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Mainstream, VOL L, No 40, September 22, 2012

JNU Speaks the Language of Lenin: Analysing JNU Student Union Elections

Friday 28 September 2012



‘We elected our Comrade Lenin of 21st century.’ These words are echoing from every corner of the Jawaharlal Nehru University. The campus is celebrating the glorious victory of V. Lenin Kumar in the Students Union (JNUSU) elections. Elections in the JNU have always been a dynamic affair; students call it a ‘festival of competing ideologies’. Not only the Left but the Right-wing ideological forces also continue to maintain their vote-bank on the campus. Independent (non-party) voices are given ample space in this election. However, a radical Leftist group—SFR (Students for Resistance)—boycotted this election because of their anti-Lyngdoh stand. Some students have also formed a Facebook group called ‘Students Against Lyngdoh’ to expose the Left’s ‘opportunistic politics’. Amidst all of this, the JNU remains at its core a Leftist campus with diverse brands of Left groups such as Moderate, Radical, Ultra, Progressive, Democratic and Revolutionary Left. Each group is in competition to prove itself a ‘real Left’ or ‘real red’.

This election was remarkable in many ways. This is the first time in the history of the JNUSU that a student, expelled by his political party, managed to capture the post of President on the most vibrant campus in India. In July 2012, the Communist Party of India-Marxist charged four student leaders with indiscipline and expelled them from the Students Federation of India (SFI). V. Lenin Kumar was one of those expelled students who formed a new group called SFI-JNU. This new group soared ahead defeating the ‘official SFI’ with a margin of 1338 votes. Last year’s winner, ‘All India Student Association’ (AISA) lost the presidential seat this time by a margin of 212 votes but garnered all three central panel posts. Another precedent in the history of the JNU student politics is that all of the four central panel seats are clinched by Dalit, OBC and Muslim candidates. The also explains the changing pattern of selecting candidates.

The strategic alliance of the SFI-JNU with the AISF (All India Students Federation) not only caused the paralysing defeat of the ‘official SFI’ but also helped this alliance to grab five Councilor seats. Its slogan ‘Dakshin Panth Apnaoge to Lenin se Takraoge’ worked as a reaction to the South Indian politics of the ‘official SFI’. Hailing from South India and addressing the majority of North Indian Hindi-speaking students in the presidential speech, Lenin remarked: I know only one language—the language of movement. The presi-dential speech in the JNU is one of the deciding factors of a candidate’s victory. The remarkable bi-lingual speech by Lenin mesmerised the new students. The AISA’s presidential candidate, Om Prasad, was a new face compared to Lenin’s five years of grounded experience on the campus as an activist.

In general, there is an ‘anti-Left’ wave on the campus which denotes only ‘official SFI’ due to the present situation of their parent party CPM in India. However, at the national level, people have rejected Leftist politics but at the same time, the JNU has always been a place of the Radical Left. Since 2006, the SFI was losing its base due of their silence on Nandigram, Singur and separate Telangana issues. In this period, the AISA emerged as a radical force and showed a tremendous growth on the campus since the last six years. The result of the present election shows that the JNU-SFI is now ready to add a new tone to this radicalism.

Students have mandated for pro-reservation and anti-capitalism. Once again, the champion of the anti-reservation movement, Youth for Equality (YFE), faced a significant defeat in this election with the exception of their victory in one Councilor seat in the School of Life Sciences. In the last election in February 2012, they suffered a crippling loss and disbanded themselves on the campus. However, in this election their appearance was indeed surprising. The All India Backward Students Forum (AIBSF)’s presidential candidate, Vinay Kumar, revealed the fact that the Left is ruling this campus since the last 42 years but it never thought to fulfil faculty reservation. He presented current statistics on the JNU faculty, position’s showing no faculty in the JNU under the OBC quota. The National Students Union of India (NSUI) and Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarathi Parishad (ABVP) also favoured the implementation of OBC reservation as their main agenda.

An independent presidential candidate, Abhay Mishra, who secured the third position in this election, criticised the Left as the ‘Opportunist and Casteist Left’. His appeal to students to vote for ‘radical politics’ and support the organising of the ‘Beef and Pork’ festival is also part of this radicalism which challenges the dominant culture and tradition on campus. The nature and language of campus politics has changed gradually over the last decade. One cannot be considered radical without using words like Jaatiwad, Brahmanwad, or Manuvaad. From Left to Right, every single party is using Ambedkar, Periyar, Phule and Bhagat Singh as their icon. The caste factor is seeping into every ideology and each year new groups are formed on the basis of this identity.

A Lesson for Political Parties

USUALLY, student wings on university campuses side with the decision of their parent political party. Most of the time, political parties ignore the intricacies of the campus politics. Students are more accountable to their ideological commitment because they share the same space and similar problems in other words they share the same status on campus.

Unlike mainstream politics, students politics work in a more ideological and passionate manner. For instance, an active SFI group of JNU, which was ruling the campus since 1971, started losing its base in 2006; lost all panel seats in 2007 and in February 2012. Following the order of their parent party, the SFI could not take any ideological stand on the Singur and Nandigram incidents in Bengal. Similarly, it remained silent when every other student body was demons-trating in favour of ‘separate Telangana’.

Finally, the silence broke in July 2012, when the SFI unit of the JNU (four students including Lenin) criticised their parent party, the CPM’s decision of favouring Pranab Mukherjee’s candidature for the post of the President of India. In retaliation, the students were expelled by the party. It was not just the JNU students; rather many other Left leaders such as the SFI Delhi State Secretary, Robert Rehman Raman, party spokesman Prasenjit Bose, and Albeena Shakil, the former JNUSU President, also resigned against their party’s decision. At this juncture, the JNU students perceive Lenin’s victory as a victory of all those individual voices against their party’s undemocratic behaviour. His victory gives hope that student wings can break the traditional image of being pawns on a chess-board.

The author is a Research Scholar, Zakir Husain Centre for Educational Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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