JNU Students Union election: sedition, gender justice dominate campaign
As the Jawaharlal Nehru University prepares to vote in its next students union on 9 September, the ABVP is trying hard to cash in on the recent controversies on the campus. The student wing of the RSS faces an uphill task though, not least because the Left groups have managed to put up a sort of a united front - the next best scenario after a pan-Left alliance failed to materialise due to internal differences.
Not surprisingly, the talking points are the long festering sedition row and the most recent rape case against former AISA leader Anmol Ratan.
The All India Students Association (AISA), the largest group on the campus and the student wing of the CPI (ML) Liberation, has forged an alliance with the CPM-backed Students Federation of India (SFI) under the panel name 'Stand with JNU', a reference to the campaign in support of the JNU in the aftermath of the 9 February controversy that had led to the university being branded by some as a den of "anti-national" elements.
The CPI-backed All India Students Federation (AISF) of the outgoing JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar has not officially joined the Left front and is only providing outside support.
The AISF withdrew its candidate on Thursday, saying it had decided against contesting the election to prevent division of the Left vote. According to the AISF's statement, a pan-Left alliance could not take shape because of the "sectarian attitude" of AISA and the SFI.
Sources told Catch that the AISF and AISA-SFI fell out over the choice of the joint candidate for president. Apparently, the AISF did not want an AISA nominee for the ostensible reason that Anmol Ratan is a former president of AISA Delhi. AISA-SFI, on the other hand, did not want another AISF president for the second straight time.
Another major Left player on the campus, the Democratic Students Forum (DSF) - a breakaway faction of the SFI - was left out of the alliance for not supporting the other Left groups on many issues in the past.
The Left front has nominated Mohit Kumar Pandey of AISA for president.
Gender justice plank
The ABVP has nominated a woman for president, Janhawi Ojha, clearly to play the "gender justice" card in the wake of the rape case against Anmol Ratan. Indeed, Ojha has derided the 'Stand with JNU' front as 'Stand with Rapists'.
Although Ratan has been expelled from AISA, but at Thursday's press conference with all presidential candidates, the ABVP and other groups accused AISA of not sufficiently protesting against the rape as the accused was one of their own.
The ABVP also pointed out that at a general body meeting held earlier, all groups had been asked not to mention the rape case at the press conference.
Ojha and her spokesperson Saurabh Sharma, the former joint secretary who was the first ABVP member to be elected to the union in 14 years, also took up the cudgels on behalf of the cause of nationalism during their 10-minute speech, with references to China and the Naxalites.
Referring to the allegedly "seditious" 9 February protest and the rape case, they claimed the JNU had lately been in the limelight for the wrong reasons. Sharma was the main complainant in the sedition case.
In a separate interaction before the press conference, Sharma claimed the ABVP had "already" won the election. He said the fact that the Left groups were fighting together and not against each other for the first time was a testament to right-wing influence on the campus.
The JNU campus has traditionally been a Left stronghold, and students union elections have usually been direct contests between the far-Left and the more mainstream Leftist groups. The ABVP has won the presidency only once, in 2000 by Sandeep Mahapatra.
Mohit Kumar Pandey, who has roped in outgoing JNUSU vice president Shehla Rashid as spokesperson, spoke about preserving the democratic and secular character of universities. He referred to the unrest at FTII Pune, the Hyderabad Central University and the Aligarh Muslim University. Pandey also invoked the "institutional murder" of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula.
The other presidential candidates are Deelip Kumar of Students for Swaraj, which is backed by Yogendra Yadav, Sunny Dhiman of the Congress-backed National Students Union of India, and Sonpimple Rahul Punaram of the Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students Association. Sonpimple delivered an impressively passionate speech, appealing for social justice and anti-discrimination. He, along with Deelip and Sunny, attacked both the Right and the Left.
The outgoing JNUSU faced a difficult last six months, finding itself at the centre of the sedition row, which led to the registration of open FIRs against nearly 70 students and the arrest of three, including the union's president Kanhaiya Kumar. Kumar was among those accused of shouting "anti-India" slogans at the protest on 9 February.
Sixteen of the 21 students who were eventually found guilty of violating university norms by an internal inquiry committee, including the outgoing JNUSU general secretary Rama Naga of AISA, have been barred from voting in the impending election until they pay the fines imposed on them.