Four months after the Lok Sabha elections paved the way for Narendra Modi and the BJP to assume power in Delhi, the national capital saw student union elections in both Delhi University (DU) and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). The results of these elections have highlighted the emergence of AISA not just as a significant political force in Delhi, but as the most credible pole for the democratic sentiment amongst students in Delhi against the communal, pro-corporate and rapidly unfolding anti-people agenda of the Modi regime.
AISA has swept the JNUSU elections once again this year, winning all the four office bearer posts. In the JNUSU elections, Ashutosh Kumar from the AISA won the post of President by polling 1386 votes and defeating the candidate from the DSF-AISF combine ‘Left and Progressive Front’ (LPF) by 377 votes. On the post of Vice President, AISA’s Anant Prakash Narayan polled 1366 votes and defeated the ABVP candidate by 610 votes. Chintu Kumari from AISA was elected General Secretary after she polled 1605 votes and defeated the ABVP candidate by 814 votes. AISA’s Shafqat Hussain Butt is JNUSU’s newly elected Joint Secretary, who won after polling 1209 votes and defeating the LPF candidate by 240 votes. SFI came 3rd in Gen. Secretary post and 4th in all other office bearers’ posts. In DU, AISA’s vote share has doubled from last’s year, with votes ranging between 10,000-13,000 in all 4 posts. AISA candidates have come a close third on all the four Central Panel posts, lagging behind NSUI by just 2100-2600 votes on the post of Vice President, Secretary and Joint Secretary.
In the early 1990s, in campuses across the country, forces such as the ABVP were creating a communal and casteist frenzy – riding the wave of reactionary anti-Mandal agitation and Babri Masjid demolition. It was in contention with this frenzy that AISA captured the imagination of students and swept student union elections in Allahabad, Banaras, JNU and Nainital’s Kumaon University – four premier campuses of north India. That remarkable moment, where a radical Left student organization delivered a shock-blow to the resurgent communal and casteist forces, is being repeated now by AISA. At a time when the BJP-RSS-ABVP brigade led by Modi are in power, promising ‘achhe din’ even as they intensify anti-people and anti-student economic policies, and run aggressive communal campaigns, AISA’s campaigns in DU and JNU have challenged them at the very moment when they imagined themselves to be strongest.
In a campus like DU where student politics was dominated by the NSUI-ABVP binary, AISA has emerged as a strong contender, posing the strongest opposition to ABVP’s resurgence in the wake of Modi victory and NSUI-ABVP’s politics of flagrant money-muscle power. It is the first time a Left student organization – or any student organization that does not enjoy the political backing, money and muscle of any of Delhi’s ruling parties – has achieved so much support and votes in the DUSU polls.
FYUP and Other Struggles: AISA won the support of DU students with its consistent campaign against the FYUP, its year-long struggles on the issues of affordable transportation and accommodation for the students, as well as its leading role in Delhi’s struggles against rape and corruption. AISA’s sustained campaigns and struggles on FYUP throughout last year rallied thousands of students, breached the citadels of the ABVP-NSUI binary and made AISA a dominant force in DUSU last year itself. ABVP, despite winning the DUSU last year, never struggled against FYUP, restricting itself to occasional lip-service statements. Its parent party BJP’s teachers’ wing NDTF too had a dubious role on FYUP, as several of its members actually supported DU VC’s FYUP misadventure in the Academic Council of 2013. However, AISA’s unrelenting struggle against FYUP along with DUTA (Delhi University Teachers’ Association) finally forced every political group (other than Congress) to come out vocally against FYUP during the Lok Sabha elections and paved the way for its final roll back post poll.
Alongside the anti-FYUP struggle, AISA launched the popular ‘Our DU-Our Right-Our Fight’ campaign from the beginning of this year with the demands for affordable and quality education, transport and accommodation. AISA’s campaign for accommodation, rent control and bus passes forced the ABVP and the NSUI to acknowledge these issues. Probably for the first time in DUSU elections, these issues could not be ignored in the elections.
For the first time in DU’s history, issues such as democratization of decision-making and participation of students in DU’s Academic Council and in all matters that affect them, stronger bodies for dealing with sexual harassment and racial targeting were raised and made into a major political demand. For a campus where unlike JNU, common students have no role in scripting major decisions regarding campus life, AISA provided the possibility of change and genuine democracy and inclusion. AISA challenged the hitherto grammar of DUSU polls and ensured that issues – rather than faces – become a significant factor in the DUSU elections.
