Much of the opprobrium the word politics has increasingly acquired in its definitional character is because people take it as a combination of cynicism, scepticism, and mistrust. Politics as an human activity is somehow getting associated with self-seeking hypocritical behaviour evoking immediate disdain against politicians, who are seen as selling ‘policy packages’ to those who might otherwise consume it elsewhere. It is for this reason, that students entering universities for higher education are coaxed to reject the world of students’ movements and politics by their parents and patrons.
Nevertheless, when students join university or college they find themselves getting sucked, quite eerily, into the political slugfest of student unions and elections. They also find that their interests about their own well-being in the campus life is articulated by one group or another backed by political parties of all hues. Student union elections held in the universities, supposedly to lead students’ movements, illustrates as to how students shape up their political-ideological groundings and collective actions.
In the recently held student union elections, this month itself, at the Delhi University (DU) and the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), what can be inferred from its outcome is that there is a rise of radical left politics in both the campuses, though for different reasons as far as specifics are concerned. In general, moreover, the decline of principal left groups opened up the space for the radical ideologues amongst the left.
For the first time in the history of Delhi University Student Union (DUSU) elections, the radical ultra-left group called All India Students’ Association (AISA) – the student wing of CPI (ML) Liberation – garnered over 8000 votes, double than the last year, and emerged as a strong third alternative, the other two being Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and National Student’s Union Of India (NSUI). The emergence of AISA as an important player in DUSU politics has unnerved many, particularly DU administration, and has given hope to some for its capacity to fervently engage in the sharp contestations of political discourse at the university level. Even, in fact, in the Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA) elections, held a couple of weeks before DUSU elections, large number of teachers voted and elected the leader of the left backed Democratic Teachers Front (DTF). So, the overall tilt seems to be towards left amongst teachers and students. Some of the reasons, quite specific to the university, that maybe attributed to such tilt are to be found in the recent steps taken by the university administration such as introduction of Four Year Undergraduate Programme (FYUP) and doing away with prestigious honours course, deployment of large number of police personnel across university’s north campus, near complete negligence towards improving the infrastructural facilities, and sharp increase in admission fees under different heads of expenditure. However, the game changer was the referendum carried by AISA against FYUP that got approved by the thumping majority of students.
In JNU, the election discourse is articulated keeping in mind the larger vision of rejecting the socio-economic structure that is oppressive, domestic or international. The local problems and demands get embedded in this larger vision. For instance, AISA fought elections this year on the larger plank of making JNU more socially inclusive and affordable, strengthening social movements across nation and at the global level fighting imperialism, issues of secularism, feminism and so on. The local issues, among many, such as more facilities to students, proper scholarships for longer period, better student-friendly administration was all part of larger vision of social transformation that this group envisaged. AISA won the entire major four central panel seats of JNU Students Union (JNUSU) defeating the major left contender from Student Federation of India (SFI) split group called Democratic Student Federation (DSF). Keen observers of JNUSU elections say that the split in SFI and the breakaway group doing well, and the resultant split in votes have favoured AISA for its impressive win. With this, both in DU and JNU, it is being increasingly visible that the left leaning groups can’t be easily dismissed. Rather, there is all possibility that if the radical left group continue to closely engage, as they are doing now in, with the students in the political discourse concerning issues about which the students think obliquely, they might start winning the posts from next DU elections.
To pick up these two universities in delhi, i.e. DU and JNU, as a case study, the question of increasing presence of ultra-left and the subsequent decline of mainstream left students’ group need to be focussed on. There has been a general set-back to the mainstream left parties since last parliamentary elections, and even at the state levels. These party’s ideological positions seem to be shifting more towards the centre and in the process they are creating space for the extreme left-wing parties to fill that space. They are doing this in anticipation of expanding mass base and in order to tackle the real issues bequeathed to the third world nations by the forces of globalisation. The land question, for instance, of Nandigram and Singur in West Bengal. But for the supporters of these parties, it is amounting to dilution of the party position and therefore they are also shifting their position sideways. This inevitably has affected the student union elections, particularly of JNU. Not only there is shift in the voters’ mass base of the mainstream left parties but also there is a palpable confusion in voters’ mind in engaging with the real issues with left perspective. The very split in SFI rank and file at JNU explains the present mainstream left humdrum.
Student politics, student union election and student movements are deeply connected. With the demographic dividend in terms of youth in India, it is all the more important that the student politics must shape movements seeking full citizenship and social transformation. DU and JNU student politics are seen to be doing that, but in their own way.
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Image Source: AISA Sweeps JNU Polls