NEW DELHI: February heralds spring in Delhi when flowers bloom. For the second year in a row, it has also heralded the blossoming of a young leader, amid the thorns inevitable in today's politics.
If it was Kanhaiya Kumar last year, this February belongs to Gurmehar Kaur.
JNU student leader Kanhaiya had emerged as the face of resistance to Sangh student arm ABVP's brand of politics, and had also turned its victim.
This year, as Gurmehar is being pushed into a similar role at the much larger Delhi University, she too has invited hate-filled barbs. A BJP parliamentarian today compared her with Dawood Ibrahim.
But that's where the similarities end, for the two come from different worlds - the two ends of the socio-economic divide that is India. Gurmehar, an English (Hons) student from Delhi University's Lady Shri Ram College, is open about having been born to privilege, unlike Kanhaiya.
Also, Kanhaiya was already an elected student leader when he got caught in circumstances that made him a household name and his " azadi" call an infectious chant.
Gurmehar is a rookie in comparison but is no stranger to controversy, having posted a video last summer where she narrated, with placards, her journey from being a Pakistan/Muslim-hating daughter of a soldier martyred in Kargil to a vocal peacenik.
She had been targeted then too but it was nowhere near what she is facing now since launching a campaign last week against the ABVP after it forced Ramjas College to cancel an event and later attacked a students' protest march.
Borrowing the placard strategy from her video, Gurmehar took to the social media on Thursday with this post: "The brutal attack on innocent students by ABVP is very disturbing and should be stopped. It was not an attack on protesters but an attack on every notion of democracy.... The stones that you pelt hit our bodies, but fail to bruise our ideas.
"This profile picture is my way of protesting against the tyranny of fear. If you are a student in any Indian university, in any Indian state and you wish to protest against ABVP then take a similar selfie and make it your profile picture. Use the hashtag #StudentsAgainstABVP and copy paste this message along with it. It's time for every student of India to unite! Jai Hind! Jai Democracy!"
As her appeal went viral and students across the country changed their profile picture in a show of support, the counter-attack began. Before the weekend was through, the inevitable rape threats had been made.
As the Congress, Aam Aadmi Party and the Left jumped on the bandwagon, Gurmehar also received patronising lessons from a minister and BJP supporters on how her father would have been disappointed with her for rendering his sacrifice vain by supporting "anti-nationals".
It prompted Gurmehar to clarify that she was not supporting "anti-nationals" but fighting for free speech and a safe academic space.
For four days, she engaged with some of her critics across social media platforms but the rape threats appeared to have unnerved her by Monday morning as it became evident that the trolls had the blessings of powerful people.
Gurmehar has filed a complaint with the Delhi Commission for Women, provoking some trolls to ask why she had chosen to go to an Aam Aadmi Party-headed organisation instead of Delhi police.
Between her peacenik video and her current campaign, Gurmehar has been doubling as a citizen journalist, posting pictures of the poor food served by the railways, speaking about gender budgeting, addressing a rally against war, circulating a petition against the death sentence to Pakistani blasphemy accused Asia Bibi, and taking digs at the demonetisation drive.
Gurmehar had fired her first shot at the note recall just as Prime Minister Narendra Modi was announcing the move in a televised address on November 8. "Somebody just pulled the Tughlak #Rs 2000," she had tweeted.
A tennis player who grew up in Punjab and is still on the state's voter list, Gurmehar has written a yet-to-be-published book on India-Pakistan peace and life in the forces.
Gurmehar, who looks every bit a footloose and fancy-free girl just out of her teens, uses the social media to share her views on a range of issues on the premise that "you never know who may feel inspired by something you say".
-The Telegraph Calcutta