Even as AISA campaigned for students’ rights, facilities and democratization of the DUSU elections process, the ABVP and NSUI, true to their tradition, openly violated the code of conduct and indulged in corrupt practices. Apart from the obscene display of money and muscle power, the distribution of tickets for the ‘Mary Kom’ movie to DU students by BJP on the eve of the DUSU elections, and the culture of throwing around ‘name cards’ devoid of issues, the DUSU elections saw a new low this year when the photo of a well-known woman model was used in posters as the face for ABVP’s general secretary candidate Kanika Sherawat!
Fighting the DUSU elections is an incredibly tough battle for other reasons too. Colleges affiliated to DU are spread across the city/state that is Delhi. Apart from the colleges in the north and south campuses of DU, there are colleges in remote areas – where student politics continues to be dominated by the local caste and community equations. Fighting elections in DU, and being able to pose a credible challenge to NSUI/ABVP or to any ruling class force in Delhi, inevitably means tackling these well-entrenched powerful forces that dictate social and political life in large parts of Delhi. During the DUSU elections, AISA campaigned in 54 colleges spread across Delhi – including in the colleges in outer, rural Delhi such as Swami Shraddhanand college and Aditi Mahavidyalaya, in Shyamlal College and Vivekanand Mahila college, in the Bhagini Nivedita college in the Najafgarh area, as well as in Rajdhani and Shivaji college in the Naraina area. Campaigning in these regions inevitably meant countering the money and muscle power of ABVP and NSUI as well as the caste-community dominated vested local lobbies dominating the social and political landscape in these areas.
For many years now, AISA has been the sole consistent force campaigning on a range on democratic issues in DU – against communal fascism, khap panchayats and moral policing, state repression, sexual violence, corruption and corporate loot. In the DUSU elections, AISA, despite being labeled ‘anti-national’ by the likes of ABVP and well-entrenched power brokers, boldly articulated its principled positions on all significant democratic issues of the day.
It is in this backdrop, AISA’s stellar performance in the DUSU elections indicate that despite ABVP’s no-holds-barred attempts to hard sell ‘Modi mania’ and ‘achhe din’ rhetoric, probably for the first time, a radical Left force has ignited the imagination of vast sections of students across Delhi for a change- towards a creative and constructive model of student politics which espouses fresh issues and ideas for a democratic campus and country.
JNU student community’s full mandate to AISA in 2014 JNUSU elections, in a repeat of the 2013 verdict, is an emphatic endorsement of the pro-student struggles and positive achievements of the last AISA-led JNUSU and an equally emphatic rejection of both the so-called ‘Modi wave’ as well as the politics of slander and negativism that various shades of ‘left’ organizations (SFI/DSF/AISF etc) are practicing for their survival in JNU.
Living up to the AISA’s tradition of leading earlier JNUSUs, the last JNUSU too undertook path-breaking initiatives for a range of progressive policy level changes and expansion of students’ facilities in JNU. Some of these include opening the Central Library 24x7, scrapping of the ‘delinking’ of the BA-MA in the School of languages and restoration of the integrated BA-MA programme, taking the struggle for reduction of viva-voce weightage in JNU admissions to the Supreme Court, starting the construction of a new hostel and expansion of students’ accommodation through more dormitories, raising the annual parental income cap for availing MCM scholarships from Rs. 1 lakh to Rs. 2.5 lakh, starting of JNU press based on an autonomous open access model, interventions with UGC and UPSC against several discriminatory norms, vigilant interventions to safeguard the rights and wages of the contract workers on campus. Alongside these, JNUSU took bold and timely initiatives against renewed communal offensives of the Sangh brigade, against instances of minority witch-hunt, caste and gender violence, racial discrimination and violence against the people of North-East. JNU student community’s unbroken mandate for AISA this year is a positive endorsement of AISA’s unbroken track-record of imagining and implementing socially-inclusive policies in JNU and making JNUSU a resolute voice in solidarity with people’s movements against communal offensive, corporate loot, state repression, caste and gender violence.
