The notion that Jawaharlal Nehru University Campus never sleeps came true on the night of September 7 2016 – when the student community turned up in large numbers (read 6000-7000 approximately) to attend the much-awaited Presidential debates of the JNUSU elections 2016. So when most of us were planning to take rest after a day full of exhaustion, the JNU Campus was wide awake – with its Presidential candidates geared up to face the students. Starting at 10 pm, presidential candidates belonging to different parties came forward to share their perspectives with the students and the event lasted for five hours – with the question answer session ending at 3 AM in the morning. Here’s what all that you might have missed last night (or rather, earlier this morning!).
Rahul Sonpimple, BAPSA’s candidate for the post of the President, began his speech by extending support to the people in the Kashmir Valley, and went on to talk about the LGBT Community and its efforts to make India reflect upon Section 377. In his speech, he extensively talked about the different issues pertaining to women and even thanked his fellow friends who helped him realise the evils of patriarchy; also extending support to the women in Manipur, and applauding their courage to raise voices against the atrocities by Indian Army.
Rahul also touched upon the Rohith Vemula case and the recent arguments involving whether he belonged to the Dalit or the OBC community, saying that the focus of the debate needs to be more on the reasons for his suicide. He made it a point to condemn the RSS ideology and said that it wasn’t right to label a person who believes in equality for one and all. He made strong promises like changing the ‘anti-national’ perception associated with the left-wing politics and ensuring a fall in the drop-out rates, especially by women and students from the minority communities.
The presidential candidate for the AISA-SFI alliance, Mohit Pandey, began his speech with reference to the February 9 incident involving Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid; and went to mention how his party supported all those who were a part of the ‘Stand with JNU’ movement – condemning those who spread the notion of ‘Shut down JNU’. Expressing his concerns about the atrocities that took place recently in Una (Gujarat), he went on to say that the fight of their party was similar to the cause of the Dalit Community in Una. In his speech, he ridiculed the discriminatory behaviour of the Police – which would blindly accept the case of sedition against Umar Khalid, but not if it were to be filed against a member of the Hindu community. Concluding his speech, he condemned the acts of the parties involved in instilling a sense of fear towards the Muslim community in the minds of the people, assured that his party would fight against this behaviour.
Sunny Dhiman, the Presidential candidate for National Students’ Union of India (NSUI), began his speech by crediting Rohith Vemula’s mother as his motivation behind contesting elections. Throughout his speech, he emphasised on the state of affairs after the BJP was voted to power at the Centre. Ideas like – “Ache din ayenge, jab Modi ji jayenge” – were recurrent and comparisons were drawn between ABVP and the ISIS. Through the use of the anecdote of a ‘prince and his desire to wear something unique’ he said that under the rule of BJP even laughing could become an act of sedition, and one could be asked to leave the country for doing so! He concluded his speech with talking about the state of affairs on the JNU campus and how different voices and points of views were being curbed and people were being targeted.
Janhawi Ojha, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad’s (ABVP) candidate for the post of President (and the only woman last night on the panel) addressed the student community by expressing her solidarity with people who have suffered at the hands of the Naxalites. She then went on to talk about how the student community should question every party on what they have done for JNU previously, before they decide to cast their votes. She challenged those who had doubts about ABVP’s work for JNU, and said she would have no hesitation in sharing the party’s ‘report card’ with them. She expressed her concerns for issues faced by women across the world, and especially extended her concerns for the women facing sexual exploitation at the hands of organisations such as Boko Haram and ISIS.
Referring to the recent incident of rape of a female student within the JNU campus, she questioned the silence of the other parties and said – “Bahar rape ho to Nirbhaya, campus mai rape toh kuch nahi hua” (If a rape happens outside campus, it becomes ‘Nirbhaaya’, but is ignored if something happens on campus). She assured the student community to work for their welfare, as well as that of the nation and concluded her speech by saying that students of JNU have every right to decide whether to sit or not sit for the campus placements – and no political party should make that decision for them.
Dileep Kumar, the Presidential candidate for Students’ Front for Swaraj, continually expressed dissent over the ideology of political parties such as RSS and BJP. He stated, again and again, that such parties were to be held responsible for spreading venom and poison in the hearts of the fellow citizens and held them responsible for ruining the state of politics in our country.
After the fierce round of speeches, a very crucial question and answer session commenced. The energy among the candidates as well as the audience remained equal and worked in tandem. Because of the heat of debate, the night saw a large number of people throng at Ganga dhaba for food and drinks, and discussion too. The first round of question and answers was to take place among the candidates where each candidate was supposed to respond to the questions posed by the other candidates. Each candidate was allowed to ask a maximum of two questions to every respondent, the respondents were given one and a half minute to answer each question. Rahul Sonpimple, the first to face a barrage of questions was asked to clear the stand of his party on the ‘Stand with JNU’ movement – to which he answered that his party stands with all those oppressed. ABVP’s candidate, Janhawi faced strong rhetoric and questions regarding her party’s pamphlets – which had stated that the North-Easterns run a sex racket. In the final round for the debate, the audience posed questions to the candidates – the excitement refused to recede and people were glued to their places till the very end of the debate.
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