The AKHIL BHARATIYA Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), which continued its winning streak in the Delhi University Students’ Union (DUSU) this year, is busy building inroads into the University of Mumbai (MU) in preparations for student elections.
The ABVP, an independent student organisation with ideological affiliation to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) which has given the state ministers, corporators, politicians and social workers, has grown in proportion and prominence within the MU over the past three years.
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After the triumph in DUSU, the MU student election is high on the ABVP’s agenda. The organisation has stationed one of its eight national secretaries, Ashish Chauhan, in the city.
While MU has not allowed student elections in over a decade, the elections could make a comeback with the revised Maharashtra Public Universities Act. The bill, supposed to be passed in the winter session of 2015, was deferred to this year’s monsoon session. However, the bill is yet to be tabled. While MU is functioning with ad-hoc bodies, the ABVP is utilising the delay to its benefit by increasing its stronghold.
Preparations for a National Conference are on in full swing in a small office in Matunga that was attacked in January after the alleged suicide of Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula. The conference to be held at Indore between December 24 and 27 will see the participation of 175 delegates from Mumbai alone— the biggest from the city since 2010.
For better administration, the city has been divided into 13 organisation ‘districts’. Each ‘district’ is headed by a secretary and all secretaries are led by city secretary Rohit Chandode.
The Karyakartas of each district have been assigned the responsibility of visiting colleges within the ‘district’ and bringing students’ problems to the fore. Apart from membership drives, they identify issues and open dialogue with the authorities.
With students distressed by the constant problems within the MU, the ABVP’s strategy of providing a platform to raise concerns has worked in its favour. In August, more than 2,000 students turned up at the Kalina campus.
“We are only following our work philosophy of Karyakram se Karyakarta (programme to party workers),” said Chauhan, who is also the organising secretary for Mumbai, adding that a student parliament held early this year received an unexpected response.
However, many of the programmes ABVP holds are not restricted to student issues. According to Deshpande, the topics in the conferences and seminars pertain to problems faced by students but current political affairs, too, creep in. “Sometimes students we interact with are interested in our stand on certain political issues and a healthy discussion ensues,” said Deshpande. Some of the political affairs discussed these days include national security, uniform civil code and gaurakshaks.
When asked if Pakistani artistes should be banned from working in India, Chauhan said, “For the time being, we should show solidarity with the army. The issue should be opened for discussion once the situation calms down.”
According to Chauhan, such political discussions and debates among the youth was much needed. “Our aim is to encourage a culture of debates and discussions that had been lacking in the university ever since elections were scrapped,” said Chauhan.
The ABVP’s journey has been mired in allegations from student wings of many political parties, the biggest being that it enjoys the support of the BJP-run state government.
“The state government is delaying the new bill so that ABVP gets enough time to gain popularity before the elections,” said Santosh Gangurde, vice-president of the student wing of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNVS). Other parties, too, said that state education minister Vinod Tawde, having been an ABVP leader himself, was deferring the bill on purpose.
Tawde dismissed the claims as ‘immature’. “If the new bill is not in place, it benefits all student parties and not just ABVP,” said Tawde. “I am an ABVP man but I have no bias towards the organisation,” said Tawde, adding, “I believe we need more student leaders and I am more than willing to help all student bodies and not just ABVP.”
Another allegation against the ABVP is its conduct at rallies. Gangurde said the ABVP that has not enjoyed a majority in the university’s senate in the past decade, was conducting mass rallies and morchas. The Kalina rally, in particular, was criticised strongly with Gangurde saying the ABVP had disrespected the university’s culture. “The rally was held without permission. Massive podium and loudspeakers were used as a symbol of power,” said Gangurde.
Vijeta Bhonkar, state president of the Vidyarthi Bharti, said, “The MU never allowed any kind of protest inside the campus. Posters were torn off by officials. But when the ABVP put up a podium and used loudspeakers, no official raised any objection.”
To this, Chandode said various problems faced by students needed to be addressed at the earliest and parties should come together for the cause. “Instead of fighting with each other, all student parties must fight together to solve the problems,” he said.
Parties fear that ABVP’s entry into MU senate could manifest into saffronisation of education. ABVP sources, however, said the aim was to encourage healthy student politics and debates. “All the allegations are baseless and cannot be co-related,” said Chauhan.