Amidst the cathartic realm of flying desires, red flags fluttered everywhere. There were drums and slogans, and happy faces. Collective passion and expressed emotion, after a long spell of angst, anger and anxiety. There was eclectic, youthful idealism, intense, raw joy, and sublime festivity in the atmosphere. There was the smell of victory in the air.

Priyanshi Arya, young, spectacled, smiling, happy, wearing a huge blue turban and a blue scarf, the colour of Ambekarite liberation from the shackles of an oppressive caste society, was celebrating her victory, along with her friends and supporters. Dhananjay, wearing a kurta, addressed a packed open-air audience in the night, shouting fiery, electrifying slogans, with a loud, unanimous chorus following him” “‘Lal hain bhai lal hain… poora campus lal hain… Parishad [Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad--ABVP] behal hain… poor campus lal hain… (it is red brother, it is red… the entire campus is red… the Parishad is disturbed…)’”

For the first time in its history, this election arrived after four long years of no polling in the turbulent and hounded campus. Priyanshi has won the post of general secretary, while Dhananjay is the new president of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU).

The prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi, has been demonised and ravaged since the current regime came to power in the summer of 2014. The project was singular and one-dimensional: to destroy the inherited, progressive, enlightened and academic essence and ethos of the campus and discredit the Left and liberal forces.

Both their victories, as well those of other candidates, therefore, are immensely significant for multiple reasons, as the United Left panel of central office bearers and counsellors in various schools gave the ABVP, the BJP’s aggressive students’ wing, a run for its money, and a solid drubbing yet again, despite their mighty mentors patronizing and protecting them.

Dhananjay is the second Dalit president of the JNU Students’ Union, and he represents the All India Students Association (AISA), the students’ wing of the CPI-ML-Liberation. Almost three decades ago, in 1997, JNU elected a Dalit president, Battilal Bairwa, from the Students Federation of India (SFI). This was also the year when former JNUSU president Chandrashekhar (a.k.a Chandu) was murdered in Siwan, while campaigning on a road-crossing, allegedly by the hired assassins of mafia don and politician Shahabuddin (now deceased).

The CPI-ML had challenged him on his turf, and the poorest of the poor among the lower and backward castes and landless labourers, including Dalits and OBCs, which is the party’s essential support base in Bihar, backed it. Shahabuddin, with a criminal track record as an unchallenged and notorious Bahubali, had to, therefore, stop the rise of Chandrashekhar, who, as a son of the soil, hailed from a poor family in a village in Siwan, and also demoralise ‘Maale’, as CPI-ML is called in local parlance. Chandu was murdered on March 31, 1997.

This led to an outburst in Siwan with thousands coming out on the streets. The JNU students in Delhi, broke police barricades, gheraoed the Bihar Bhawan, and blocked several crucial traffic crossings and arteries of Delhi for more than ten days, albeit for short and strategic periods, to send their message across to the citizens of the city.

The AISA’s members from all over India, as many as 10,000 plus, marched on the streets of Delhi, broke police barricades, and faced massive lathi-charge. A few days later, JNU students broke another police barricade near the Prime Minister’s House, Race Course Road, which was followed by a ruthless police and para-military lathi-charge, leaving several students severely injured. Then, it happened to be a United Front government at the Centre, backed by the Left and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), with Laloo Yadav, as a big player. Shahabuddin belonged to RJD.

Political equations have changed since then with the advent of a quasi-dictatorship and Hindutva fascism in power in Delhi. This backdrop is important because Dhananjay, too, like Chandu, is from a humble family in Bihar.

He belongs to the conflict zone of Southern Gaya in Bihar and has seen both sustained atrocities and discriminations against the Dalits and other poor and deprived castes, as well as the protracted and difficult struggle waged by the ‘Maale’ in the remote interiors, with all odds of the ‘system’ stacked against them.

The son of a policeman, Dhananjay had to face severe deprivations and discrimination during his childhood and youth. He, therefore, found the struggles waged by the radical communists as the only legitimate path to the liberation of his brutalized community and the oppressed masses.

