This Saturday, Mumbai will host Kanhaiya Kumar, but he will find a cold welcome here. The star student leader hardly needs an introduction — in fact, as soon as it was announced that he would be coming to address students in the city, several colleges and public spaces shut their doors on him. As a result, the event — a major highlight for the otherwise humdrum student politics in Mumbai — will be held at a nondescript school in Worli.
Kanhaiya, the president of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU), shot to fame overnight as a firebrand student leader and after he was arrested on charges of sedition for allegedly raising anti-India slogans at a rally in February. Even before the charges were found to be false, he was hailed as a symbol of freedom of expression and democratic rights.
JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar
Student politics has intensified across the nation after recent events at higher education institutions such as the Hyderabad Central University (HCU) and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). Closer home in Maharashtra, student elections have been banned for more than two decades, but the pace is now picking up, with events such as Saturday’s Students-Youth Assembly Against Discrimination.
Students put up posters to spread the word about Saturday's event, which will be open to all, with no entry charge
In early April itself, it was settled that he would visit Mumbai to talk to students here, and heavy publicity began about 10 days ago. However, the organisers were turned away by every venue they approached. “Just hearing Kanhaiya’s name, people raised their eyebrows. Our members had to run around a lot in the city to finalise a venue. I personally went to places like KC College (Churchgate), Damodar Hall (Parel) and Vanmali Hall (Dadar). At all places, I was denied permission,” said Shambuk Sankalpana Uday, the vice-president of the Maharashtra council of the All India Students Federation (AISF), which is one of the organisations co-hosting the event, titled Students-Youth Assembly Against Discrimination. Several other student organisations have collaborated for the event, including the Students Federation of India (SFI), All India Students Association (AISA), Progressive Students’ Forum (PSF) and Chatrabharati, among others.
Shambuk added, “Another member from our organisation approached the Anjuman-I-Islam Trust, but had a similar experience. He was also denied because the topic and person involved are quite sensitive. The trust, which runs several higher education institutions, feared they would have to face adverse consequences.”
After an entire week of running from pillar to post, the organisers were welcomed by the Janata Shikshan Sanstha, which runs the Worli school. However, they are not entirely happy with this outcome.
“This looks like a deliberate effort to restrict our democratic right to hold a public meeting. It is because of such experiences that we are not able to hold the programme in any of the city’s prominent localities. The programme is now fixed at a school in Worli, which is not a very prominent location,” said Shambuk.
However, when mid-day contacted the venues named by the organisers, each of them denied that their rejection was because of Kanhaiya or the nature of the event.
KC College principal, Manju Nichani expressed shock at the suggestion and said, “Nobody approached me. If the office has denied them, it will purely be because the auditorium was already booked. The office staff is not aware of who Kanhaiya is or any of the other particulars, so they did not deny them on those grounds.”
Several attempts to reach Satish Shairyawan, general manager of the Damodar Hall in Parel, received no response, but Dr Zahir Kazi, president of the Anjuman-I-Islam Trust, said, “This is shocking; I came to know about it for the first time. Until now, nobody has approached me. I find their statement to be mischievous.”
This reporter found a similar response from Chandrashekhar Patahre, the general secretary of the Kshatriya Union, which runs Vanmali Hall in Dadar. He said, “I am not aware if specifically this organisation approached us for a booking. But there are only two reasons for which we deny proposals — if the hall is already booked or in case of public meetings, if the organisers do not have an NOC from the police.”
This is what Shambuk had to say about the NOC: “No NOC needed to hold a meeting in a closed premises as that is not going to cause any disturbance to public. But we are in the process of acquiring it since it is needed to ensure that our event will not disturb traffic.”
Worli school: 1000
KC College: 550
Damodar hall: 1000
Vanmali Hall: 250-300
Anjuman Trust’s venues: 100 to 1000