Jai Bheem louder than Lal Salaam

Uplift of the oppressed isseen as a worthy cause on JNU campus
Uplift of the oppressed is seen as a worthy cause on JNU campus

Gone are the days when Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University was considered a red bastion, where there was political monopoly of the communists.” This statement of Rahul Sonpimple, the BAPSA (Birsa Ambedkar Phule Student Association) presidential candidate might seem a little incongruous in light of the fact that the united Left managed to win all the four seats of the central panel in student body election of the university.

But to understand the nuances of the claim that Rahul is making, one has to take a closer look at the election results. And the pre-poll dramatics, where the All India Students Association joined hands with its arch rival, the Students Federation of India.

This coalition between the two rivals on the campus changed the very course and nature of the elections, from slogans to new political discourses. The cry ‘Ayi Ayi SFI’ was expanded to ‘Ayi Ayi AISA-SFI’ (‘Victory to SFI’ to ‘Victory to AISA-SFI’), contest between the soft and radical Left was shifted to a close contest between the Right and the Left on a campus where the Right was an 
insignificant force till recently.

As election approached, a new force emerged on campus: the two-year-old BAPSA led by its charismatic presidential candidate Rahul Sonpimple. His fiery speech at the presidential debate, where he presented a critique of Right and Left on campus, won much applause. He was taken as a serious contender for the post of president. However, the Left never accepted this and continued to campaign that ABVP was its main rival, even for the post of president. Leaders of BAPSA believe that this was done deliberately by the Left to arouse fear among the minorities and other groups who are hostile to the saffron outfit.

‘The Left created a binary of ABVP vs Left, which was absolutely farcical. The real contest was between BAPSA and Left, which is very much visible from the  final results’

Talking to Tehelka, Rahul says, “This Left unity was not of only two forces but of the entire Left student group on the campus. They vociferously campaigned that their contest was against ABVP and not BAPSA. This was exactly the manner in which so-called secular parties win minority votes in the elections at national and state level by arousing fear of the BJP coming to power.”

He explains, “The Left created a binary of ABVP vs Left, which was absolutely a farce. The real contest was between me and Mohit Pandey, at least for the post of president, and which is very much visible from the final results. I lost by a small margin. This indicates a change of politics on the campus. We have won huge support from all sections of students and the time is not far when the unity of oppressed led by the oppressed people themselves will win JNUSU too.”

To understand Rahul’s claim, one needs to have a closer look at the final statistics of the election results. For the post of president, BAPSA bagged 1,488 votes against 1,815 of the AISA-SFI combine, minus AISF (All India Students Federation) which did not contest the election, again for the sake of Left unity. Janhavi of the ABVP, on the other hand, polled 1,017 votes.

In fact, votes against the Left were much more than votes polled in its favour. Looking at the last year’s results, total votes polled in favour of the Left was above 2,000, including the share of all the three major Left parties on the campus. It dipped to 1,815 this year after an alliance was forged between them. ABVP also saw an increase in its vote share for the post of president from last year. However, it performed poorly for other posts in the current election in comparison with its performance last year. Despite this, it managed to be in second position on two seats of the central panel, where earlier the contest used to be between AISA and other Left parties.

All this definitely indicates that there are cracks developing in the vote bank of Left parties in JNU and students on the campus are exploring other options. The Left realises this, which is why it came together in these elections, brushing aside internal differences.

AISA, which rose to prominence in the university in the backdrop of atrocities committed by CPI(M), SFI’s parent party in Singur and Nandigram, eventually joined hands with it to contest the elections together. Detractors of the Left believe that had this alliance not taken place, the Left would have been defeated badly in these elections.

Jahnavi, presidential candidate for the ABVP, asserts that it is only because of the ‘opportunistic’ alliance between AISA and SFI that Left Unity stood victorious. Had they not contested the elections together, there was no chance of their emerging victorious.

“We are satisfied with the results; we have performed better than last year on the post of president. Besides, our candidates have emerged second on two other posts. This indicates our growing influence on the campus. We are pretty sure that sooner or later, we will wipe out the Left from the campus.”

All this indicates a discernable trend: the Left is losing its historical grip on JNU. It might have won all the four central panels but its influence on campus is declining with every passing year. There are new forces which are filling this vacuum, like BAPSA emerging as a new alternative. Organisations like SIO (Student Islamic Organization of India) which has supported Left in the past have extended their support to BAPSA this time.

Many progressive students have come out in support of this new outfit owing to the fact the BAPSA has refused to identify itself as an outfit which is only Dalit-centric. It has been outspoken for the cause of women, homosexuals, Muslims and other oppressed communities.

Students critical of SFI’s politics have also shifted their loyalties towards BAPSA as AISA joined hands with SFI.

Asim, a student at the University told Tehelka, “I voted for BAPSA this time. It is time that we the oppressed communities become our own leaders and not merely stand in solidarity with upper caste Brahmin leaders. BAPSA is an organisation whose leadership rests with the oppressed.”

Another BAPSA supporter takes a jibe at how the Left forgot Ambedkar right after it won the elections. He says, “Their slogan of Jai Bheem and Lal salaam seems to have vanished all of a sudden. The truth is Left can never come to terms with the Ambedkarite school of thought and it’s only because of electoral compulsions that Left tries to appropriate Ambedkar.”

When Tehelka tried to speak to the new elected president, AISA’s Mohit Pandey to respond to these allegations, he refused to speak. Like a veteran politician, he said that he was busy with Left Unity victory celebrations.

Another member of AISA Tara Shankar says the alliance with SFI was only in the larger interest of the JNU. It was formed to ensure that ABVP does not emerge victorious on campus and that their differences and debates with SFI will persist as before. Nevertheless, there were also those who criticised BAPSA for its sectarian tendencies, these people believe that unless the organisation does not stop looking at anyone and everyone belonging to an upper caste as Savarna, it won’t be able to expand its base.

Commenting on the defeat of BAPSA, Umar Khalid, who was booked on charges of sedition explains, “Whatever support BAPSA got in the campus was the reflection of Dalit upsurge across the country but it was BAPSA’s own political sectarianism which led to its defeat. How can they raise slogans like this, Lal Sanghi ek hain sare comrade fake hain (Leftists and RSS followers are the same, all comrades are fake.) This negative politics will never fetch them positive results on this campus.”

Clearly, JNU politics is opening itself to new prospects. It wouldn’t be inappropriate to say that the privilege of mass support enjoyed by the Left in JNU cannot be easily retained in the long run.