not Giriraj as the battle is between two very different ideas of India. Let me put a word of caution here, if the election is between Kanhaiya and EVM then result cannot be predicted.

Ammi every day prays for Kanhaiya’s victory, even if it is a fight between him and the EVMs, she is confident that he will win. In her opinion India has changed since independence but its DNA has not changed.

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Published: 30 Apr 2019, 4:00 PM