Sreerag Poickadan was elected president of the University of Hyderbad (UoH) Students’ Union on September 22, only the third Dalit to be elected to the post. The election of Sreerag, a 27-year-old PhD student hailing from Kochi, comes in the midst of a significant churn in student politics on campus.
In the 2016-17 student union elections, the first since Vemula’s death in January earlier that year, the university was on fire with protests in the name of Justice of Vemula. But with the Students Federation of India (SFI), the CPM’s student wing, refusing to nominate a Dalit to contest the president’s post — either from ASA or other Ambedkerite organizations — the ASA contested on its own. But P Vijay Kumar, one of the two candidates suggested by Vemula, lost the election, with Kuldeep Singh Nagi of the United Front for Social Justice’s (UFSJ), led by the SFI, emerging as the winner.
This year, however, with ABVP breathing down its neck, the SFI was forced to stitch together an alliance, the Alliance for Social Justice (ASJ), with the ASA in it. The SFI also had to concede the president’s post to the ASA. Besides the ASA, the coalition had in its fold the Dalit Students’ Union, Muslim Federation of India, Telangana Students’ Federation, Tribal Students’ Federation, and Bahujan Students’ Federation.
“The ABVP had totally polarised the university on caste and religious lines. They also tried to drive a wedge between South and North Indian students. They talked of Telugu being the main language on the campus, followed by Hindi as ‘rashtra basha’. Our coalition, ASJ, was needed to effectively put to a stop to ABVP’s campaign of polarisation. That is why the ASA joined the alliance and our candidate was nominated to contest as president,’’ said ASA president Munna Sannaki.
Like in the last eight elections at UoH, the ABVP lost by a close margin this year too. The NSUI came third. SFI leaders said the election results, which had seen a Dalit student from Kerala, two Muslims and a tribal winning the student election, was proof of how “diverse and inclusive” the coalition was.
“The alliance made it possible for three Dalits, two Muslims and a tribal student to win. It is good for the university,’’ says Sreerag.
Sreerag is a PhD student of Regional Studies at the university’s School of Social Sciences. He did his Master’s in Social Work from Coimbatore and completed his MPhil in Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy before he joined UoH in 2015.