By Asheem Earpona
The miscellaneous graffiti inscribed on the walls across Jawaharlal Nehru University campus tell how the campus is vibrant when it comes to politics and activism. Various political issues ranging from the international to the regional have found space on the walls here, either in the form of cartoons, pictures with captions, quotes, and slogans. The varsity ranks among the top in the Indian subcontinent, having mentored many prominent political figures such as Prakash Karat, Digvijay Singh, Nirmala Sitaraman, and Sitaram Yechuri.
The elections to the JNU Students’ Union, held on September 12, saw a contest between AISA, NSUI, LPF (an alliance of left parties AISF and DSF), and ABVP, which are affiliated to the major political parties in the country. In the last couple of weeks prior to the election, the JNU political workers had sleepless nights. Busy with the JNUSU election campaign, party workers were trying to cover different parts of the university, hostels, messes, and the library, meeting students and distributing pamphlets in a bid to impress the voters. “Even at 1.30 am, the whole campus was awake and noisy; slogans from different political parties filled the atmosphere. I happened to catch a unique glimpse of this political culture while walking on the roads inside the campus. You won’t find such a vibrant atmosphere anywhere else,” said Jubair, a first year post-graduate student. He further added, “I was lucky to witness the famous JNUSU elections from its very early campaigns till the announcement of the final results on Sunday morning. I was closely watching the election scene.”
Unlike other educational institutes, JNU – with a total strength of about 8000 students – has distinct political and intellectual characteristics. The messes in JNU often double up as venues for serious intellectual and political discourses. This culture is striking considering how political parties in other institutes are often engaged in clashes and struggles. “JNUites are not in favour of physical battles; they prefer the intellectual ones,” gushed Saidalavi, a doctoral student in the Arabic Department. The presidential debate, which is usually held the day before election, is an important part of this political culture, where both the candidates and the audience ask question. This time, it lasted until early mornings. Make shift pandals were built in front of venue for the presidential debate. In this usually pro-left campus, the students ask their would-be representatives difficult questions at every stage. On the day of the poll, the counting places were fully crowded even at midnight. Major political parties camped in separate corners fought and matched each other with slogans, drum-beats, hallabols, and lal salaam. The overcrowded counting place appeared like a festive marketplace.
This year, the JNUSU election was quite different from the previous years. The political analysts were predicting a severe setback for the ruling All India Students Association (AISA) in the aftermath of alleged sexual harassment cases against the previous AISA union representatives. Complaint had been lodged against these representatives to the Gender Sensitisation Committee against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH), a law introduced in the campus last year. AISA, an affiliate to Communist party of India Marxist Leninist, a radical leftist party, however, swept all four central panel seats, along with eight council seats maintaining its unshakable hold on the prestigious students’ union for the second year. Ashutosh Kumar, Anant Prakash, Chintu Kumari, and Shafaqat Husain Butt won the posts of the President, Vice President, General Secretary, and Joint secretary respectively. Surprisingly, Akhila Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parished (ABVP) managed to obtain the second position in two central panel seats this year.
When I asked one of the students about the possible reasons for AISA’s victory, despite severe allegations, Anas, a doctoral student in Sociology department, explained, “We were anticipating that the cases against the former union leaders will have an adverse impact on the poll results. One reason why the allegations didn’t affect the outcome was that AISA was very active last year and they introduced a lot of student friendly activities.” The results proved once again that the so-called ‘Modi wave’ played no role in this traditional left hub.
But, for the SFI, which tried to fuel anti-AISA sentiments in a bid to make a comeback, this election was a setback as the former ruling party ended up in the fourth place, even after the ABVP.
For the ABVP which swept the Delhi University Student Union polls, JNUSU results offer some glimmer of hope. This is the first time that they have garnered so many votes on a campus known as a left fort.
This was first election after amendments were made to the Lyngdoh Committee Recommendations, which banned political parties directly intervening in campus politics.
After winning the election, the AISA activists chanted, ‘JNU kaisa hai? AISA hai.’ It seemed quite apt.
Asheem Earpona studies journalism at the Indian Institute of Mass Communications, New Delhi.
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City, USA. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
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