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“LSE is not lying. Karan's aggressive campaigners were standing right next to voters in line," a student of the London School of Economics alleged, just a few days after an Indian student, Karan Kataria, was disqualified from the LSE Student Union election.
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.
However, The Quint spoke to several students from LSE who painted a contrasting image of the student union elections, Karan Kataria's campaign, and the allegations against him.
The Quint also extensively spoke to Karan Kataria about the allegations against him. Click here to read the full story.
'Unfair Election Practices by Karan': Fellow LSE Students
An LSE student spoke to The Quint on the condition of anonymity and alleged that they saw Karan Kataria engage in unfair election practices, saying:
“People have seen and experienced Karan snatching other people's phones and voting for himself.”
A second student, requesting anonymity, spoke The Quint about Kataria’s disqualification and alleged that fellow students “have experienced Karan’s campaigners forcing them to go and vote for him, all under Karan’s watch.”
They claimed to be at the receiving end of the campaign and said, “Personally, I have experienced that the campaigning was very aggressive. People call and start a random conversation, but somehow end up asking if you’re rooting for Karan? If you don't say yes, they continue badgering you until you say yes."
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 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.”
Moreover, a third student from LSE, on the condition on anonymity, spoke to The Quint and described the campaigning by Kataria, stating, “He and his group of friends have often expressed extremely problematic views which were Islamophobic, casteist and sexist, and were aimed at anyone who spoke out about their agenda.”
Reiterating such an incident, they said:
"Karan and his friends had organised an event on Republic Day and repeatedly asked us to ‘unite as Indians. However, some Indian students clearly were uncomfortable with the idea and did not want to associate with the event, because the invited guests were all men and all of them belonged to certain upper-caste groups."
Speaking to The Quint, Debosmita Choudhuri, the moderator of the event in question, refuted the allegation and said, "To clarify, a member of the panel belongs to a Scheduled Tribe community. So the allegation that the event only represented upper-caste, privileged people is absolutely untrue."
“We actually reached out to a lot of people, it was not limited to the people who actually responded and were a part of the panel,” Choudhuri added.
The panelists at the event were Supreme Court Justice Sanjay Kaul, Senior lawyer Aniruddha Rajput, Indian High Commission to UK's Minister of Education and Culture Amish Tripathi, and LSE Law School professor Pablo Ibañez Colomo.
Moreover, a student, who spoke to The Quint, praised Kataria's campaign and his volunteers, and said, "Nobody felt any sort of hostility from Karan's campaign, and students have been free to voice their concerns.
"I think regardless of whatever affiliations people had, it did not impact how Karan addressed them. Whatever the social affiliations are, I don't think they've impacted or made any sort of difference to Karan's relationships and interaction with everybody else."LSE Student Speaking to The Quint on the condition of anonymity
‘WhatsApp Groups Were Flooded With Messages About Karan’
In a conversation "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," Karan Kataria told The Quint.
However, during a phone call with The Quint, Kataria said, "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.”
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.”
Referring to a message circulated on WhatsApp, an LSE student said, “I think there's it might be cheap election tactics from the opposing side. There were no problems on the first two days of campaigning.”
The message read:
“We have come to know that an individual who is a likely member of a far-right, queer-phobic, and islamophobic organisation in India, is standing for LSESU election. Karan Kataria, LSESU candidate for General Secretary, has links to the Indian far-right fascist organisation, the RSS."Message circulated on multiple WhatsApp groups on the day of the LSESU election
They added, “But as soon as the messages were circulated, people begun looking at him strangely and there was a mood change all of a sudden.”
“There were some students like some of them, who were at the receiving end of very unsavory words and disrespectful language was used against them because somehow they were linked to Karan. They had to face disgusting slurs just because they supported him.”
“I personally know people who have verbal violence, and I could see a shift in the way people were behaving. Several campaigners were stopped and questioned about their links to Karan,”
‘Relations With Hundreds of Social Organisations, RSS Is One of Them’: Karan Kataria
Karan Kataria’s alleged connection to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has raised several questions.
In the aforementioned message, circulated a few hours before the election, it said, “Sources in LSE who wish to stay anonymous fearing backlash have mentioned his membership within RSS.”
A huge point of contention has been Karan Kataria’s book, titled ‘Recapturing the Vision called Bharat,’ was released featured an address by J Nandakumar, National Convenor of the Prajna Pravah, an organisation affiliated to the RSS.
The Quint spoke to Karan Kataria regarding such allegations, where the 22-year-old said, “I have relations with hundreds of social organisations. No political organisations, but with various social organisations and I’m proud of my relations with them.”
When asked if the RSS is one of these many organisations, Kataria said:
An anonymous student at LSE told The Quint that after a message mentioning Kataria’s possible RSS affiliation was circulated, “the conversation definitely turned around after his association with RSS became public because that was one thing that people kept talking about.”
“The entire conversation on the LSE India WhatsApp group was around his association to the RSS,” they added.