The JNUSU elections this year are likely to be widely tracked owing largely to the happenings following the February 9 event on the campus during which alleged anti-national slogans were raised. A PhD student’s rape allegation against a fellow student is also a core issue. Here is the lowdown on the buzz on the campus where fence-sitters are few and opinions firm.
The crowd swells at the 24X7 dhaba in Jawaharlal Nehru University campus on Friday evening. Three groups of students occupy different corners. One group hands out pamphlets for a meeting to be held at Mahi-Mandavi hostel mess that night, the other two approach students, introducing themselves as candidates for the JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU) polls on September 9.
Posters of different political outfits cover the walls of JNU. One reads, “They Say #ShutDownJNU! We Say #FightBackJNU!”, another states, “Come…Join Hands With Us To Rebuild The Nation!”. A poster by Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) reads: “9 Ka Badla 9” — “9 September JNU will vote for “Rashtravad”.
As the battle lines get drawn, there is the awareness that the polls this year are likely to be keenly watched and followed by many outside the campus, owing largely to the nationalism debate triggered by an event organised on February 9 to mark the death anniversary of Parliament attack convict Azfal Guru. Alleged anti-national slogans were raised at the event and this led to the arrest of three students, including JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar. Another controversy erupted last month after a PhD student accused research scholar Anmol Ratan, former state president of All India Students’ Association (AISA), of rape.
Both these issues are at the core of the elections this year. They feature not just in the campaigns, but also in the murmurs of senior students sipping tea at various dhabas while discussing politics. New students take in all the brainstorming. The campus comes alive in the evenings, with students trickling in to the dhaba areas. It is also the time when campaigning picks up pace. Most organisations follow a schedule — class campaign in the morning, dhaba campaign in the evening and mess campaign at night.
Students move around with small paper slips, campaigning for their candidates. The AISA and Students’ Federation of India (SFI), which are in an alliance for the polls this year, are campaigning together. Outgoing JNUSU vice-president Shehla Rashid leads the team of their presidential candidate Mohit Pandey and vice-presidential candidate Amal P P for a dhaba campaign.
This “Left-alliance” has launched a direct attack on the ABVP, whom it blames for the “attack on JNU” during the February 9 event. This a fight between forces of “StandwithJNU” and “ShutdownJNU”, they claim. “We all know the times in which this election is taking place and we all know what even one right-wing member in an office-bearer team can mean for the campus,” says Pandey. Two Left organisations — the All India Students’ Federation (AISF) and the Democratic Students’ Federation (DSF) — are not part of this alliance. Some say, this makes it hard for them to choose “the principled Left”.
“The AISF isn’t contesting but the DSF is fighting on the post of joint-secretary. It’s strange for me that although ideologically being closer to AISF and DSF, the SFI chose to ally with AISA with which it has inherent contradictions. If those three had fought together, I’d have voted for the entire panel. But now I’ll vote according to the candidates, perhaps even for the BAPSA (Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students’ Association),” says Faisal Iqbal, an MPhil student.
Whether on social media or through pamphlets or speeches, the ABVP has launched a full-frontal attack on the “Communist cartel”, which they hold responsible not just for the “anti-national” events on campus but also the alleged rape of a student. “This is a critical juncture for JNU, when its image has been maligned by the anti-India secessionist incident of February 9 and the heinous incident of rape. We are contesting this election to ensure a gender-just campus,” says Janhawi Ojha, ABVP’s presidential candidate.
Vishwajeet, an MA student of International Relations, says it is Left which has given space for such incidents. “Had such an incident of rape happened in the ABVP, the university would have been shut down by now and all these Left groups would have been on the streets,” he says.
Irani Borah, a first-year student of MA in Medieval History from Assam, says she doesn’t have much idea about politics, but accepts that these two incidents will “definitely” impact her decision. “For me personally, the February 9 incident left a bad impression. I’m happy that Kanhaiya’s AISF is not part of this Left alliance because I think he was responsible for the event. Initially AISA and ABVP were on a par for me. This rape case has changed that and I don’t think I’ll vote for the alliance, but I’ll finally decide on the basis of the presidential speech,” she adds.
Prabhakar, also a fresher, however, has a different view. “This nationalist and anti-nationalist dichotomy that ABVP is trying to spread doesn’t affect me. I’m a student of political science and I know what it means. Moreover, I have seen the way ABVP behaves in Delhi University, so I will never vote for them. I am more inclined to vote for the Left, but BAPSA is also a strong alternative that I’m considering,” he says.
BAPSA which had contested two seats last year, has fielded a full panel this year, aware of its growing popularity. Its general body meeting Friday night is packed and slogans such as “Jai Bhim” and “JNU me abki baar, BAPSA BAPSA” are raised on the beats of a dafli.
They admit their main target is ABVP, but they are in no mood to spare the Left alliance either. “The right-wing ideology is fundamentally against Dalits, Muslims, women and other oppressed communities, but it is also true that the Left has not been able to fight this in all these years. There, is therefore a need for an Ambedkarite movement,” says BAPSA’s presidential candidate Sonpimple Rahul Punaram.
As the night winds down, politics is in the air at the dhabas, benches and pavements on the campus. “I don’t know what will happen this year; it will be a very difficult choice. Like last year, I think this year too a lot will depend on the presidential debate,” a student tells another outside the Sabarmati Dhaba.
A few minds are yet to be made up, but students seem keen on voting. “I didn’t vote last year because I wasn’t in the country, but come what may, I’ll cast my vote this year after all that has happened,” says Rajat, a student of MA Japanese.