Student Movement Victory: Left Sweeps JNUSU, AISA Emerges as Third Force in DUSU

The vicious campaign by the Sangh Parivar, Modi Government and sections of the media to brand JNU as ‘anti-national’ and ‘Shut Down JNU’ received a resounding rebuff in the 2016 JNUSU elections, with the Left Unity (AISA-SFI) panel sweeping all the Central Panel seats and most Councillor seats. The ABVP was reduced to a single Councillor post and left far behind on the Central panel posts.

The ABVP had used the ‘nationalism vs anti-national’ plank in both JNUSU and DUSU elections, giving the slogan ‘9 ka jawab 9 se’ (Make 9 September a Reply to 9 February). 9 February was the date of the events in JNU which the Modi Government had sought to project as ‘seditious’, and students union elections in JNU and Delhi University were held on 9 September – so the ABVP was attempting to turn the elections into a referendum for its campaign against ‘anti-nationals’. That plank boomeranged on the ABVP badly. The JNU students did indeed ‘Make 9 September a Reply to 9 February’ – they trounced the ABVP and overwhelmingly elected those committed to defending JNU against the Sangh Parivar and Modi Government offensive. In DU also, while the ABVP retained three seats, it lost the Joint Secretary post as well as the College Representative posts in 33 out of 40 colleges to the NSUI. Further, the AISA, which the ABVP had attacked as ‘anti-national’, emerged as the third force yet again and increased its vote share substantially on all seats.

In a case of ‘grapes are sour’, Union Minister for State for Home Kiren Rijiju blamed ABVP’s defeat to the Left in JNU students “getting romanticised by a faulty obsolete and discarded ideology”, from which he claimed “fresh-minded DU students” are “insulated.” What Rijiju fails to explain is the utter defeat of the concerted campaign by his Government and his party against JNU as an institution and the Left as an ideology. Not only did the Left retain JNU hands down, a larger section than before of “fresh minded” DU students rejected both the ABVP and NSUI and voted for the “fresh” option of AISA!

AISA and other progressive forces made their mark on other campuses also. Shiwani of AISA won the Girls’ Representative post in the central panel of the Students’ Union in Garhwal University, Srinagar, Uttarakhand. And Tajamul of the Azad National Students’ Association that had worked closely with AISA in the Occupy UGC and Justice for Rohith Vemula movements, won the post of President of the Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU), Hyderabad. In MANUU also, as in HCU and JNU, students protesting against administrative high-handedness had been unjustly punished.

In JNU, the Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students’ Association (BAPSA) polled second on the post of President – thus relegating the ABVP to the third place. It is a welcome development that the political contest on the key post of President remained between non-ABVP forces. However, the BAPSA’s slogan equating ‘red and saffron’ and its attempts to brand the Stand With JNU movement as a ‘Stand With Janeu (Brahminical sacred thread)’ movement are extremely unfortunate. The saffron attack on JNU followed the same pattern as in HCU: just as Rohith Vemula was branded anti-national and rusticated in HCU, JNU students were branded anti-national, rusticated as well as charged with sedition. Most of the JNU AISA leaders including current and former JNUSU office bearers who were victims of the witch-hunt – such as Rama Naga, Anant Prakash Narayan, Ashutosh Kumar, Chintu Kumari and Shweta Raj – were from dalit and backward castes and deprived backgrounds. The need of the hour is to emphasise continuities between the historic and inspiring HCU and JNU movements and unite against the Sangh Parivar and Modi Government, rather than fly in the face of facts and seek to paint the JNU movement as a defence of upper caste privilege. At a time when the whole country is witnessing movements in which red and blue flags are coming together to resist the saffron offensive and struggle for the India of Bhagat Singh and Ambedkar’s dreams, it is to be hoped that all genuine Left and Ambedkarite currents on campuses too will nurture a healthy debate, dialogue as well as unity in struggles.

The Left victory in JNUSU and AISA assertion in DUSU will strengthen the student movements against commercialisation, privatisation and saffronisation of education and against the crackdown on dissent and democracy on campuses and in the country.

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