Passive Voice

Kanhaiya Kumar’s new avatar as a Rahul Gandhi clone

Kanhaiya Kumar, the Congress candidate for North East Delhi, receives blessings from different faith leaders before filing his nomination, on 6 May. ANI PHOTO
Kanhaiya Kumar, the Congress candidate for North East Delhi, receives blessings from different faith leaders before filing his nomination, on 6 May. ANI PHOTO
Elections 2024
27 May, 2024

A NINETEENTH-CENTURY JAT VILLAGE on the eastern bank of the Yamuna that was eventually incorporated into a growing Delhi, Maujpur was the site of the first clashes of the communal violence that convulsed the national capital in February 2020. After Kapil Mishra, a former Aam Aadmi Party legislator who had recently defected to the Bharatiya Janata Party, made a provocative speech in the area targeting protesters against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, Hindu mobs—often accompanied by police personnel—rampaged through Muslim neighbourhoods, first in Maujpur and its surrounding areas, and then throughout northeastern Delhi. Over fifty people, the vast majority of whom were Muslim, were killed in the next three days, while hundreds lost their homes.

On 6 May 2024, the Congress organised a havan—Hindu fire sacrifice—at its Maujpur office before its candidate for the North East Delhi Lok Sabha constituency, Kanhaiya Kumar, went to file his nomination. Kanhaiya, a 37-year-old former communist who described himself in his 2016 memoir, From Bihar to Tihar, as a “non-believer,” wore a red sacred thread on his wrist, with a tilak smeared on his forehead. To balance out the Hindu ritual, Muslim, Sikh, Christian and Buddhist clerics came to bless him. They gave him copies of an unamended version of the Constitution’s preamble, which did not contain the words “socialist” and “secular.”

Kanhaiya needed all the blessings he could get. It was the final day for filing nominations, with less than three weeks left to campaign. According to his media manager, Saksham Mani Tripathi, Kanhaiya was informed about his candidature only on 14 April, the day the party announced his name. Kanhaiya’s aides were still unsure when they would begin canvassing for votes. Abdul Hamid Khan, a lawyer and AAP worker, told me that the Congress had not begun booth-level preparations. When I met Tripathi, three days later, he complained that the subdivisional magistrate was not giving them the necessary permissions. I asked what reason they had been given. “In these times, do the government and the Election Commission need any reason?” he said. The SDM did not respond to my questions.

The two-term incumbent, Manoj Tiwari, had already held over a hundred campaign events since 20 March. Arvinder Singh Lovely, the president of the Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee, had quit the party over “strangers” being given Lok Sabha tickets. Besides having lived there for a while when he first came to the capital, Kanhaiya had no connection to North East Delhi. Tripathi argued that it was not Kanhaiya’s fault that he had been given the ticket “looking at the equation of Purvanchal,” a region, including Bhojpuri-speaking parts of Uttar Pradesh and western Bihar, whose migrants reportedly have a strong presence in the constituency. Tiwari, a Bhojpuri actor and singer from Varanasi, had been nominated by the BJP for similar reasons. Kanhaiya is technically not from Purvanchal—his home district of Begusarai is in the eastern part of Mithila—but, once he finally hit the campaign trail, he would often be introduced with a song, set to the tune of one from the movie Omkara, that proclaimed him the “pride of Purvanchal.”