JNUSU election: Improving campus facilities rule all manifestos; ABVP adds check on anti-national activities
With the JNUSU election right around the corner, we analyse the big four — Left Unity, ABVP, BAPSA and NSUI — on the basis of their pre-election promises
The Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU) election is one of the high profile democratic practices in the country composed of intense debate on national and international issues and larger than life political rhetoric. This year, the Left-wing parties have again teamed up to contest the union council. Unlike last year, there is a minor shuffle and the Students’ Federation of India (SFI) splinter group Democratic Students’ Federation (DSF), has joined the ‘Left Unity’ along with All India Students’ Association (AISA) and SFI. Surprisingly, Kanhaiya Kumar's All India Students’ Federation (AISF) is contesting independently out of the so-called Left Unity.
The other influential forces are Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students’ Association, the champions of the marginalised, who came out as the single largest party in last year’s election and Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parisad (ABVP), which is backed by right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) which is the students’ wing of Congress has also fielded its candidates but they have never been able to mobilise crowd to their benefits. All in all, it’s a three-way battle between the Left, the Right and the Ambedkarites.
JNUSU elections are unique in the sense that it is fully student-managed and the administration doesn't interfere in the process. Along with that, there has been a culture of strong check on all anti-democratic practices during the elections. So, unlike Delhi University Students’ Union (DUSU) elections, here money or muscle can’t bag one votes.
The campus is aware of all political activities and rhetoric at play. The battleground mostly comprises in and around the ideological differences of the political forces at play. The Left, as always, tries to lure new voters by creating an atmosphere of fear about the coming of Right-wing ABVP and its medieval policies.
The ABVP, on the other hand, accuses the Left of being progressive only on posters and allege the Left for not bringing key infrastructural development measures even after controlling the union for decades.
The Ambedkarites also fight on ideological grounds attacking the Right for favouring Manusmriti and Hindutva, while they accuse the Left of being Brahmanical since its inception. BAPSA claims to be the numero uno voice of the marginalised.
Any political party has two functions at hand, firstly, to capture power and dominate the political rhetoric and secondly to deliver good governance or better public administration. But in JNU, the capturing of ideological space becomes so important that the other part gets grossly ignored, as observed by this author.
One crucial yet ignored aspect of the JNUSU elections is that nobody cares about the manifesto or agendas of the parties as long as one particular ideology maintains its hegemony. In this article, we will try to judge the big four — Left Unity, ABVP, BAPSA and NSUI — on the basis of their pre-election promises.
The election has some core issues which are a point of discussion in and around the campus. These top priority issues include the massive seat cuts that were implemented by the university administration this session, the disappearance of Najeeb Ahmed last year, maintaining the autonomy of the university from outside influence mainly the BJP government, upholding the Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH), an autonomous body to check all forms of sexual harassment, and ensuring social justice in the campus, so on and so forth.
But it is surprising that, even while campaigning or delivering public speeches, the candidates are involved more in ideological fist-fighting than raining actual campus issues. But, maybe due to the sake of formality, all the parties have issued a list of agendas on which the voters are supposed to vote.
Let us compare the big four on the basis of the issues they take up:
|1||Hostel for all from day one. Demand for construction of new hostels.||Yes||Yes (promises to fight it in court even if they lose)||Yes||No|
|2||Ensuring effective internship and placement cells in all schools||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|3||Installing sanitary pad vending machines in all centres and girls' hostels; 24-hour health care facilities||Yes||Yes (also, they want a girls' toilet in the boys' hostel)||Yes (also health insurance for all students)||Yes (only asks for opening health centre on Sundays)|
|4||Increasing merit-cum-means (MCM) and non-National Eligibility Test (NET) fellowship||Yes||Yes (demand to double the fellowship amount)||Yes||Yes|
|5||End the seat reduction policy and bring seats again in MPhil and PhD||Yes||Yes (they want to expose the 'seat scam')||Yes||Yes|
|6||Introduction of transport facilities in the campus like e-rickshaws and metro feeder buses||Yes (also bus connecting Damodar Hostel)||Yes (only e-rickshaws)||Yes (want eco-friendly shuttles till Hauz Khas Metro)||Number one agenda|
|7||Availability of good hygienic food till late night; reopening of night dhabas||No mention about night canteens, but talks about the improvement of school canteens||Talks only about quality and price regulation in eateries||No||Yes|
|8||Wheelchair facility at every school||Talks about persons with disabilities (PWD) students' rights; no particular agenda.||Asks for a PWD friendly campus only||Yes||No|
|9||Installation of washing machines in all hostel floors||No||Yes||No||No|
|10||Increasing library reading space and improving reading rooms and library in general||Talks in detail with the demand for a JNU press||Yes||Agenda on top priority||No|
|11||A strong check on all anti-national activities||No||Yes||No||No|
Above, we listed some of the most important (also some ridiculous) issues taken up by the parties and compared them.
Now, the manifestos also have their own political dynamics. The ABVP took out the list of demands almost weeks ahead of the election in a small leaflet. BAPSA followed up with a relatively small but important list of issues. The Left, composed of the three giants of the campus, published their agenda only a few days before the presidential debate. But it is a four-page magna carta, which if they win, has to be taken care of.
Following that BAPSA and ABVP published their own four-page agenda lists. Even though most of it was a copy-paste job from the Left manifesto, there were some unique points too. The ABVP demand for a 'digital JNU' consisting of single window admission and registration with online mode of fees payment should be encouraged. The most eye catcher which was common in all parties is the demand for a JNU press.
Supposing all conditions remain in their favour, like always, then the Left Unity is likely to control the union for one more year. And strikingly, they have the most unique, creative and rational set of demands which discuss even the school level issues in detail. But, even if BAPSA or ABVP gets a mandate, they have to at least do some justice to the long list of demands they have put out to seek votes.
One can only hope that whoever wins the JNUSU polls does justice to their agenda and delivers before their term ends.
The author is pursuing post-graduation in Modern and Contemporary History at the Centre for Historical Studies in Jawaharlal Nehru Univeristy
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