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A JNU Student On Why The Politics On Campus Needs To Change

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By Saidalavi PC:

In the long march to revolution, slogans and rhetoric must be youthful accompaniments. But when it happens within the four walls of the universities, one assumes, that it must have far greater implications. One is usually thrilled to be part of such a crowd in the campuses, in processions, protests and dharnas. The energy that fills the air gives you goosebumps, your fists rise higher, your gait becomes steadier and faster. You have the feeling of ‘self-righteousness’, that the injustices, grievances and wrongs done in the ‘outside’ will not be forgotten without collective remembrance, and of course without rage!

I think this notion of ‘self-righteousness’ is key to most of the students’ movements in the campus. I must add a caveat here that I am talking from my personal experiences in JNU. I personally have been part of such self-righteous celebrations of politics. In 2012, when the whole unit of SFI was dissolved and subsequently, an outfit named SFI-JNU was formed, one of the slogans we revelled in during the flamboyant marches and julooses was ‘our path, right path‘. Though it seems really funny and silly in hindsight, the synergetic ambience of the time, as minions taking on the mighty (SFI-JNU against CPI-M) infused the campus with a feeling of righteousness. This helped the new outfit to make certain electoral gains. What happened to this outfit in time is a story worth nothing to write home about.

One of the other symptoms of this tendency has been an imputation of everything undesirable as the realm of the ‘outside’. In such a bubble, one could catch the bus from JNU and meander through the city to be landed in front of certain representative institutions of various states or the central government, ranging from Jharkhand Bhawan, any bhawan or house for that matter, to high echelons of power such as MHRD. One could be yelling at the barricades put in front of these institutions in high pitches, joggle the barricades, shout at the police for being the observant lackeys, and ultimately conduct a meeting there. In certain cases, a delegation from the students may meet the officials to pass over their grievances. In rare cases, owing to the ‘vulnerability’ of the institutions, students are transposed to a nearby police station only to be released after a few hours. One of my friends (courtesy of Facebook) was recently quipping that revolution begins at JNU and tapers off at Jantar Mantar!

Other than the surface-level connectedness, there wasn’t much structural change in Left organisations until recent times; most of their leadership, like their parent organisations, came from upper caste members. The congruity between the students’ politics and their parent organisations were achieved by projecting a self-righteous facade in the campus.

In recent times, this notion of self-righteousness has taken a different form for various reasons. One of the important changes has been the emergence of the marginalised sections as a force to reckon with. This has also brought in certain changes among the Left organisations. As a result, what has happened in the leadership of the Left organisations is that some of them are now drawn from the marginalised sections of our society. The claims of the marginalised sections that a historical injustice is built structurally into the Left parties are being countered by enumerating the members from the backward classes and castes now in leadership roles in the campus.

What also has happened almost simultaneously is that students have realised that not only the outside but also the inside of universities are rotten. This feeling of rottenness is understood to have crept into the institutional structures, and personal beliefs and behaviours of both students, teachers and other staff. As a result, now discussions are afoot regarding the structural injustices perpetuated throughout the admission processes, interviews and the doctoral examinations. This has been a positive outcome of the dialogues, conflicts and confrontations between the organisations of the marginalised sections and the Left organisations.

The rhetoric of revolution and the ‘meaningless slogans’ continue (One most irritating to hear these days in JNU is ‘kal bhi hum jite the; aaj bhi hum jitenge’ (We had won yesterday too; we shall also win today)). This meaningless sloganeering has taken a new turn especially after the #StandwithJNU movement; the time period of sloganeering has reached a competitive level among the organisations. Now one feels, more than ever, that revolution is round the corner, if the hollering has ever helped the cause of revolution.

While being sensitive to the critique of the Left politics, one should also note the tendencies within the politics anchored on caste and religious identities. Individual overemphasis on hitherto excluded concepts and categories has also led to a sense that issues are isolated islands, not networked constituents demanding a holistic scrutiny. One of the reasons behind this dilemma could be that the idea of doing ‘right’ politics still continues to be part of the repertoire in the campus. While the left organisations are showcasing political righteousness by inducting marginalised sections into official positions, the marginalised sections’ organisations subscribe to the same tendency by compartmentalising politics based on historical exclusion and injustice.

A new form of students’ politics may emerge from the chaos and churning that is visible in the campus now. But that politics cannot be imagined singularly within the confines of confrontations between various hues of the Left, politics anchored on caste or religious identities and the politics that is dangerously ‘rightist’ of our times. How do we construct a political imaginary of the future where all the hitherto excluded and marginalised, not only on the basis of caste or religion or sexual identities of multiple orientations commingle, but also one that confronts harsh realities of contemporary capitalism?

Is it necessary that our politics should engage with a notion of ‘right’ for the political imaginary of the future? If yes, what kind of ‘righteousness’ should be cultivated? If we do not immediately have positive answers to such a problem, we are inundated with the instances of politics in the campus that are not critically meaningful. It must be due to the anchoring of political assertions to a hollow notion of doing ‘right’ politics that we become aware of the detachment between the politics within and outside the campus. What is more, it is happening at a time when the term ‘right’ is eponymously invoked in the political assertions of the most conservatives of our times whatever the genealogy of the term has been!

Banner image credit: Parveen Negi/India Today Group/Getty Images.

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  1. Balu Sunil

    leadership coming from upper caste seems to be a cliché comment without looking at all into the social back ground of the leaders of different political organizations. I know about SFI and I am pretty sure that the majority of members in SFI secretariat since 2013 or may be even 2012 November came from minorities and lower castes. I think this probably is the case with AISA also.

  2. Saidalavi PC

    Dear Babu Sunil,
    While Left students’ organizations have recently taken to inducting members from the marginalized sections into leadership roles, this is conspicuous by absence in the structures of their parent organisations. I observe this double-stand as an occasioned response to the emergence of the marginalized sections as a force to reckon with in the campus.

  3. Saidalavi PC

    Dear Balu Sunil,
    While Left students’ organizations have recently taken to inducting members from the marginalized sections into leadership roles, this is conspicuous by absence in the structures of their parent organisations. I observe this double-stand as an occasioned response to the emergence of the marginalized sections as a force to reckon with in the campus.

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