We believe in giving voice to every oppressed instead of speaking on their behalf, ” says Shabana Ali, Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students’ Association’s (BAPSA) presidential candidate for the upcoming Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU) elections. Ali is a third-year PhD student in the University’s School of Arts and Aesthetics. I spoke to her to understand BAPSA and its politics better.
Ever since it was established, the JNU campus has been dominated by political parties that identify with a left wing ideology. But last year, we saw the advent of an Ambedkarite movement with a new organisation called BAPSA. The party works on the ideology of B. R. Ambedkar, Jyotirao Phule, Savitribai Phule and various other anti-caste and anti-brahminical leaders coming from marginalized sections.
The BAPSA has no parent organisation unlike most other parties on campus. Yet, it went on to defeat Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) in the JNUSU 2016 elections. The party was only second to the Left alliance which had two of the most powerful parties on campus – the All India Students’ Association (AISA) and the Students’ Federation of India (SFI).
For many students, BAPSA has emerged as an alternative to the age-old Left parties and has shifted the focus from ‘ideology’ to ‘the rights of the minorities’. While it didn’t win the election, BAPSA successfully established itself on campus. Shabana told me that in the past year itself, BAPSA participated in many movements and protests on campus – from the justice for Rohith movement to Najeeb’s disappearance, the UGC Gazette, and protests against the rape cases of Delta and Jisha, amongst other issues.
While other parties protested against these issues as well, Ali thinks it hasn’t been enough. She says, “Students from minority communities dropping out, discrimination and lack of representation in politics are old problems in the campus. We from BAPSA feel that even the Left organisations have not done anything for the oppressed sections despite being in power in JNU.”
This includes the outgoing JNUSU. Ali says, “JNUSU’s silence over Muthukrishnan’s institutional murder proves that they have failed to recognize institutional discrimination on campus.” To stop institutional discrimination, she feels that, there is a need to strengthen the equal opportunity cell and have proper mental health care and counsellors on campus.
Like last year, again an alliance has been formed by prominent Left parties – AISA, SFI and the Democratic Students Federation (DSF). They’ve openly said that the purpose of the alliance is to defeat the right wing ABVP as according to them, ABVP coming to power can destroy the campus. The BAPSA is against ABVP too, but Ali explains her party’s stance, “We want to carry forward the legacy of Jyotirao Phule, Savitri Bai Phule, Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram to fight these brahminical forces both in the left and the right.”