JNUSU 2013: Decisive Mandate for the Revolutionary Student Movement

AISA has swept the JNUSU elections 2013, winning all the four office-bearer posts and a clear majority of councilors in the JNUSU council. Comrade Akbar Chawdhary was elected as the JNUSU president with 1977 votes, defeating the DSF candidate Ishan Anand who got 660 votes by a huge margin of 1317 votes. Comrade Anubhuti Agnes Bara has been elected as the Vice-president of JNUSU with 1966 votes, defeating Zeeshan Ali from DSF by a margin of 1052 votes. Comrade Sandeep Saurav (who is also the general secretary of AISA’s JNU unit) was elected as the general secretary of JNUSU defeating NSUI’s candidate Caroline Maninee. Sandeep, who polled 1657 votes defeated Caroline by a whopping margin of 953 votes, and the DSF candidate was pushed to the third position on the General Secretary post. Comrade Sarfaraz Hamid was elected as the Joint Secretary with 1705 votes, defeating the DSF candidate Sonam Goyal by a margin of 59 votes. Fourteen AISA comrades were elected as councilors of different schools. AISA won all five councilor posts in the School of Language Literature and Cultural Studies. In School of Social Sciences and School of International Studies AISA has won four out of five councilor posts in each of these schools. In School of Arts and Aesthetics as well, AISA has won the single councilor post.

AISA played a significant role in the movement against rape, helping to shift the focus of the movement to women’s freedom. AISA has mobilised students in Delhi against the policy offensive on higher education in the form of FYUP (which affects not only DU but also JNU students by eroding the job prospects of JNU research scholars). AISA led the powerful students’ protest against the communal fascist Modi’s visit to SRCC. AISA has also taken consistent initiatives against minority witch-hunt, with AISA’s JNUSU office bearers supporting the struggle for justice at Batla House, and visiting Lucknow in solidarity with struggle against custodial killing of Khalid Mujahid. AISA and its JNUSU office bearers also extended support for the struggles of Jamia Millia Islamia students. And AISA since March 2012 had visualised and introduced several key policy-level issues and put them firmly on the map of JNU’s student movement: such as reduction of weightage of viva marks, setting up of a JNU Press and expanding the time period of the UGC (particularly non-NET) fellowships to cover the entire research period. The mandate for AISA was a mandate for all these struggles and movements.

Attempts at Depoliticisation

The time-tested tactics, used by NSUI throughout the country, of deflecting students’ real issues and agendas by bribing students before elections was also attempted in JNU this time. Be it distribution of biryani, drinks and bags before elections or spreading cynicism about students’ collective struggles for their right to hostels and scholarships, the NSUI left no stone unturned to hide away from having to answer for the UPA government’s role in destroying the future of this country through mega-scams and pro-corporate policies.

In an era of fund-cuts and fee-hikes in higher education, the JNU student movement has been representing the resistance of the students against such policies. Unlike DUSU which is traditionally captured by NSUI and ABVP, the JNU student movement and Union has always resisted privatization and the logic of ‘austerity’. Demands for hostel accommodation for all, increased scholarships for the needy students, research scholarships for full tenure of research and better campus infrastructure to ensure an inclusive campus have been the agenda of struggle throughout the year.

Just before elections, at the time of filing nominations, the same NSUI started a political gimmick in the campus by spreading rumors that their ‘connections’ with ministers has ‘achieved’ an increase in the merit-cum-means fellowship, and also a new hostel. JNU students, however, called their bluff; exposing the real intensions behind the NSUI’s ‘delegations’ to various ministers. In fact, when NSUI called Shashi Tharoor (the deputy minister of the MHRD) for a public meeting just before the elections, several common students of JNU asked him uncomfortable questions on the UPA’s education policies, the huge amounts of public money wasted in scams, and the increasing privatization of education. And when he declared, “We are not corrupt”, the entire audience burst out laughing. Students also rebuffed the Congress’ claim to be ‘secular’, pointing out to its role in establishing the state policy of minority witch-hunt.

The discourse of depoliticisation was also promoted by the SFI which, after the dissolving of the existing unit in July 2012, has again revived its unit in JNU. After its rout in last year’s elections, many leaders and activists from different parts of the country had applied and taken admission in JNU this academic year in order to rejuvenate SFI in JNU. Some of the existing SFI cadres in JNU, who had remained inactive for almost a year, became active during the JNUSU elections this year. As a result, the SFI ran a somewhat more spirited election campaign compared to last year. Its campaign, however, harped on the apolitical claim that JNU students’ campus issues were being ignored by the Union which was needlessly obsessed with ‘national issues.’ Students realized though that SFI was trying to project itself as the true voice of ‘campus issues’, because it did not want any focus on its track record of defending Nestle on campus, betraying workers’ struggles, opposing black flag protests to Manmohan Singh, and its infamous defence of Singur, Nandigram or TPC’s murder and support for Pranab Mukherjee. And even when it comes to students’ issues on campus, the SFI remained absent from all struggles last year, and in the past, has had the track record of failing to use the Union to fight for restoration of deprivation points, of staying aloof from struggles against faulty cut-off in OBC reservations and recognition of madarsa certificates in JNU admissions. Despite getting more votes that last year, the SFI has not been able to win a single seat in the JNUSU elections.

