In Patna, the excitement around the anti-CAA-NPR-NRIC rally on February 27 is growing. Optimistic organisers believe it will be a historic rally and draw as large a crowd as Jai Prakash Narayan did at the same venue 46 years ago.
The excitement for the rally, at least among the youth and in the minority community, is unmistakable. Organisers expect mothers of Rohit Vemula, student of Hyderabad Central University who committed suicide and Najeeb, the JNU student who disappeared after an altercation with ABVP supporters, Chandrashekhar Azad, Aruna Roy, Yogendra Yadav, Aishe Ghosh -JNUSU President, Kavita Krishnan, Subhasini Ali, Amarjeet Kaur and Swara Bhaskar to attend and speak at the rally.
As many as 124 organisations have come together to hold the rally, preceded by almost a month-long “Jan Gan Man Yatra’ to oppose CAA, NPR and NRC. The Yatra, which began on January 30 from Bhitiharwa Gandhi Ashram, is drawing large crowds but has also been attacked over eight times at last count.
The Yatra being undertaken by a group of 70 people, among them retired bureaucrats, social activists, transgenders, women and political workers, is being led by two former presidents of JNU Students’ Union, Kanhaiya Kumar and Shakeel Ahmad Khan. While Kanhaiya is now a CPI leader, Khan is a Congress MLA. They have travelled to 30 out of 38 districts in Bihar till last week and held around 60 public meetings.
The star attraction is undoubtedly Kanhaiya Kumar. He is being mobbed everywhere with the youth demanding that he allow them to take selfies with him. When he finally leaves the venue, they run after the convoy, raising ‘Azadi’ slogans: Hum lad kar lenge azaadi…”.
Even children as young as five years can be seen chanting azadi slogans at anti CAA, NRC, NPR dharna sites. Kanhaiya is aware of the popularity of azadi slogans and he ensures that at the end of his public meeting he raises the slogans, accompanied by a tambourine- a percussion instrument, raising his pitch gradually taking it to a crescendo and the youth responding with rhythmic claps – a political rally turns into a live concert in the backyards of Bihar!!
On the very first day of the Yatra, even before they could hold their first meeting at Bettiah, the district headquarters of West Champaran, the Yatris were detained by the district administration and told they could not hold their meeting as it was likely to create a law and order problem. The permission to hold the meeting had been withdrawn a few hours before the meeting.
Yatris sat on protest on the road itself. Local residents joined them in large numbers and the meeting was held there. The district administration is said to have allowed them to move only after chief minister Nitish Kumar intervened. The convoy was escorted by the police to the next venue bypassing Bettiah.
Patna administration initially denied permission for holding the rally on the 29th February 2020 at Gandhi Maidan, and allotted it to JD(U) although the Morcha had applied earlier. It took concerted protests to force the administration to reluctantly change its mind and eventually allot the venue for the rally on February 27.
The Yatra has been attacked eight times in the last two weeks. The main target of the attack has been Kanhaiya Kumar and the convoy had a narrow escape on February 14 when it was pelted with stones and attacked with lathis near Ara. While two people suffered injuries, vehicles were also damaged and Kanhaiya Kumar had to abandon the car he was travelling in.
Black flags have been shown at the Yatris. Banners have been torn in some places while slogans like ‘Desh Ke gaddaron ko- Goli maro salon ko” were raised at others. A young man also hurled a slipper while abusing Kanhaiya Kumar. He later told the media that he believed in Godse, that communism did no good to anyone and that he would keep opposing ‘traitors’ like Kanhaiya.
In some ways next week’s rally will provide a clearer picture of the course politics will take in the state, where elections are due barely seven months from now.