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Debarred From LSE Polls, Indian Student Karan Kataria Alleges 'Smear Campaign'

Speaking about an appeal to the move, Karan Kataria told The Quint about procedural discrepancies by the committee.

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"I don't say that I don't identify [as a Hindu nationalist], I am a proud Hindu. I am not saying I am not a Hindu nationalist," Karan Kataria, an Indian student at the London School of Economics and Politics, who has alleged discrimination on the basis of his "Indian and Hindu identity," told The Quint over a phone call.

A day ago, Kataria had made serious allegations against the LSE Student Union (LSESU), saying that he was disqualified from the student body elections because of a "smear campaign."

Kataria, who hails from Haryana and is pursuing an LLM from LSE's school of law, was in the fray for the post of general secretary of the LSESU before being disqualified over what he calls "baseless allegations." He further claimed that he was not given a chance to state his case.

The LSESU, on the other hand, noted in a statement that Kataria had "breached" the election rules, resulting in the body's "difficult decision to disqualify them from this year's Leadership Race for the position of General Secretary."

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What Happened?

"On 24 March, WhatsApp groups were flooded with messages terming me Islamophobic and homophobic... Even after being a man of colour, I was tagged as a racist… even a Hindu nationalist. Just because I am proud of my culture, heritage, ethos, philosophy, and where it comes from, you can't call a student a Hindu nationalist," alleged Karan Kataria.

He claimed that unnamed individuals ran a smear campaign against his ambition to become the LSESU's next general secretary.

Some "individuals could not bear to see an Indian-Hindu leading the LSESU and resorted to vilifying my character and very identity in what was clearly in line with the alarming cancel culture which is uprooting our social communities," he alleged.

While he did not name anyone, Kataria told The Quint that he was disqualified from the LSESU election "despite receiving immense support from students of all nationalities, especially Africans and Asians students, who could relate to me – the only 'brown' or international student contesting for the post."

What Did the LSESU Do?

Kataria, who said he is a first-generation college graduate, also slammed the LSESU, stating that instead of punishing those responsible for the alleged smear campaign against him, the student body cancelled his candidature "without providing any proof or evidence of the allegations against me."

"The LSESU conveniently disqualified me without hearing my side of the story or revealing the number of votes I received," Kataria said.

He said he wanted to fulfil his passion for student welfare, but was stopped in his tracks when he was disqualified.

"I appealed the decision on the grounds that I wasn't even heard once, and no evidence was provided against me. There is a Democracy Committee, which is responsible for the appeal – four members need to sit on it. But only one individual out of four was present during the appeal, and one joined via a Zoom call."

Kataria further told The Quint that he emailed the chair of the Democracy Committee and informed him of only two members being present, but he was reportedly told that the committee had recorded his statement.

"Why were two other individuals, who haven't even heard me, a part of the ruling?" he said.

Kataria also alleged that "on the last day of polling, Indian students were bullied and targeted for their national and Hindu religious identities. The students raised this issue, but the LSESU brushed it aside by not acting against the bullies."

Tejashwini Shankar, another LSE student, backed up the allegations in a video message posted on Twitter and said she was being targeted for supporting Kataria in the students union election.

The Quint is trying to get in touch with Shankar, and a statement will be added shortly.

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What Has the LSE Student Union said? 

The LSESU issued a statement on Monday, which said that the body operated in a free and democratic manner and has a zero-tolerance stance towards any form of harassment and bullying. It also ordered an external review of the election.

However, the reasoning of the LSESU while disqualifying Kataria appears to be starkly different from that of Kataria's statement. While Kataria said that the allegations against him ranged from him being homophobic, Islamophobic, queerphobic, and a Hindu nationalist, the LSESU, in its statement, attributed it to a different issue.

The LSESU pointed to a breach of the rule for candidates which asked them to keep a 'reasonable distance' of around 2 metres from anyone who is casting their vote.

"As a matter of course, LSESU always undertakes a review of how our elections have been delivered. We are confident that all decisions were followed according to due process and best practices. However, given the impact this experience has had on some of the candidates involved, we will be conducting an external review this time around and will endeavour to update the community accordingly."
The LSESU Statement

The Quint reached out to the London School of Economics Student Council on Tuesday, 4 April, regarding Kataria's disqualification, the allegations against him, and his claims against the student body, the LSESU simply referred us to the aforementioned press release and said, “To reiterate, we have a zero-tolerance approach to bullying and harassment.”

No clarifications were provided regarding any questions about Karan Kataria’s allegations of procedural lapses as well.

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