Disappointment with the SFI Rebels

After JNUSU elections in March 2012, which happened after four years, the SFI had to face a total defeat. The resignation of CPI(M) leader Prasenjit Bose over CPI(M)’s support to Pranab Mukherjee as the President of the country triggered the distancing of SFI’s JNU unit from the CPI(M). Subsequently the CPI(M) had dissolved the erstwhile unit of SFI in JNU and expelled senior leaders from the party. The group that broke from the SFI in protest against CPIM’s bureaucratic, undemocratic functioning and betrayal of Left politics was given a chance in last year’s elections to lead the Union. But the breakaway group (now called DSF) and the JNUSU President proved to be a disappointment to students’ expectations of bold intervention on democratic issues and students’ struggles.

In particular, JNU students felt that the former JNUSU President from DSF, taking a cue from a teachers’ lobby that included its mentors, let down the struggle to reduce weightage of viva marks in admissions. For JNU students, it was a shock when the JNUSU President and the DSF were the only Left elements on campus to remain silent on the arrest of a former JNU student on charges of being a ‘Maoist.’ They were also deeply disappointed by the way the JNUSU President from DSF had defied a resolution passed by the JNUSU Council against violence and sexual threats to women activists by the ABVP and backed ABVP in its bid to falsely implicate the JNUSU General Secretary Shakeel Anjum in a communally motivated way. Students were also struck by the fact that the DSF hailed CPI(M)’s electoral victory in Tripura, without a single word against the imposition of the draconian AFSPA in that State. The JNUSU President from DSF had also been apathetic to the need to mobilise strongly against Modi’s visit to Delhi University or to support the struggles of DU students against FYUP or Jamia Millia Islamia students for campus democracy.

The DSF’s stance was also marked by strange contradictions. While they claimed to stand for non-sectarian Left unity, their actions were marked by unrelenting hostility to the AISA. In fact, following the 2013 JNUSU mandate, their leaflet declares that they will be a ‘Left opposition’ to AISA, and laments the fact that groups like AISF chose to contest independently rather than join hands against AISA.

What is the political basis for DSF’s opposition to AISA? DSF’s sole point of debate was AISA is affiliated to CPI(ML), while DSF is ‘autonomous’ and affiliated to no party. Their position is that any mass organisation affiliated to a communist party cannot possibly be autonomous, and therefore is bound to lack radicalism.

AISA responded by pointing out that the DSF’s understanding of ‘autonomy’ is flawed. The student movement, indeed, needs autonomy from ruling class politics, from servitude to anti-people Governments, and from corporate funding. Since the 90s, in the past two crucial decades of liberalisation, it is AISA that has been the most consistently autonomous from ruling class fetters. The SFI, on the other hand, remained fettered not because of its lack of autonomy from CPIM’s politics, but because of CPIM’s lack of autonomy from ruling class parties and policies, of whom the CPIM became an agent. AISA also pointed out that the ruling class parties also give ‘autonomy’ to its various mass organisations, in order to fool people and ‘manage’ dissent. After all, Congress implements neoliberal anti-worker policies, but its Trade Union INTUC routinely adopts an ‘autonomous’ posture and participates in strikes with other Trade Unions to save its face among the workers! Similarly, ABVP will not attack women wearing jeans in JNU but will do so regularly in Kanpur or Lucknow or Karnataka. If the CPIM imposed SEZs, unleashed batons and bullets on peasants in Singur and Nandigram, and supported Pranab Mukherjee, it would not be enough therefore for its student wing to be free to take an ‘autonomous’ line to suit JNU alone. Such ‘campus-specific autonomy’ would be likely to remain nothing but political posturing dictated by political/electoral compulsions, similar to the actions of INTUC or ABVP discussed above.

Moreover, what struck JNU students was the glaring contrast between DSF’s talk of autonomy and dissent – and its hesitation in defending the right of a student like Hem Mishra to dissent without being branded a ‘Maoist,’ and arrested. JNU students also witnessed AISA’s and CPI(ML)’s unfettered autonomy in taking up a variety of struggles, while they wondered why the DSF lacked the autonomy to unequivocally champion struggles for a separate Telangana and Gorkhaland, against the nuclear plant at Koodankulam, or against arrest of dissenting voices branded as ‘Maoists’.

The JNUSU 2013 mandate resoundingly affirms a vibrant model of revolutionary Left student movement that defends students’ rights, wins students’ basic facilities in the teeth of neoliberal policies, and boldly intervenes on a range of democratic questions. For the AISA, this mandate is a great responsibility, that we are committed to upholding with sincerity and commitment.

Liberation Archive