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JNUSU Election: Politics on Campus in the Wake of the Sedition Row

The events after 9 February 2016 have naturally coloured the politics on the JNU campus.

Updated
India
5 min read
Kanhaiya Kumar in JNU on 3 March 2016. (Photo: AP)

The courtyard outside the Brahmaputra hostel in the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus is littered with cigarette butts and lingering conversations. One can catch the ends of sentences trailing off in words like “privilege”, “gender politics” and “socialisation.”

As we park ourselves on a bench directly opposite a fluorescent Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) poster, we wait for Kanhaiya Kumar, JNU Students’ Union president and the “anti-national” hero.

I recall the dependable advice from a fellow colleague who camped out at the campus when the 9 February issue imploded – it’s easier to meet the Pope than it is to get an interview with Kanhaiya Kumar.

Kumar finally walks out of the hostel, in track pants and a T-shirt, surrounded by his cortège of supporters. His manner is sweet and unassuming, as he asks if he should keep his responses short or if he has the liberty to meander.

Kanhaiya Kumar’s party AISF is not contesting this year’s JNUSU election. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>)
Kanhaiya Kumar’s party AISF is not contesting this year’s JNUSU election. (Photo: The Quint)
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The atmosphere at JNU as usual is infused with politics, but this year’s JNU Students’ Union election is like no other.

Kumar’s party – All India Students Federation (AISF) – is sitting this election out and the All India Students Association (AISA) and the Students’ Federation of India (SFI) have come together to create a formidable alliance against the right-wing ABVP, which has gained ground on campus.

What happened on 9 February 2016 escalated into a national debate, and has naturally coloured the politics on campus as well. Alleged anti-national slogans were raised at an event to mark the death anniversary of Parliamentary attack convict Afzal Guru, who was hanged in Tihar jail in 2013. This led to the arrest of three students, an FIR against six, and subsequent disciplinary action against 21 others.

The RSS-affiliated ABVP, hitherto considered a fringe party on campus, has come to the fore since then. In the aftermath of 9 February, the agenda of the Left alliance is to keep the right-wing party out of the union this year.

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The AISF thought it made no sense to divide the democratic, progressive and secular vote in light of what has happened, so we decided to not contest in these elections. This fight is no longer about which party wins, but it’s about JNU’s identity, which no power can wipe away.
Kanhaiya Kumar, JNUSU President

There also happens to be lingering resentment against Kumar among members of the Left panel, who are unhappy with his disassociation from this year’s election.

He became the face of the JNU row, but not once has he come out to campaign for us, or even speak with people. If the ABVP gets even a single seat on the Central panel, they’ll think they would have justified what happened in February.
AISA Member
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The politics on campus has naturally been coloured by the events of 9 February 2016. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>)
The politics on campus has naturally been coloured by the events of 9 February 2016. (Photo: The Quint)
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The alleged rape of a PhD student by research scholar Anmol Ratan has also tainted the varsity. Ratan is the former state president of AISA, making it one of ABVP’s key issues in this election, other than the gamut of the nationalism debate.

When the Nirbhaya incident happened, the voice for justice rose from JNU and spread across the country. Now, when an AISA member has been accused of rape, they are quiet and they want to keep the issue from coming up.
Saurabh Sharma, JNUSU Joint Secretary and ABVP Member

Sharma was at the forefront in rallying against the alleged anti-national activities on campus. In this election, he seems confident that the Left will be defeated.

“Their anti-national activities have been exposed now, and students are running away from them,” he tells us. “The Left has not survived in the country, and whatever little of it is left in JNU will be destroyed too,” he adds with conviction.

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Saurabh Sharma was at the forefront in ABVP’s rally against alleged anti-national activities on the JNU campus. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>)&nbsp;
Saurabh Sharma was at the forefront in ABVP’s rally against alleged anti-national activities on the JNU campus. (Photo: The Quint
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The election this year seems to have boiled down to a battle between two hashtags – #StandWithJNU vs #ShutDownJNU. The hashtags are symbolic of the strange binaries that erupted in the nationalism debate, of which JNU was the epicentre.

This is a fight for spaces. The space, where even the heterogenous Left parties were allowed to dissent, is under threat. In this battle, we will save that space and #StandWithJNU will win.
Rama Naga, JNUSU General Secretary and AISA Member

Two known faces from the FIR, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, have for the first time taken out pamphlets, urging students to come out and vote, and more importantly, to not vote for ABVP.

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Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya for the first time released pamphlets, urging people to come out and vote. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>)
Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya for the first time released pamphlets, urging people to come out and vote. (Photo: The Quint)
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Standing at the School of Social Sciences, Khalid launches into a diatribe on “thought policing” and the attack on democracy in JNU. I’m immediately reminded of his impassioned speech at JNU’s ‘Freedom Square’ on the night of his return from hiding.

He almost looks nervous before answering our questions, but only for a second.

What happened on 9 February was unprecedented. But the response of the students and the 1000s of people who marched for JNU was also unprecedented. The ABVP, not unlike RSS, has mobilised state machinery, sending out mass texts... but even after doing all of this, they’re still going to lose.
Umar Khalid

The JNU administration has been accused of giving ABVP access to the student database through which the party has been sending out bulk messages to students, urging them to come out and vote. The ABVP, however, denies that charge.

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Though JNU has never been devoid of political fervour, the overwhelming sentiment on campus is thick with anxiety.

In the tumultuous aftermath of 9 February, the varsity has seen a lot. It survived a penetration of everyday life by cops, a practical purge of anyone who looked remotely like a student activist, as well as a call to shut down the university that is wasting “tax payers’ money”. But it also found extraordinary solidarity and the intrepid will to fight back.

The implications of who the winners are in this JNUSU election will therefore seal the fate of the varsity, as it contends with something far larger than just party politics.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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