This is how the ‘Left Unity’ alliance won JNU Students Union elections.
Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) is a Left-hegemonic campus, which has been wrongly presented as a hub of democracy. The Left-hegemony in the campus is not natural, it began as a result of the unsaid compromise between the Congress (I) and communists in late 1960s when it was decided that the Congress would be the face of the political leadership while the communists would set up political and academic-cultural agenda. Except for few small phases of interruptions, this compromise has run smooth till now.
The swift decision of Rahul Gandhi to stand with the JNU’s Left after the infamous anti-national sloganeering in the campus is a testimony of the continuation of that compromise. Although, the capacity of the JNU brand of Left to produce fresh agendas in an effective way has decreased a lot, but still the political consultant and speech writer of Rahul Gandhi is one Sandeep Singh who is an ex- JNU Students' Union president from Left.
Contrary to the image of being anti-establishment, the Indian Left in general and JNU’s Left in particular has always been the part of the establishment. Taking advantage of this privilege, the first generation of Left teachers and administrators in the university designed the appointment and recruitment processes in such a way that would always reproduce the Left’s hegemony in the JNU.
The conventions developed and installed by the first generation comrades were aimed at maintaining the Left hegemony all through, including, even in those hours when the direct support from the state to Left’s politics was unavailable. Unlike the other universities, the elections in JNU see no role of the university administration. Even after the implementation of Lyngdoh Committee recommendations in 2006-07, the JNU follows JNUSU constitution except in four specific regards.
One uniqueness of JNU is the institution of election committee which is a body constituted by the students to conduct elections for JNU Students’ Union. Election Committee finds mention in the article 18 of the JNUSU constitution. It is very interesting to analyse the manner in which the members in this committee are admitted. Article 18(3) of JNUSU constitution reads as “Every member of the election committee must have the approval of the 2/3 of the student council” and in the same clause it has been given that approval of the members to election committee will be mediated through the student council i.e JNUSU.
The high threshold of 2/3 simply suggests that the outgoing JNUSU would have a dominating say in deciding over whom all shall go into election committee and whom not. This arrangement in itself is highly questionable, especially in the view of the fact that Left organisations were unchallenged in the initial decades of JNU politics and the chain of favourable nominations to EC has very much been maintained by them.
For a long time the student politics in JNU was an ‘internal game’ between ‘different shades of red’. The ‘free-thinkers’, who emerged in 70s and disappeared in 80s, challenged the Left electorally. But, they lacked the necessary organisation and ideological pitching to challenge Left-hegemony in JNU. The NSUI was always a marginal player mostly because of the Congress’s reluctance to counter Left in academic campuses. The challenge to Left emerged with the establishment and rise of ABVP in early 1990s. The second half of 1990s witnessed a neck and neck competition between Left organisations and ABVP, with ABVP successfully snatching its maiden victory at the president’s post in 2000.
It took an alliance of Students' Federation of India (SFI) and All India Students Association (AISA), the two biggest Left organisations in JNU, to dethrone the ABVP. Gradually, the ABVP too became a marginal player in the campus for over a decade, only to re-emerge as a single largest organisation in 2016, when it forced SFI and AISA to again form an alliance against it.
The ‘Left Unity’, a popular term for the alliance of Left organisations, now includes all the four major Left organisations of the JNU campus. In the last four years, another organisation Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students Association (BAPSA) has also emerged, which is mainly constituted by ex-cadres of the Left. BAPSA claims to stand for the Dalit and Muslim interests, after a promising start in 2015-16, BAPSA has started to wane due to the structural limitations of its politics.
Today, for the first time, the politics in JNU is sharply divided between two divergent worldviews. ‘Left Unity’ is head-to-head with the ABVP. In these circumstances, the ‘rules of the game’ as established by the Left over the years are proving out to be very helpful for the ‘Left Unity’ against the ABVP. The recently concluded elections for JNUSU 2018-19, whose results were announced on Sunday amid unresolved controversies, saw some strange happenings which tantamount to election rigging.
At around 3.30 am on Saturday, the EC started the counting of the ballot boxes coming from science schools without the presence of the counting agents representing ABVP candidates. This was a clear violation of the rule 5(b) given in the part 3 of Appendix 1 (which lays down the rules for conducting elections) of the JNUSU constitution. The rule states, “all ballot papers, while being counted, must be displayed to the candidates or a person authorised by the candidate”.
Science schools are considered stronghold of ABVP, and 75 per cent voting (highest among all the schools) in sciences was reflecting a good sign for ABVP. ABVP objected to this decision of EC and accused it of being biased, in response the EC put forward the conditions that the counting of the votes will not resume unless the ABVP apologises to EC for accusing it of biasness. After few hours, the EC issued a press release indirectly accusing ABVP of snatching away the ballot boxes and hitting the EC members. Soon, the Left cadres also started a social media campaign saying that ABVP has committed violence and has captured the ‘booth’.
Interestingly, when the Left cadres were busy with this propaganda, they were themselves seen roaming in and out of the counting complex, which questions the sanctity of the vote counting process. The large number of Left cadres gathered in front of the School of International Studies (SIS)-1 building where votes were being counted, and they started shouting slogans in favour of the EC. The slogan of “EC Zindabad” were heard for the first time in JNU, and it raised eyebrows of all those who have a sense of JNU politics.
Everybody was surprised about what has cooked between the EC and the Left Unity that both were supporting each other. Finally, the counting resumed in the late evening of Saturday with the EC forcing the condition on ABVP that the counting agents of ABVP will not be allowed for the counting of the votes in ballot-boxes, which were already opened by the EC in the absence of ABVP representatives.
ABVP has accused EC of becoming an interested party in the whole election process. It was observed that the four organisations contesting as a pre-poll coalition were allotted one wall space each for pasting their posters and vote appeal, while the ABVP was given only one wall space. Thus, Left getting four times the space allotted to ABVP. Also, in the All-Organisation meetings called by EC , the number of members allowed from one organisation remaining fixed, the Left Unity enjoyed four times greater representation than ABVP.
It must also be mentioned that many of the pamphlets of ABVP exposing the Left were censored and disallowed by the EC. ABVP’s accusations against EC are not the first such incident. In 2014, SFI had stopped the counting for many hours accusing the EC of working in favour of AISA. At that point of time, AISA had a hegemonic status among the Left organisations. Today, SFI has conveniently forgotten that incident and is signing paeans for the Election Committee.
In the same year, on the 16 May when the results of Lok Sabha elections emerged, the Left organisations under the leadership of AISA carried out a rally in the campus, unequivocally saying that they don’t believe in such a democracy which produces a result in favour of a specific party and a person. The JNU Left respects democracy only when it wins. The recent JNUSU elections, whose results are being questioned from all the non-Left quarters, are being followed by a spree of violence in the JNU campus.
The social media is flooded with videos and pictures of ABVP students and common students injured in attacks by Left cadres. The outgoing JNUSU president was seen wielding lathis and a SFI worker attacked ABVP girls with a sickle. The violent nature shown by the Left in the campus must be read with their post-win slogan ‘JNUSU to jhanki hai, 2019 abhi baki hai’. (JNUSU victory is just a glimmer of what is in reserve for 2019 elections).