New Delhi: Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students cast their ballots on Friday to elect their representatives amid a backdrop heavily tinted with the 9 February incident and an atmosphere charged with strong allegiances.
The students cast their votes at 14 booths assigned to several schools of the university. Polling began at 9 am and went on till 7 pm.
The footfall was relatively low in the first half, but as the day wore on students came in heavy numbers to cast their vote.
The scene at the School of Social Sciences (SSS) booth was not without typical JNU flavour where as students queued up to cast vote, supporters and members of different parties were seen raising slogans and cheering their candidates.
Two major Left parties — Students Federation of India (SFI) and All India Students Association (AISA) — formed an alliance to fight the main opposition, BJP-affiliated Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP).
The interest in the elections this time is more, said a student, clearly referring to the changed nature of dynamics of JNU politics with the outside world, in the wake of the 9 February incident during which anti-India slogans were allegedly raised in the campus.
Omar Khalid, a JNU student and one of the key protesters arrested during the 9 February fracas, emphasised the same point.
"This election should be a mandate against whatever happened in the last six months... the rise of Hindutva politics, the erosion of democratic spaces. It is a referendum against all that and students should cast their votes keeping that backdrop in mind," Khalid told IANS.
Asked which party he was supporting, Khalid said, "I want ABVP to lose. I have differencs with the Left parties, but ABVP is a different animal altogether. We are fighting for our right to debate, our right to differ, which they are completely against."
"Even if ABVP comes to power - hypothetically speaking - it won't be able to change anything that fast.. There's an infrastructural framework within which JNU operates which has been created over three decades; that can't be changed overnight.. It won't become BHU (Benaras Hindu University) that soon," he added.
Sharjeel Imam, an M. Phil.(History) student and AISA member, also said that the fight is between ABVP and the AISA-SFI alliance only.
"Majority of the students of the Sciences department vote for ABVP while School of Languages (SL) and SSS are a stronghold of AISA, and Students' Federation of India (SFI). ABVP has gained a lot of supporter base of late due to the anti-incumbency sentiment against the previous government at Centre, while AISA's appeal is largely among the students from the Hindi heartland," he said.
Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students' Association (BAPSA), a first time contender this year, has gained popularity among students from minority background disaffected with Leftist parties, but not enough to win the elections.
Narendra Kumar, General secretary, BAPSA, explained, "Our aim is not to win the election but to spread the ideals of Jyotiba Phule and Babarao Ambedkar, and to diminish the overbearing influence of Leftist parties in the university, which indulge in vote-bank politics and never recognised Ambedkar, but is now trying to appropriate him."
The votes were cast through ballot papers unlike Delhi University Students Union (DUSU) elections, which happened on the same day, where Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) were used. The result of the JNU election will be declared on September 11.