Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) is a politically charged space and has always had an active Students’ Union. The central panel of JNUSU (2016-2017) had all four members of the alliance between All India Students Association (AISA)-Students’ Federation of India (SFI), also known as Left Unity. This alliance was formed to keep ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad), a right wing students’ political party, out of the Union. It had the support of a left wing party, All India Students Federation (AISF) that is the student wing of Communist Party of India (CPI), and was competing with another, Democratic Student’s Federation (DSF).
This year, AISA, SFI and DSF have formed an alliance, again citing the purpose of not letting a member of ABVP be elected to the Union.
Aparajitha Raja, a second-year PhD student in the University, is contesting as AISF’s presidential candidate against the alliance and other parties. Since her parents are political leaders of CPI, Raja has been exposed to politics since she was a child. She contested in the Delhi University Students’ Union elections in 2010 and has been politically active in JNU for the past five years.
Raja seems to have the experience that one needs to be JNUSU President. But according to her, it’s never the candidate that contests the election; it’s the organisation and the politics of the organisation. I had a chat with her to understand her perspective better.
Amrita Singh (AS): What are the prime issues in the JNU campus today?
Aparajitha Raja (AR): At least what we understand here, is that the very concept of being a public university is being destroyed. Not just in JNU but in all public universities across India, there’s an attempt to clamp down and create an atmosphere of fear and that the govt is doing by putting puppet Vice Chancellors. The same is happening in JNU. For us, the aim is to not just defeat ABVP electorally. The prime agenda has to be to defeat these reactionary right wing forces on the ideological and political front. Destruction of a public university is happening on our campus through this major seat cut. We feel that mainly minority students will not be able to join JNU because of this seat cut. We see a nexus between the admin and students here who want to privatise education and completely destroy the possibility of higher education for people from minority communities.
JNU has a highly affordable education. We had deprivation points, and at one point of time, we were fighting to reduce the viva voce marks from 30 to 20. But due to certain methodical actions by the so called progressive forces also, we have witnessed that we have nothing left any longer. At one point we were fighting for the reduction of viva voce, and now we are sitting on 100% viva voce. That’s the kind of contradiction that we’ll have to face and have to take on headlong.
AS: JNU is still considered a campus where you can voice your dissent. Since the UGC gazette was out, JNUTA and JNUSU have also been protesting against it. Do you think in comparison to other Universities, JNU is still making some headway?
AR: I don’t disagree with the fact that JNU is in a better condition. But that didn’t happen in the blink of an eye; it took years and years of effort by the left progressive forces on campus to build this environment where we can register our protest. The JNUSU, a legitimately elected student representative body, has played a crucial role in creating this atmosphere. But somewhere we see today that there’s an increase in fascistic attack where the Union has failed the larger student community. Not the union as an institution, but the forces occupying the JNUSU failed the student community and their concern.
AS: Had you been in their place last year, what would you have done differently?
AR: As an organisation, we have always held that a united front has been something that we require, and unity should be constructed organically despite differences and with a common minimum consensus.
Last year, there was a BJP government. In 2015 too, it was the same government. That time there was also attack, this time also there is an attack. But you can see that the response of the student community was very different to both the Unions, right? So what is it that stopped this outgoing AISA-SFI Union from building that kind of movement? It isn’t that they gave a protest call and students didn’t galvanise on it. The union as a body should have taken the leadership and gone out to build that trust amongst the students and democratically build it.
AS: Talking about having a united front, how is AISF not a part of the AISA-SFI-DSF Alliance? There have been allegations that the alliance couldn’t work out because you wanted to be the presidential candidate?
AR: Baseless allegation. Our organisation clearly differentiates between a united front and merely an electoral alliance. Of course, defeating the ABVP electorally is important, but that isn’t the end of it all. Last year, we didn’t contest election keeping the sense of responsibility of being a left organisation. Since the past many years we have given a very public call for a united alliance electorally also. Last year only the AISA-SFI came together, and DSF was contesting separately. We thought it would be politically immature to split the left votes kind of atmosphere and we placed that trust on our fraternal organisation.
We feel that somewhere in the last year, not just our organisation but the entire student community’s trust in this AISA-SFI alliance has somewhere been misplaced.
Who doesn’t know these attacks will happen under the BJP government and the RSS? Attacks have been there 2015 also, and we gave leadership to this university. I am not saying that everything was done by us only – of course not, things cannot be done alone. This has to be done from campus collectivity. That is precisely what is lacking in this outgoing union. No sense of collectivity and only sectored in approach.
AS: As a candidate what sets you apart from other people who are contesting in the elections?
AR: It’s never the candidate that contests the election; it’s the organisation and the politics of the organisation which contests an election. As far as what we can provide, we do not have to give many many examples. The comparative analysis of the 2015 union and the outgoing union is amply clear. Our political positioning has always been that unity should be there, but the basis of unity should be based on certain political principles and principled leading. It cannot be based on rhetorics alone. We have to move beyond rhetorics and practise what we are saying – that there is unity. That unity has to be reflected in our practice, our movements and our struggle against this kind of structure of operations.
AS: How active has AISF been on campus in the past one year?
AR: We are the first student organisation of this country. We do not have to keep proving our left credentials and our progressiveness. In this past one year, many left progressive organisations have attempted to build a movement here. AISF was a part of the movement for justice for Najeeb. We are not saying that it was us who did it – there were responsible students of this campus who despite differences tried to come together and democratically form and figure out how this thing moved forward. When the UGC Gazette was released, we were a part of a very important blockade – for 18 long days, the first in JNU. We held our political ground challenging the VC. That was a political movement that we led and we weren’t doing it alone – there were other political sections of this campus and the larger student community.
The AISF has always stood by the larger student community of this campus, stood by uncompromising on stuff. We do not believe that movements can be built on compromise, and that is the legacy of AISF that has always been displayed in this campaign.