In the days following JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar’s arrest on charges of sedition, other leaders of the student body, barring Saurabh Sharma, the joint secretary from ABVP, went underground. JNUSU councillors from various schools took over and coordinated programmes on campus. Soon after, however, JNUSU vice president Shehla Rashid Shora re-emerged and took over as the acting president.
Shora is supported in part by JNUSU general secretary Rama Naga, who also faces sedition charge. There is no link between them and Sharma, who has been leading the movement for the arrest of those who “raised anti-India slogans”.
“I am the acting president at present, but I’d rather have our president back. I want him to come back and lead the movement. We’re worried about his safety,” says Shora, an MPhil student at the Centre of Law and Governance. Shora, a Kashmiri, had earlier studied computer engineering from NIT, Srinagar, and political leadership from IIM Bangalore. She says she has been “overburdened” since the beginning of the Occupy UGC movement, but this time around, the feeling of being overburdened is accompanied by “gloom”. “I was in charge of drafting press statements then, and even now I have been writing my own press releases. The only thing is that then we were not gloomy. Right now, we are being terrorised and hounded, but my strength comes from seeing the mobilisation of common students.”
She says the biggest change is the unpredictability. “Earlier, we had time to plan events and decide whom to call. Now everything has to be done according to how events are unfolding. But years of training in the Left movement has equipped me..,” she says, adding that one of the positives is that people are contacting her themselves, saying they would like to address students. She got some support from Naga, who reappeared on campus last Sunday. The two have been working together to organise functions. Naga says, “We usually try and plan a day’s events a night in advance, but many times it doesn’t work like that. When we get requests from people to speak, we schedule the time so as to not have it clash with others.” He says, situation has changed since Kanhaiya’s arrest and with sedition charges being pinned on him. “Earlier, we used to put out JNUSU pamphlets regularly on several issues. Now, it is becoming very difficult. Since this incident happened, we have barely been able to bring out any pamphlets.”
On the other side, Sharma says “nothing is discussed with him”. “JNUSU ke naam pe jo poster aate hain, usme mera naam hota hi nahi hai (My name is not there on JNUSU posters that come in). They don’t discuss anything with me. Nobody takes me into confidence. I am an elected member, but within the organisation, I am treated like an untouchable, a Dalit. So I’m doing things on my own, with whatever support I can get from my organisation.” Sharma cites an example of a council meeting he called to pass resolutions related to the February 9 incident. None of the office-bearers turned up. Sharma says he was deliberately ignored.
Shora, however, says it is Sharma who has always worked independently. “You will never see a poster which says AISF & JNUSU or AISA & JNUSU, but Saurabh brings out posters by ABVP& JNUSU. He works independently without keeping us in the loop. During the Occupy UGC movement, he went and met the MHRD without telling us.”