Let us note, however, that this mandate was won in the face of multi-pronged attacks on AISA from every other student organizations - from left to right - and the state machinery. While NSUI made its election time appearance with its characteristic corrupt practices and money culture, ABVP, buoyed by ‘Modi victory’ unleashed a high voltage communal divisive campaign. Unfortunately, other left groups such as the SFI, and the DSF-AISF alliance (LPF), devoid of any positive agenda and squarely rejected by JNU students repeatedly since 2007, chose to concentrate exclusively on maligning and vilifying the AISA leaders, the AISA-led JNUSU, running down its struggles and its achievements. In the School GBMs in which the outgoing JNUSU presented its reports, the SFI, DSF and AISF voted with ABVP and NSUI against AISA.
Amidst all this, the campus watched some intriguing developments when various splinters (SFI, DSF, AISF) of the earlier grand SFI-AISF alliance tried to work out some permutations and combinations this year. Till March 2012, SFI, AISF, DSF were all more or less a single entity (called SFI-AISF) that used to contest elections together for years. After repeated electoral defeats at the hands of AISA, SFI split and DSF was formed in July 2012. This split was spurred in large part by the understanding that in a left-leaning campus like JNU, it was impossible to win elections against AISA while defending CPIM’s pro-corporate and repressive policies at Singur and Nandigram. However, AISA retained students’ support precisely because it did not rely on any blind anti-CPIM-ism for that support, but on its own positive and principled agenda and track-record of struggle. The DSF, SFI and AISF once again considered joining hands this year, with a view to somehow defeating AISA, but this finally did not take any formal shape.
Then the DSF-AISF came up with the self-contradictory slogan ‘Unite against right-wing forces, Defeat AISA’. So all tall talk of ‘Left Unity’ got reduced to ‘unity’ only against another Left organization - AISA. The Hindu on 12th September carried the headline that in JNU’s prestigious presidential debate, ‘AISA bashing’ was the favorite theme of all political groups! All these petty attacks on AISA did not go down well with students who wanted instead to see a principled and powerful offensive against communal forces.
Moreover, right in the midst of the elections, leading AISA activists including three of the Central Panel candidates (Ashutosh, Anant and Chintu) had to deal with false cases slapped against them; AISA also had to battle false and malicious stories planted in the media by NSUI, ABVP and the Delhi Police. Just two days before the elections, AIPWA secretary Kavita Krishnan and leading AISA activists Anmol and Om were charge-sheeted by the Delhi Police for leading anti-rape protests against Sheila Dixit’s government in December 2012. It was in face of these multi-pronged attacks and vilifications and in the backdrop of a resurgent ABVP banking on the well-orchestrated ‘Modi-wave’ that AISA fought and won the JNUSU elections.
The ABVP has tried to put a spin on facts, claiming to have won 11 Councillor seats and increased its votes in JNU. The actual facts are worth closely examining. The ABVP during elections had declared a list of 11 candidates who contested elections on an ABVP banner. Of these, only one candidate – from Sanskrit Studies – won. The other candidates that ABVP is claiming as its own post elections, are actually independents representing Science Schools.
To put the ABVP performance this year in perspective, it must be noted that the total right-wing votes (divided between the Youth for Equality, ABVP and NSUI) in JNUSU elections have remained more or less the same since 2007. Remember, the actual strength of voters in 2007 was considerably less than it has been since then. After 2007, the overall student numbers in JNU increased with the implementation of OBC reservations accompanied by increase in general, unreserved seats. Still, the votes polled by right-wing organizations in JNU in 2014 is at the same level as votes polled by them in 2007.
For instance, on the post of President the YFE (which was the right-wing pole in 2007) polled second in 2007 with 924 votes; while the ABVP (the right-wing pole this year) polled third in 2014 with 944 votes. It is in fact the space and support for the Left that shows a growing trend in JNU since 2007. This year, the ABVP’s relatively increased votes on the President post must be seen in the backdrop of the abysmal and unusually poor performance of the NSUI which polled a mere 129 votes on that post.
The ABVP did indeed emerge as the right-wing pole this year, and it is important to be vigilant and alert about the danger from ABVP, that enjoys the backing of the Modi Government. In 2014, as in 2007, JNU students chose AISA decisively as the Left force that they could trust to spiritedly challenge the right-wing consolidation. They did so, recognizing and rebuffing the opportunist impulses behind the election-time alliances and baseless attacks on AISA by some Left groups.
AISA’s performance in the JNUSU and the DUSU elections has surely come as a welcome shot in the arm of the democratic movement in the country against communal fascism, corporate loot, state repression, AFSPA – it is indeed a victory of all those voices fighting for workers’ rights, for gender justice and against neo-liberal assaults on the people of this country.