In his presidential debate speech in JNU, Dhananjay said, "I stand here as a voice of the Dalit landless workers of southern Bihar who bravely fought for their land-economic rights and social dignity, who faced massacres by Ranveer Sena, and, yet, bravely continued their fight against feudal dominance. I stand here as a voice for Comrade Manoj Manzil, a popular Dalit youth leader of CPI-ML, who has been imprisoned by the feudal-fascist government in Bihar. I stand here to tell today's fascist regime that your jails will not be enough to suppress our voices. We will speak and fight for justice."

Manoj Manzil is the legislature party leader of CPI-ML in the Bihar Assembly. He, like most other MLAs of the party, who are aligned with the Mahagathbandhan led by Laloo Yadav, come from extremely humble backgrounds.

Manzil lives in a simple home, and is hugely popular among the poor for his relentless struggles on their behalf. Party comrades said that the moment Nitish Kumar aligned with the BJP, yet again, some old cases were quickly revived, and he, along with 22 comrades, have been given life imprisonment by a lower court.

Dhananjay victory, like that of Chandrashekhar earlier, has created waves of joy in his village and across the interiors of rural Bihar, especially among the Dalits and backward caste communities. The political signal of a young Dalit boy from back home becoming the JNUSU president in Delhi is strong and politically significant. Undoubtedly, he will become yet another shining and rising icon for his party in the days to come, especially in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

Significantly, as an AISA leader said, the ABVP raised slogans in support of the private army of Ranveer Sena which was notorious for a series of organized massacres of Dalits in Bihar villages, during the peak of the struggle against the entrenched landlords of the upper caste led by ‘Maale’. This ABVP glorification of Ranveer Sena was countered by Dhananjay who stood as a symbol of those who fought back despite their marginalised status, and defied their armed might, despite the bloody killings.

Dhananjay is enrolled for PhD at the School of Art and Aesthetics in JNU. This reflects his active participation in the cultural streams of progressive politics as a cultural activist with groups like Sangwari.

He has done his MPhil in Theatre and Performance Studies from the same school. Earlier, he did his bachelor’s from Delhi University, where he joined the struggle against the FYUP, and also studied in Ambedkar University, Delhi.

In an interview with ‘’, Dhananjay said, “I did Left politics because I believe that only by bringing together the struggle of class and caste, we will be able to eliminate caste from our society. I do not want the discrimination that happened to me to continue. I want to transform the society to one that provides equal and affordable education to all students and respectable employment to our youth.”

Priyanshi Arya’s victory is also extremely significant, and it has a twist in the tale. She belongs to the Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students Association (BAPSA), which has, over the years, been highly critical of the Left, even while it opposes the ABVP. They were not part of the United Left alliance, and would not have, in all probability, been able to win a single candidate in the central panel on their own steam.

The final tally proves that. So how did Priyanshi win, and why is such a big victory a strategic sign of collective optimism in the campus?

The official candidate of the United Left was Swati Singh for the post of general secretary. Students say that there was a conspiracy and her candidature was rejected a few hours before the polls to deestablise the Left alliance. In a quick political decision, the Left issued an appeal to the student community of JNU to vote for Priyanshi of BAPSA for the post of G. Sec. This non-sectarian move added to the political credibility of the Left, and the larger majority of JNU students thereby unanimously voted for Arya, making her the winning candidate.

No doubt, with 3,307 votes, of the total of 5,500 plus votes polled, she has the biggest tally of votes. Dhananjay got 2,973 votes. Finally, Priyanshi Arya won, because the United Left backed her as their own candidate, despite the differences with BAPSA. “Every vote of the Left and its sympathizers went to Priyanshi,” said a student.

Said Sai Balaji, former JNUSU president said, “From the beginning itself it was clear that both the administration and ABVP did not want elections in JNU. They wanted to disrupt it at any cost. I presume these were the instructions they had received from their bosses in the government. The ABVP did everything possible to stop the elections.

“The ABVP violently disrupted the University General Body Meeting (UGBM) – the highest democratic collective of the JNU students. They disrupted the school General Body Meetings (GBMS), often using abusive language, crude and violent behaviour. Students responded with maturity and finesse.

