As Jawaharlal Nehru University gears up for its students’ union elections, to be held on Friday, candidates vying for the JNUSU president’s post discuss the issues that move them and the reasons that propelled them to take up this challenge.
AISA: Vijay Kumar
PhD student of Hindi (School of Languages)
Born in Siswar village of Bhabua district of Bihar, Kumar developed an interest in politics because of his father, a professor of political science and a sympathiser of Left-wing politics. As an undergraduate student of Delhi University’s PGDAV College, and later as a Master’s student in DU, Kumar always had a keen interest in student politics and he finally joined AISA in 2008.
But it was only after he joined JNU for his MPhil in 2011 that he became a student activist. “DU has no ‘mahaul’ (environment) for Left politics. At that time, AISA didn’t have such a strong presence in DU as it does now. When I joined JNU, I got the space to do the kind of politics I wanted,” says Kumar.
The two issues close to his heart are reducing the number of marks for viva-voce and addressing the shortage of hostels. “Only in JNU do they have 30 marks for viva during MPhil entrances. In other universities, it’s not more than 10-15 marks. Due to this, many students are discriminated against in the interviews. This
has to stop,” he says.
DSF: K Fayaz Ahmad
PhD student of Russian and Central Asian Studies (School of International Studies)
Originally from Kargil, Ahmad completed his graduation in Political Science from Jammu and then moved to Jamia Millia Islamia for his post graduation. He soon realised that in Delhi, the mere mention of Kargil triggered questions about the 1999 Kargil War. “It is frustrating that my region is known only for that war. We have larger issues which we are dealing with but no one knows about them. For six months every year, we are completely cut off from the mainland because of snowfall. Roads are blocked and health facilities are out of reach. We live in a snow prison,” he says.
He found like-minded people in DSF when he joined JNU to pursue his MPhil in 2012. “That was right after the December 16 gangrape had happened and the DSF was extremely active. I was drawn by the leadership of Lenin (former JNUSU president) and saw DSF as the only Left force which was autonomous and without a parent party; it provided space for political dissent,” he says.
On why he was drawn by the Left’s ideology, he says, “It is the only ideology which talks of equality at every level — be it caste, class or gender”. As a presidential candidate, his focus will be on resolving the hostel crisis. “For us, it is a matter of social justice. So many students are forced to leave JNU because they don’t get hostel accommodation. This is especially true for female students. Their education is directly related to hostel accommodation. It has to be ensured.”
SFI: Paaritosh Nath
PhD student of Regional Development (School of Social Sciences)
Born in Lucknow, Nath had no inkling of Left politics till he joined the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai for his post-graduation in development studies. As an undergraduate student of English in DU’s Hindu College, Nath had little interest in student politics. “I wasn’t completely apolitical as I voted for the DUSU elections. But that was on a year-to-year basis, according to the agenda put forward by various parties,” says Nath.
In TISS, Nath got his first taste of Left literature and politics, when he was introduced to them by his professors. That identification with Left politics developed into an association with SFI in 2011, when he joined JNU as an MPhil student. “That was the time when the movement to restart elections in JNU was gaining momentum and I thought SFI had the most sensible and rational position.”
After a split in the organisation in 2012, which led to the formation of the DSF, circumstances forced him to take leadership positions, says Nath. Not one to separate his academics from his politics, Nath’s PhD topic is “Processes of skill acquisition among automobile workers of the national capital”.
Resolving the hostel crisis is on the top of his priority list as well.
ABVP: Gaurav Kumar Jha
PhD student of American Studies
(School of International Studies)
Born in Teldiha village of Banka district in Bihar, Jha had shifted to Pondicherry when he was in Class III. Till this day, he remembers the culture shock he faced as a result of the shift. “In our village school, there were no taps or urinals. I was shocked to see that there are schools which have all these facilities. The other surprising thing was to see teachers actually come to school,” says Jha. He had his first brush with politics when he joined the undergraduate course in Political Science at Loyola College, Chennai. “There were no organisations there, so I contested independently. I was the first Bihari Brahmin to win as assistant secretary and joint secretary in the first and second year respectively,” says Jha.
In 2007, Jha joined the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC), where his association with ABVP began. “I was associated with them but I was still intrigued by all other political parties, so I used to attend rallies and programmes of AISA and SFI as well. In 2012, Jha, then an MPhil student in JNU, became part of the ABVP’s intellectual cell. The issues closest to his heart are those that affect women.
“My sister is a gynaecologist and I strongly think that JNU’s health centre should have gynaecologists. It is important is to have a proper water facility in women’s washrooms as they face difficulty during their menstrual cycle. I believe gender struggle begins from washrooms,” says Jha.
Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students’ Association (BAPSA)
Born in Kalahandi, Orissa, Mahanand was always politically aware of caste realities, among other things. His parents were agricultural labourers. After completing his graduation from Ravenshaw College in Cuttack in Political Science, he joined JNU for his Masters in International Relations. It is here that he formally joined an organisation — the United Delhi Students’ Forum (UDSF). Although not very active in the initial years, Mahanand soon became a dedicated activist. Last year, when UDSF decided to form a political front, Mahanand became a founding member of BAPSA. As a presidential candidate, his main focus is to start a five-point deprivation system for religious minorities.