Left Wins JNUSU Polls: Why ABVP Has Failed to Break the Stronghold

What’s keeping ABVP from breaking into the Left stronghold? Here’s a look at some factors that might be responsible.

5 min read
What’s keeping ABVP from breaking into the Left stronghold? Here’s a look at some factors that might be responsible.

Every year, speculation abounds ahead of JNU Students' Union (JNUSU) polls that the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) would make inroads and win a post or two in the central panel that has historically been a Left bastion. However, for the last few years, that speculation has always ended up being proven wrong, with the ABVP being unable to win any of the four coveted posts since 2015.

While in 2015, the RSS-affiliated group's Saurabh Sharma became the joint secretary, it has been Left all the way since then, right up to the 2019 elections for which counting was held recently.

Significantly, the final results for the 2019 JNUSU polls were held up after the Delhi High Court put a stay on their declaration on 6 September.

However, on Tuesday, 17 September, the high court permitted the varsity's election committee (EC) to declare the results and also allowed its administration to notify them in accordance with the Lyngdoh Committee recommendations.

The results, which were announced hours later, showed a comfortable win for the Left Unity on all four posts – president, vice-president, general secretary and joint secretary – with the ABVP being a distant second, and just a few votes ahead of the Birsa Ambedkar Students’ Association (BAPSA).

So, what explains the continuing hegemony of the Left in Jawaharlal Nehru University's sharply divided politics and the inability of the ABVP to make its mark in the last few years?

Here's a look at some of the factors that have might have kept the ABVP from breaking into the Left bastion over the years, even though it may be expanding its footprint at a gradual pace.

Left Unites

A watershed moment in the history of JNU student politics came in 2016 when the 'Left Unity' came into existence, with the All India Students' Association (AISA) forming an alliance with the Students' Federation of India "for the first time". The alliance expanded in the subsequent years, taking into its fold the Democratic Students' Federation (DSF) in 2017 and the All India Students' Federation (AISF) in 2018. Prior to that, the Left parties had been fighting among themselves.

According to ABVP spokesperson Monika Chaudhary, it is this alliance of the Left groups which is the “only factor (because of which) they are winning in JNUSU polls.”

"Everyone is aware of the fact that the Left contests elections with the coming together of 4-5 organisations. In a place where we have a total of only 6-7 organisations, if 4-5 of them contest together... then it's easier to keep the other side on the backfoot... By forming the unity, they show themselves as strong, but it only shows their weakness... When they fight alone, then they will know what's the power of ABVP," she told The Quint, when asked why ABVP has been unable to break the Left fortress in JNUSU.

However, one should not forget that with BAPSA coming into existence in 2014, a section of the disillusioned Left voters is expected to have gravitated towards to it. Claiming to represent the 'unity of the oppressed', BAPSA has risen to become a formidable group in the years since it was formed, often competing with the ABVP to become the principal opposition party.

BAPSA's performance in the elections has wavered in the last three years. In 2017, the group managed to get a 20.2 percent vote share to earn the second position. But the following year, it fell to 13 percent, which pushed it to the third position, while ABVP climbed up to second.

Cut to 2019, and BAPSA, contesting in alliance with the Fraternity Movenment, was neck and neck with the ABVP, with the difference just being some tens of votes for the post of president and general secretary. BAPSA wasn’t contesting for the two other positions this time around.

While the Left groups' electoral alliance since 2016 might have translated into electoral gains, Apeksha Priyadarshini, a PhD student at the varsity and affiliated to the Bhagat Singh Ambedkar Students' Organisation (BASO), points out that a thread of informal unity also binds the various "progressive and anti-ABVP forces" in the campus, especially when it comes to protests and struggles.

"The reason that the (Left) unity started getting established was because in 2016, after February, it was very evident that the administration, especially the vice chancellor, has come in simply with one main agenda – that whatever has been the academic and political standard of JNU must be diminished, attacked and brought down. It was in 2016 when the student community realised that the ABVP is not working just in isolation, but working with the concrete backing of the administration," she said.

The Perception of 'Admin-ABVP Nexus'?

For Priyadarshini, one of the primary factors behind ABVP's inability to make inroads into the JNU central panel is the perception among students of the campus that they work in nexus with the administration. "And right now, more than the ABVP itself, it's the administration that is a bigger threat to the students."

According to her, while all progressive students in JNU have been part of the various struggles – be it those against seat cut, "scuttling of reservations" and de-linking of MPhil and PhD – the ABVP has been conspicuously absent from these.

“That they (ABVP) work in tandem with the administration is something which is known to the student community. Because otherwise, the way they try to get students on their side with the luring of hostel rooms and things like that, they cannot make such claims until and unless they actually have connections with the administration on the inside.”
Apeksha Priyadarshini to The Quint

Jatin Goraya, the former vice president of ABVP's JNU unit who had resigned from the post in 2016, concurs saying that the perception of ABVP and the administration being in nexus is "widespread" at the varsity.

Speaking about the just-concluded polls, Goraya says, "Basically, people voted for the group which had the best chance to defeat the ABVP. If BAPSA had fought in alliance, they would also have been a strong contender in the polls."

While BAPSA did contest with the Fraternity Movement this time around, an alliance with the Congress-affiliated NSUI and the Rashtriya Janata Dal's student wing, the Chhatra RJD, did not come to fruition.

JNU – A Political Hot Potato Since February 2016

The February 2016 incident at JNU had changed the way the institution was perceived from the outside, with the 'anti-national' tag often being attached to it by vested political interests. The incident was also expected to change the nature of student politics at the varsity and give the ABVP a significant impetus. But it doesn't seem that it really did.

Just to recap, the incident pertains to an event in which "anti-national" slogans were allegedly raised, which brought JNU into the centre of controversy. This was soon followed by a sedition case against the university's students Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid, Anirban Bhattacharya and other.

Goraya – who has publicly slammed the ABVP over the incident – says that the incident didn't even have a "10 percent impact" within JNU. "Within the campus, students know that February 2016 incident was orchestrated."

Nevertheless, he indicates that the ABVP has increased its presence in the campus in the years since. "A lot of people, who were earlier not active politically, have aligned themselves with the ABVP, believing that it would help fulfill their individual interests, for instance, with respect to getting jobs," he told The Quint over the phone.

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