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Left strengthens hold on HCU as Rohith Vemula's death casts a long shadow

A Saye Sekhar | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:47 IST

A year on from his suicide, Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula is still a strong undercurrent in the embattled Hyderabad Central University, but he's not really an electoral issue.

The university saw acrimony, attacks, court cases and bad blood between the groups that polarised in favour of and against the administration over the past year.

The victory of the United Front for Social Justice (UFSJ) in the student union election on Wednesday was a statement that the campus remains a stronghold of the Left.

Also Read: What killed Hyderabad university Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula?

The victorious Left groups asserted that there would be no let-up in their campaign against the vice chancellor Appa Rao Podile and the ruling class that's espousing his cause.

Kuldeep Sing Nagi of the UFSJ, who was voted president, told Catch that the new students union would continue to fight for justice for Rohith.

Rohith, agonising over the humiliation meted out to him and a few other Dalit students, committed suicide in January this year. The university has since witnessed high-decibel politics and a series of incidents with political overtones.

Time has partly healed the HCU campus though some issues, and a lot of heartburn, continue to simmer. The Left continues to dominate the student politics. Assertions that the growing strength of the ABVP would result in an electoral bumper harvest did not prove true, though the right-wingers remain a force to reckon with.

The Ambedkar Students Association (ASA), which yearned to enthrone its nominee as president, tested the waters on its own and is now gloating that it emerged as the single largest student group sans any alliances.

The campus was in the hands of the ABVP and its supporters for over five years till 2010, but has since been kept at bay by the Leftists.

Red wave

Kuldeep Nagi, who secured 1,406 votes against 1,354 for Gopal Krishna of the AVBP-OBCA combine, was elected the president, while UFSJ's Bhukya Sunder became the vice-president, taking 1,701 votes against Aditya of AVBP-OBCA, who took 1,405.

Suman Damera of the UFSJ became the general secretary by securing 1,842 votes against Anand Rao of ABVP-OBCA, who got 1,503. Pilli Vijay Kumar, who got 1,557 votes against 1,351 for Ajit of ABVP-OBCA became the joint secretary. The posts of cultural secretary and sports secretary also went to the UFSJ.

Also Read: Why BJP supporters are in a hurry to paint Rohith Vemula as anti-national

The ABVP-OBCA alliance offered stiff opposition, not least because the non-ABVP vote was split as the ASA and the NSUI contested some posts. But the ABVP's hold on the student politics has surely withered away.

The UFSJ was formed last year, with the Students Federation of India, Dalit Students Union, Tribal Students Federation, Telengana Vidhayrthi Vedika and Bahujan Students Front as its partners.

This election was in the spotlight thanks to the multitude of high-voltage disturbances that have embroiled the HCU over the last nine months.

"Hopefully, with this result, the students have in a way told the outside world to leave them alone. And the academic work and career aspirations of a majority of students shall finally prevail over the political one-upmanship of vested interests," said Karri Sriram, the popular columnist and author of the bestseller An Autobiography of a Mad Nation.

Former students union president Venkatesh Chowhan of the UFSJ told Catch that the verdict had only enhanced the responsibility of the Left groups. He dedicated the victory to students of the HCU and Rohith Vemula.

The union, apart from addressing common issues of students regarding the mess, food, campus atmosphere, academics, health centre facilities, internet, would continue to fight against the prevalent discrimination on the basis of caste, class and religion, Chowhan said. He added that they would continue their stir until the Rohith Act is enacted. The proposed legislation would help ensure safety of Dalit students on campuses.

Chowhan said the election result reaffirmed the confidence of the HCU's students in the Left. He said the new body would "avenge" the humiliation meted out to the media, Dalit students, some teachers and intellectuals at the entrance to the university. He alleged that vice chancellor Appa Rao Podile was throttling the voices of dissent.

On their own

Ramjee, president of the ASA, said they had discussed the possibility of an "adjustment" with the UFSJ. The ASA had proposed that its candidate Vijay Kumar, who had been suspended along with Rohith, be fielded for the post of president, but the "equations within the UFSJ" came in the way. The UFSJ partners could not agree to leave the seat to the ASA, following which the Ambedkarite group went it alone, and secured over 900 votes.

Had the UFSJ agreed to join hands with his group, Ramjee said, it would have sent a strong message to governments and the people that the anti-right wing forces were coming together, and the injustice and humiliation meted out to Rohith and other Dalit students could have been "avenged" to some extent. Still, Ramjee said, the ASA was ready to work with the UFSJ on all issues.

"We are always against right-wing forces. The entire campus was shocked that the ASA could do so well in this election. In the period after Rohith's death, there was utter chaos on the campus. We felt that it was an opportunity to regroup all our people. Everybody started working together for Vijay. It was Rohith's dream," said Ramjee. "We put up a strong fight in the election and are now the single largest association on the campus."

Chowhan confirmed that seat adjustments with the ASA could not be worked out as commitments made to alliance partners that had to be fulfilled.

Karan Palsaniya, president of the ABVP at HCU, said that despite losing the election, his group increased its vote share. In fact, he said the ABVP's votes went up by over 500 for nearly every position it contested. "Why did all the groups get together to fight the ABVP, if we are not strong?" he asked.

Palsaniya asserted that the Rohith's suicide and its fallout did not cast a shadow on the ABVP and its prospects.

The ramifications of this election, in which over 3,500 students voted, aren't difficult to foresee. Essentially, the knotty issues remain entangled, while the chasm between the students and the university's administration has widened.

Also Read: ABVP is casteist, anti-Dalit and anti-women: former JNU unit vice president


A post-doctoral fellow in Philosophy from IIT-Bombay V Sunkanna refused to accept the award of his PhD from UoH Vice Chancellor at the 18th convocation of the university on Saturday. Sunkanna was among the five Dalit scholars, along with Rohith Vemula, expelled from the university last year by the VC.

Sunkanna told the VC on the convocation dais that he would rather prefer to accept his PhD from a clerk than from Professor Appa Rao. The VC stepped aside and had the Pro Vice Chancellor Vipin Srivastava present the award. The brief deafening silence was broken by the lusty cheers of students when Sunkanna received his PhD.

Sunkanna said he did not want to accept the award from a person who was the prime accused in Rohith's case and asserted that "our fight would continue".

First published: 1 October 2016, 10:36 IST