National, world politics dominated the speeches, but local issues got the best audience connect at the Jawaharlal Nehru University presidential debate late Wednesday night.
Amid the beating of drums, slogans and cheers, the presidential candidates of Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU) took centre stage to woo voters one last time before the university goes to polls Friday. JNU-level issues got the audience going, amid periods of interest levels flagging.
The last speaker, All India Students’ Federation (AISF) candidate Kanhaiya Kumar, shook up proceedings, attracting whistles and claps on almost every line. He emerged shining, but the speech in itself may mean little in a campus where the strength of the organisation means more than the individual’s.
There were two central points of attack in almost all speeches: the BJP government’s policies at the national level and the incumbent All India Students’ Association’s (AISA’s) actions at the university level.
The debate began with National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) candidate Masood Ahmed’s speech. His attack was on the Modi government, especially its stand on the Land Acquisition Bill and secularism. “We want to make it clear that Muslims are Indians not by chance, but by choice,” he said.
Next up was Gaurav Kumar Jha from ABVP. He tried to give his own definition of secularism, a move which did not go down well with sections of the audience. “If India is secular, it’s not because minorities demand it, it’s because the majority wants it. I am a proud Hindu and I want every person to be proud of their religion. That is the true meaning of secular,” he said, as boos rang out. A team of ABVP supporters, however, clapped and chanted ‘Modi, Modi’ at every opportunity, through the night.
Debutant Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students’ Association (BAPSA) candidate Chinmaya Mahanand took on communists of the country, saying they failed to oppose Brahmanism either culturally or politically.
Students’ Federation of India (SFI) candidate Paaritosh Nath got loud cheers when he attacked AISA on its promise of hostels. “Where are those seven hostels you have been promising us for three years?”
The tempo seemed to drop a bit during AISA’s Vijay Kumar’s speech, though he spoke on topics the larger audience related to, such as the fund cut in the education sector by BJP.
Fayaz Ahmad from the Democratic Students’ Federation (DSF) chose to focus more on university issues, while attacking almost every organisation.
AISF’s Kumar stirred up the debate. From his first line — a poem of Dushyant Kumar — he grabbed the crowd’s attention. Kumar also condemned the statement made by CPI leader Atul Kumar Anjan that actress Sunny Leone’s condom ads were promoting rape. Attacking the AISA, he said their attitude was like George Bush’s — either you’re with us or against us.