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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 40 New Delhi September 22, 2018

JNUSU Elections of 2018: National Defeat of Fascist Forces or Another Optical Illusion

Tuesday 25 September 2018

by Rushda Siddiqui

The Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ union elections of 2018 are over. The results are in and the country is witnessing something extremely historic. For the first time in the history of the JNU have elections been marred by days of drama and violence, and the country, particularly the former student community, is busy amalging the implications of the elections and the results. Now the issues facing the student are: how important were the elections and to what extent should we be gloating about the defeat of the Right-wing student bodies. The ABVP has not given up on its claim to the campus. They are continuing with their agenda of violence and beating up students. As usual, the police is cowing down to political pressure and taking the side of the criminals over the victims. In the parlance of the police and the JNU administration, being Left or anti-ABVP is a bigger crime than being rapists, killers or simply goondas.

As soon as the elections started that the Right-wing ABVP would suffer a defeat was given. As the cases against Prof Atul Johri began to gain strength, the loss of the only stronghold of the party too was ensured. The JNU has proven time and again that scientific education or achievements do not automatically translate into a larger understanding of the human social order. Dogmatism, superstition and othering on grounds of religion, race, class or even gender are not the exclusive domains of the illiterate or other stereotypical groups. One can be a brilliant scientist and still be a misogynist, racially discriminating, patriarchal feudal and disconnected with the idea of social well-being. Over decades the university offered social science alternatives and awareness to the scientists, but with limited success. The events of 2017 and the electoral results of 2018 changed that. It was not easy for women scientists, who were supporters of the Right-wing ideology, to realise that their ideology will not deliver justice. A sustained awareness campaign about gender, caste and communal justice has made an impact that is visible in the election results.

The elections of 2018, however, will go down in history for very unusual reasons. Before I delve into the reasons, it needs to be made very clear that the university has been an integral part of the country’s political and administrative changes. It has supported movements for environmental controls, mainstreaming of the marginalised, gender equality, caste or communal justice among others. The university has been at the forefront of seeking education for the most backward regions and people of the country and has constantly demanded educational reforms to foster quality and outreach of education. From 2014 the university gained new notoriety for being the last place where the fascist Right-wing government’s policies could succeed. It has stood its ground and countered violence by the ABVP goons or administrative arms-twisting. All resistance and movements have been non-violent. From sitting outside the VC’s office to holding talks on Nationalism or classes in open compounds, the university is all about digging heels and seeking democratic solutions.

This elections, however, witnessed a level of violence and police presence that was unprecedented. Never in the history of the JNU have elections been marred by violence. The university had set a precedent of fighting elections through posters, debates, public meetings and, most importantly, individual engagement. Disagreements between the Right and the Left or any other ideology have always been present, but they were never bloody enough to allow for external security agencies to enter the campus. This year, the Election Commission was held hostage, the office of the students’ union was damaged, and lumpens from outside the campus were called to create an environment whereby the elections would be cancelled. There was a standoff lasting hours, but, true to the JNU’s character, the students sat down till the goons left the field and allowed the counting to be resumed.

This brings us to the second and most important development, that of the electoral process. Days after the university polls of Delhi, that used EVMs and machinery that had been employed at the recent State-level elections, the JNU stuck to the old-fashioned paper ballot. The results are for all to see. The DU saw the larger crowds of the NSUI losing to the ABVP, and the JNU saw a complete routing of the same party (ABVP) to a coalition of the Left parties. This is evidentiary proof that if the EVMs are continued as an election tool in 2019, the results may allow the non-popular party to win comfortably. The hypothesis put forward by successive university elections was validated by the JNU. Wherever the elections were held via the ballot paper, the ABVP lost by a sizeable margin. This was first tested in Punjab and then Rajasthan. Delhi opted for EVMs and gave a comfortable win to the ABVP. The JNU reverted to the paper ballots and routed the Right-wing.

The most significant aspect of the 2018 elections of the JNUSU was the growth in the strength and credibility of the BAPSA (Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students Union). This party has every element of being reactionary, uncon-ventional and political incorrectness to call the Right-wingers casteist, communal, misogynist and country-wreckers, without any sugar-coating. Since 2014 their narrative has been of uniting the marginalised from all political parties, social and economic or even gendered spaces. They do not subscribe to the traditional Left forums or ideas, but have evolved their own ideology that looks to the Marxist idea of equitable re-distribution of resources, atheism and justice alongwith the ideas of Indian subaltern leaders from Birsa Munda to Ambedkar. Their platform is not just to fight the fascist Right, but to safeguard the India that is enshrined in the Constitution. Their first councillor won the elections this year, debuting in the School of Arts and Aesthetics.

Though the party is only four years old, BAPSA has proved to be the most effective party to cut the ABVP votes and support-bases. The latter has been trying to point out that the BAPSA lost in vote-share, but they fail to point out that whatever little gains the BAPSA made has been at the expense of the Right-wingers and not the Left party votes. If the ABVP was routed in the science schools, it had more to do with the anti-BJP/ABVP campaigns of the BAPSA rather than with any other factor. The subalterns are here to stay: is one of the key messages of the 2018 JNU elections.

The JNUSU elections of 2018 may be over, but new options for the rest of the country are opening up. The idea of a combined Opposition to defeat the fascist Sangh ideology is already gaining currency. The possibility of rigging elections in 2019 through the EVMs is being voiced loudly, as is the need to counter fraudulent electoral practices. The elections have shown that violence, injustice and corruption can be fought with sheer grit and determination.

The electoral and post-election violence is also showing the world the history of violence and the attempted coercive takeover of the campus. The JNU was always the beacon of hope for the marginalised and deprived. With the coming to power of the current Modi Government in 2014, the campus is being violently destroyed. There is a suppression of intellect by recruiting teachers and students whose main aim is violence. The administration has time and again tried to impose strictures on debates, public meetings, hostel timings and student activities. The coercion has been on all fronts, economic, political and social. There has been enforcement of unpopular institutions like the ICC by repealing the GSCASH.

But it is the student violence that has been most marked. From making a man disappear to openly issuing death threats and beating fellow students outside the police station today, the ABVP has been brazen about its political ambition. It has shown that its political ideology has nothing to do with education. The objective is to capture power, more by crook than by hook. It has the blessings of the administration and the political party in power. Legitimacy or mandate is not what the party seeks, just power. This is what the country will have to deal with on a much larger scale if the BJP returns to power in 2019.

The author is a free-lance social science researcher, member of the National Federation of Indian Women and a former student of the Jawaharlal Nehru University.

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