Beyond The Politics, What Should A Student Union Be About: The Collective From JNU Answers

Posted on September 10, 2015 in Campus Politics, Campus Watch

By The Collective

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Editor’s Note: The week is about to end and as #DelhiStudentsVote for their chosen candidates across campuses this week, the battle at the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) is on in full force. On 9th Sept, the Presidential debate for the Students’ Union Election in JNU came to an electrifying conclusion. Among the myriad voices that you can hear on the campus, one, of The Collective, an independent student initiative in JNU is particularly interesting in the way it reminds students about what the whole purpose of an election process should be. Read on.

1. Whom does JNUSU represent?

JNUSU is supposed to be the official representative of all students. However, the question concerning us is whether JNUSU, in its present state, is really representing the collective aspiration of students. There is a growing perception that JNUSU is being used by the organizations contesting elections to stay in the seat of power, undermining its envisioned role as a site of struggle. Many times the union is run with an arrogance of ‘We Represent the Majority’ and hence ‘We are the Correct’. Over the last few days we are witness to such arrogance and curbing of minimum democratic practices among the students’ body through either cancelling or forestalling UGBMs in cases where ruling organizations fear fallout. Such methods of functioning do not encourage a feeling of participation among common students and alienate them from seeing JNUSU as their representative.

2. Main tendencies within oppositional voices:

We have not seen from leaders of ABVP or NSUI anything more than blatant support of anti-people and anti-student moves by the Modi-government or Congress-government. But, even the roles of most of the prominent ‘left-progressive’ organizations within the campus sometimes get limited to pointing out the failures in achieving certain demands by the organization leading JNUSU. All of them however propagate the relative merits of earlier JNUSUs led by them. The main solutions offered by some of the oppositional organizations are to elect them to power. The real issue, however, does not lie with electing this or that organization only.

3. Common students becoming merely recipients of some ‘services’:

The majority of the common students find themselves being valued in the mainstream political processes of the campus only when they are to be mobilized for or against some opinion. This reduces the Union-student relationship to one where the Union acts as the deliverer of some ready-made services and students as passive recipients of those services. This modus-operandi reduces the genuine concerns of the students, such as proper implementation of OBC reservation, MCM Scholarships, construction of hostels, Placement Cell or some other problems in their schools or centers to some ‘services’ that are to be provided by these Union/Organizations. This false divide creates the perception of the majority of students that their role is only to vote in the electoral competition to select: who will be the better provider of such-and-such services in the coming one year?

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4. We have more creative and active role to play within the campus spaces and beyond:

We are not just voters in some election process. The real movements are possible only if the students of this university think that it is their responsibility (not of some ABC organization) to resist the curtailing of democratic spaces within the campus, to achieve ‘Hostel Accommodation for All’ or even to have proper Wi-Fi or reading-room facility. Then only can these issues be resolved. This requires determined participation of the students in these struggles, emboldened by a strong and active JNUSU. Only then can the students claim JNUSU as something of their own. We need to have the democratic space within the student bodies like JNUSU so that the students can fight for their common cause and not have to follow some ‘party-command’ blindly.

5. The attack of LCR is not just limited to JNUSU election procedure:

The Lyngdoh Committee Recommendations (LCR) have come as part of the larger attack on education through fund-cuts, privatization, restructuring of syllabi. They are eager to silence the resulting voices of dissent against the administration/government, in the logic of ‘smooth functioning’ of the university. LCR is far from being related only to specific restrictions imposed on the election process; they have had a tangible impact on the lives of ordinary students. This ranges from daily checks like increasing the number of CCTVs and checking of I-cards, to more targeted attacks like restrictions on booking halls for public meetings and imposing fines and other punitive measures on students who dare to disobey the administration in the course of movements on issues such as hostels. Thus a resolute struggle against Lyngdoh is needed in JNU and across campuses. It has to be done by properly placing the struggle within the larger context of a surveillance-control mechanism by the administration and the curtailment of freedoms within and across campus spaces.

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6. Tendencies of movements in India and beyond:

We need to draw our lessons from the recent movements across the world which is pointing to newer tendencies of organizing. Movements such as Kudankulam, Singur-Nandigram-Lalgarh, Niyamgiri, anti-POSCO etc reflect the ground-level participation of those affected and the forging of people’s committees to voice their concerns and aspirations. Anti-saffronisation movement of FTII, movement on APSC, 16th December, Kiss-of-Love and #Hokkolorob emphasize the innovative ways in which genuine struggles can be waged. Such tendencies are reflected even in movements outside India in anti-austerity movements in Europe, democratic struggles in Latin America, Occupy movements in America. What is common, however, in all these movements is that there are efforts toward greater democratic participation in decision making and a sense of being the informed and responsible actors in movements. Moreover, they are not conducted under any single party banner. Even in our campus, the struggles by Mahi-Mandavi and Mahanadi hostels emphasize that party banner is not an essential pre-requisite for genuine students’ struggles. Our intention is anyway not to dismiss the role of the organization, rather to explore the various ways of organizing.

A vibrant anti-neoliberal, anti-communal, pro-social justice student movement is the need of the hour in the campus, particularly keeping in mind the attack of neoliberal-Hindutva agenda. This requires independent bottom-up initiatives of the students and constant struggle within the movement for inclusivity, taking into account the oppressions along the lines of caste, gender, religion, nationality and many other factors. While we uphold struggles for democratization here in JNU, we feel that if anything is limited here, we are as responsible for those as anyone else. Even in the heat of election campaigns we shouldn’t forget that our aim should be to foster broader genuine struggles within the campus and beyond.

This is a part of YKA’s focused coverage of the 2015 student union elections in Delhi University and Jawaharlal Nehru University. To know more about it, click here.

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