How The JNU Row Has Dramatically Changed Student Politics On Campus

Posted on September 8, 2016 in Campus Politics

On February 9 2016, a few students of Jawaharlal Nehru University were accused of being involved in ‘anti-national’ activities and sedition charges were slapped on popular student activists. Since then, the University has either been labelled as ‘anti-national’ or treated as a bastion for free speech by most of the nation and it is believed that these labels in themselves are given by the University’s right and left wing student political parties respectively. With the JNUSU elections right around the corner, it’s politically charged environment has become even more volatile and the Feb 9 incident has a lot to do with that. Here’s how it affected the stand of some major student political parties for the upcoming JNUSU elections.

Last year, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, RSS’s student organisation, unexpectedly won a seat in the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union’s panel after a period of 14 years. Apart from Saurabh Sharma from ABVP, the central panel for JNUSU 2015 consisted of 2 members from All India Students’ Association, and one from All India Students Federation, both parties with a leftist ideology.

Since a majority of the university’s political parties and even the students’ community is believed to be ideologically left dominated and ABVP is a right-wing student organisation, chaos was bound to happen. Their differences strongly came out after Feb 9. As a consequence of this, according to the left parties, having an ABVP member in the central panel would cause problems since it has links with the central government. Hence, the idea of forming an alliance with all major left parties was formulated. However, the end result only had an alliance between AISA and Students’ Federation of India with AISF’s support.

AISA- SFI: The Left Unity

AISA and SFI are leading the Left Unity front. In the past, AISA has never collaborated with any other party but their chances of winning the elections became slim after rape allegations against Anmol Ratan. AISA and SFI’s political philosophy has quite a few differences as well but their alliance has been formed basically to defeat ABVP. Their differences are so evident that AISA’s official website states, “The hollow ‘left’ rhetoric and ritual activities of SFI and AISF have become completely disconnected with the democratic aspirations of students and the dynamic student movement… Through following an opportunist ideological- political line, they have gradually declined and become marginalised forces in the student movement.” However, they have reassured the students that they will deal with their internal differences later and defeat the larger evil first.

Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students Association

BAPSA refused to be a part of the Left alliance and has decided to contest on its own. This, because they believe that the rest of the parties never cater to the Dalit community and has time and again accused the others of hypocrisy. It has said that ‘the campus still suffers from the casteist brand of student politics which is advocated by both left and right’.

It is argued that BAPSA had also distanced itself from the Feb 9 incident, without lending support to a majority of the students who were being accused, unlike many of other ‘left’ parties. “We are concentrating on minority issues. Our vision is Dalit and Muslim unity. We don’t want to see this only as campus elections. We want our members to prepare for nation-wide elections where one can envision the problems occurring in the outside world,” says BAPSA’s Manikanta, a first year MPhil student at JNU.

All India Students’ Federation

All India Students Federation (AISF), which is backed by the CPI, isn’t contesting the elections this time. It was supposed to be a part of the left alliance as well, but reportedly due to disagreements regarding nominations, it decided to back out. However, it is still extending support to the AISA-SFI alliance. Kanhaiya Kumar, President JNUSU 2015, said, “To avoid a repeat of last year, when the ABVP won a central panel post after 14 years, the AISF has decided not to field any candidates. We call for support to all Left, progressive and democratic forces to defeat the ABVP.”

Democratic Student’s Federation

DSF, a splinter of SFI, isn’t a part of the left unity apparently because it spoke against the way the Anmol Ratan case was handled by AISA. DSF is only contesting for the position of Joint Secretary and there’s a possibility that this might split votes from AISA-SFI.

Bhagat Singh Ambedkar Students’ Organisation

BASO doesn’t support fighting elections as per the Lyngdoh Committee Recommendations. A few members of Democratic Students’ Union, a radical left party, recently quit the party to create BASO due to DSU’s lack of emphasis on gender discrimination.

The February 9 incident has indeed caused a paradigm shift in JNU’s student politics. While opinions may vary regarding the incident, one cannot deny that it has succeeded in raising some important questions – from the definition of nationalism and the need for student politics; to the relevance of sedition in a democratic society. As a result, the new JNUSU will bear a much larger responsibility and it will be interesting to see what the new panel will bring to the table in the coming year.

Image source: Arun Sharma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images