Mohd. Firoz (EL), Ravi Prakash(L), Abhishek(R), Sucheta(ER)
After a gap of four years, Jawaharlal Nehru University students voted on March 1 to elect their union, and the verdict could not have been more emphatic in favour of AISA, the flag-bearer of radical student politics in the campus. For the second successive term, AISA candidates swept the central panel, and for the first time AISA also secured a clear majority in the council, its candidates dominating the three biggest centres accounting for the largest number of students in the campus.
In the President’s post, Sucheta De from AISA polled 2102 votes – probably the highest ever by a JNUSU candidate – defeating her nearest contender, Zico Dasgupta from SFI (who got 751 votes) with a colossal margin of 1351 votes. In the Vice President’s post, Abhishek Kumar Yadav from AISA polled 1997 votes, defeating Anagha Ingole from SFI who got 1357 votes. In the post of General Secretary, Ravi Prakash of AISA polled 1908 votes as against the AISF candidate Durgesh Tripathi who got 989 votes. For the post of Joint Secretary, AISA’s Mohd. Firoz Ahamed polled 1778 votes, as against Mohd. Altamash from SFI who got 1199 votes. The candidates from Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) – affiliated to the Hindutva-majoritarian outfit RSS and the BJP party – polled a distant third on most posts.
On one level, the outcome of the JNUSU election may be seen as just yet another corroboration of the well-known and deeply entrenched Left tradition of the JNU campus. For the last two decades AISA has had a fairly prominent presence in JNU, winning as many as seven presidential elections since its first historic rise in 1993. If it was the SFI-AISF combine which dominated the campus in the 1970s and 1980s, it is AISA which has been the main contender since the 1990s; and over the last several years AISA has also succeeded in reinforcing its ideological-political influence with adequate organisational network and sustained initiatives on every major issue that mattered for the students.
But if we look at the outcome in the context of the ongoing neo-liberal assault on and restructuringof higher education and the developing political situation in the country, the victory clearly sends out a much bigger message than a mere reiteration of JNU’s traditional preference for the Left. The arena of higher education has been witnessing massive commercialisation making it increasingly impossible for students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds to receive quality education or pursue careers of their choice. This implicit pro-rich and elitist bias is now being sought to be reinforced by a targeted truncation of campus democracy and student participation in politics.
In the past four years, JNUSU elections were stayed by the Supreme Court, on the pretext that JNU’s democratic method of elections (conducted fully by students without administrative interference) violated the recommendations of the Supreme Court-appointed Lyngdoh Committee. The Lyngdoh norms and suspension of elections for the past four years was a deliberate ploy on part of the ruling establishment to foster depoliticisation among JNU students.
Indeed, the stay on elections had led to disarray and passivity among other student groups in JNU. AISA, though, had remained very active – mobilising students in several landmark struggles in this period, in spite of there being no elected JNUSU. Key struggles in recent times, in which AISA played a leading role, include a sustained struggle against the Lyngdoh recommendations; a massive agitation against attempts to commercialise various facilities like electricity and levy ‘user charges’; a long and successful struggle resulting in a landmark Supreme Court verdict with national implications, correcting the faulty definition of ‘cut-off’ marks in implementation of quotas for Other Backward Classes; and a successful struggle for recognition of madarsa certificates in JNU admissions.
AISA has also campaigned and mobilised students in large numbers to challenge the UPA Government’s package of education-related legislation that are a blueprint of privatisation. Hundreds of JNU students participated in AISA’s August 2011 barricade at Parliament Street against corruption and corporate plunder. AISA in JNU stood in solidarity with people’s movements at Jagatsinghpur against the POSCO steel plant, at Jaitapur and Koodankulam against nuclear plants, and mobilised students against the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act, communal violence, against state repression, fake encounters and custodial killings in the North East, Kashmir, forest areas, and other parts of the country.
AISA’s re-election in 2012 is therefore a resounding rebuff to the attempts to depoliticise JNU and weaken the student movement, and an overwhelming indication of students’ support for AISA’s political agenda and initiatives. It is a befitting reply to those in the media and ruling establishment who spell the ‘end of ideology’ and decline of support for the Left among young people. It is significant that the emphatic mandate for AISA has effectively marginalised every rightwing trend in student politics, be it the RSS-affiliated ABVP, the pro-Congress NSUI or the anti-reservation platform Youth for Equality. The mandate is also a strong rejection by students of the Lyngdoh recommendations that attempt to strangle campus democracy.
The election of the JNUSU coincided on the one hand with the Assembly elections in the five states of Punjab, Uttarakhand, Manipur, Goa and Uttar Pradesh and the February 28 all-India industrial and rural strike called by trade unions and agricultural labour organisations. The AISA campaign in JNU, which clearly marked the leading voice in JNUSU election, effectively combined the immediate concerns of JNU students with the democratic demands and aspirations of the people joining the February 28 strike and participating in these Assembly elections. The campaign pulsated with the spirit of the growing popular resistance to corporate land-grab and illegal mining, mega scams and rampant loot of development funds, and repressive steps like Operation Greenhunt and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act that are propelling the Indian state’s war on human rights.
The mandate for AISA also meant a clear rejection of SFI/CPI(M) in the celebrated citadel of Leftwing student politics. After West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, JNU is known as the fourth key bastion of the CPI(M). In 2007 in the wake of Singur and Nandigram, JNU had rejected the SFI/CPI(M) attempt to defend the indefensible. As the CPI(M) gets ready for its 20th Congress, it is quite clear that the CPI(M) remains adamant and refuses to acknowledge the disgrace it has brought to the glorious history of communist-led peasant movement in the country and learn any real lesson from the debacle it has suffered in West Bengal. The JNU verdict clearly suggests that the CPI(M)’s own ranks, let alone the broader intelligentsia, remain unconvinced and critical of the CPI(M) leadership’s arrogant refusal to acknowledge its basic mistakes.
It is indeed inspiring to note that while the corporate media have been busy peddling the likes of Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav as youth icons for the new generation, the student community in JNU has reiterated its overwhelming commitment to the legacy of Bhagat Singh and Chandrasekhar. AISA commits itself to consolidate the gains and use this mandate to strengthen and radicalise the student-youth movement and forge stronger links with the broader democratic movement in the country. That can be the only true tribute to the legacy of Bhagat Singh, modern India’s greatest youth icon, and our very own Chandrasekhar who was killed simply because he tried to connect the student radicalism of JNU to the peasant militancy in Bihar. In the days to come, AISA must and will march on.