“From quick protests of 500 students to a massive ‘mashaal jaloos’ (torchlight procession) in the night, walking through all the hostels, the students openly rejected the ABVP. Indeed, it’s a landslide Left victory, and all the credit goes to the students of JNU. They composed the Election Commission, they held the UGBM and GBMs, they compelled the election process to run its smooth course peacefully, though the administration curtailed it for just four days!

“The students wanted their own union, and a Left union, and they have rejected the ABVP. You measure up the vote count of each candidate, you can see how the majority of students are totally against the ABVP and BJP’s brand of politics. They have sent a strong, brave and optimistic signal to the nation.”

The essential character and vision of JNU has always been pro-poor and progressive since its inception. The 1989-90 JNUSU resigned in support of the Mandal Commission recommendations brought in by the V. P. Singh government, after it narrowly lost its resolution in support for reservation for the OBCs in the UGBM.

The JNU had earlier done remarkably well in fulfilling the maximum quota for SC/ST candidates in the admission process. The National Commission of SC/ST supported the JNUSU wholeheartedly. And, despite the raging anti-Mandal agitation in Delhi, the JNUSU, then, as a caretaker union, refused to succumb to violence or threats, and steadfastly supported the Mandal Commission recommendations, and all forms of reservations for the OBCs, the poor, the minorities and SC/STs.

Even now, these communities comprise almost 70 per cent of the student population in the campus of around 7,000 students. Women constitute more than 40 per cent of the student community, in a campus where gender equality and gender justice, as a doctrine, is entrenched in its daily life and conduct.

Radical politics, secular pluralism and social justice, non-dogmatic and open-ended enlightenment and academic pursuits, and debate, dialogue and discussion, therefore, are in heady synthesis, in the inherited democratic process in the JNU student’s movement. And this has been proved yet again in this path-breaking election results in the spring of 2024.

Predictably, the School of Social Sciences (SSS) and School of Languages (SL) overwhelmingly voted for the Left. In the language schools, every second vote went to the Left, according to Balaji. In the School of International Studies (SIS), which has had a strong support base for the Right-wing in the past, the ABVP failed to cross the threshold.

Two of their top candidates in the central panel came from this school and they lost badly. Even in the science schools, which too are either apolitical or Right-wing, the ABVP could not get majority support. So, overall, it was a decisive, categorical and majority vote for the victory of the United Left and BAPSA’s Priyanshi.

Vijoo Krishnan, former JNUSU president and a leader of the CPM-affiliated All India Kisan Sabha, said “The emphatic victory of the Left and Left-supported candidates to the JNU Students ' Union is a fitting rebuff to the fascist forces that had unleashed the most brutal attack on the university in recent years.

“The Sangh Parivar has for the last decade used the ABVP to foment trouble and vitiate the atmosphere in the campus. The State has used everything at its disposal to dismantle the university and has curbed its democratic rights.

“It is a testimony to the resilience of the JNU students' movement, with active support of the teachers’ movement, that after four years, the administration was forced to hold elections. It was the fear of such a defeat that led the enemies of JNU to make all kind of efforts to stall the democratic process.

“Indeed, it is also a slap on the face of the corporate media and certain filmmakers seeking to denigrate the university, its great intellectual and political legacy, and its students' movement.”

Based in Patna, a member of Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) Bihar chapter, Chandrakanta Khan said, “Being an old student of JNU, it was painful to see its progressive image being maligned as anti-national, etc. This university has, since its inception, stood as a symbol of national pride, for me as well as for all current and former students.

“It will always be a symbol of pride and great hope for all of us. The Left victory in the students’ union polls in JNU clearly signifies solid support for progressive politics, social justice, secular freedom and equality, and student activism. A clear message goes to the nation that the youth today has rejected the propaganda of hate, lies and fake news. It proves that they are aligned to the poorest, the grassroots, and they have collectively hailed the spirit of social justice and secular unity in the elections of JNU.”

Seasoned Hindi journalist and author, Ramsharan Joshi said that, “JNU has shown the way to the nation. Now, these pulsating colours of change and liberation should yet again become a rainbow of victory against fascism in June, when the 2024 polls results will be declared.

“The signal is there for the nation to see and absorb. After all, JNU is integral to India, its dreams and vision. I fervently hope that the victory of the Left students in JNU should pave the way for the victory of secular and democratic India!”