KAMAL MITRA CHENOY | 17 SEPTEMBER, 2018
The JNU Saga from Victory to Violence
This triumph will be remembered for a long time
From the evening of September 16 the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad had started threatening Jawaharlal Nehru University students and later there were scuffles in the boys' hostels. Both women and men students were attacked, including newly elected office bearers of the JNU Students' Union like Balaji who is the president.
They attacked Balaji early in the morning, even at the Vasant Kunj Police Station, with a large group of Bharatiya Janata Party supporters both women and men, mostly ABVP, with at least one BJP professor and other academic staff also part of the mob attacking Balaji.
I reached shortly thereafter and could see Balaji at the end of the ground floor corridor of the police station. A hawaldar and two other constables were trying to pacify the outsiders. I watched for about 20 minutes during which period they were a bit cautious. Then I was asked by a sub-inspector to go to the first floor where a number of JNU colleagues were lodging a complaint. There were about 18-20 such colleagues who had gathered over time. Later the police escorted us in their vehicles and I had a policeman in my car along with four other colleagues when we returned to JNU.
Then, in the Mahi-Mandovi boys' hostel there was a meeting and I was asked to speak as I had been at the police station. After a few more speakers spoke, it was decided to hold a march against violence from Ganga Dhaba at 5 pm.
I am sorry to say that I am increasingly concerned by the fact that the Vice Chancellor and his subordinates are taking absolutely no measures to suppress political violence on campus. There are police and paramilitary personnel (from the Central Reserve Police Force) outside the campus.
The irony is, that those who disrupted the counting process in the JNUSU election on the morning of the 15th have lost heavily, and are now attacking those who won. And the JNU administration is standing by in supposed disinterest.
The initial furore over the JNUSU elections late at night on Friday, September 14 was a shock to all of us. The ABVP and its leading cadres stormed into the JNUSU Election Commission's rooms inside the School of International Studies (SIS), claiming that its counting agents were not present when the counting of votes was on. They remained on the premises from 3 am to 5.30 pm on Saturday, September 15.
ABVP cadres claimed that the JNUSU Election Commission had broken the seals of the ballot boxes, and had started tabulating votes for the central panel (President, Vice President, General Secretary and Joint Secretary) in the absence of counting agents of candidates affiliated to the ABVP.
Many student witnesses claimed that ABVP cadres had forced their way into the Election Commission office. Counting agents present claimed that three announcements were made over the loudspeakers asking all candidates to come or send their representatives as counting agents.
According to Shubhanshu Singh, incumbent JNUSU joint secretary and Left Unity counting agent, the ABVP attacked the guard stationed at the entrance door of the SIS. Finally, at 6.10 pm the four ABVP members who were in the counting centre, including presidential candidate Lalit Pandey and joint secretary candidate Venkat Choubey, relented and walked out. The EC announced that counting would resume in 20 minutes. The immediate crisis was over.
Outside the SIS building, ABVP leader and presidential candidate Lalit Pandey argued that “this is not a kangaroo court and you cannot do anything according to your whims.” The ABVP finally agreed to the assurance that two teacher observers would be present to ensure correct procedures were being followed.
Grievance Redressal Committee head Umesh Kadam, who is not just a teacher but is sympathetic to the JNU Vice Chancellor’s lobby, promised that “The two observers will sit through the whole process. This is being done to bring transparency in the counting.” But transparency was already there. Nevertheless the students graciously agreed, to put to rest the slew of largely false or inaccurate accusations by the ABVP.
The ABVP assault on the JNUSU Election Commission was bound to come. After its victory in the Delhi University Students’ Union this year, following other students’ union elections, the JNUSU elections were considered critically important, to get the seal of approval in the students’ unions elections elsewhere, through a sizeable number of students’ unions led by the ABVP throughout the country. JNU is a bugbear for the Modi government and its supporters. Despite the false allegations, harassment and arrests of JNU students in February 2016 and later, the students, supported by a critical mass of teachers, have held firm to their principles and traditions.
Despite the ABVP's adventurist campaign, the all-in unity of the students: Left Unity; the Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students' Association, an organisation of Dalits, OBCs, and other backward classes; and the National Students' Union of India, was steadfast.
When all 5185 votes had been counted, United Left (SFI-AISA-AISF-DSF) won all four central panel posts, cruising to a massive victory.
As is evident in the figures of the main forces among the student community, there has been a multi-party based contest. The United Left (UL) has won the presidential contest: N Sai Balaji their presidential candidate, with 2161 votes, followed by the ABVP with only 982 votes. BAPSA garnered 675 votes and NSUI got 376.
In the voting for Vice President UL’s Sarika got a whopping 2592 votes, the highest vote among the office bearers. The ABVP got only 1012 votes, and BAPSA got 644.
In the General Secretary’s vote, UL candidate Aejaj got a high 2423 votes, with the ABVP getting 1223 votes, and BAPSA getting 827.
For Joint Secretary, UL’s Amutha got 2047 votes, followed by the ABVP with 1290, the NSUI with 744, and BAPSA with 616.
It is clear that the ABVP had realised by the time of counting that they were out of the bulk of the main posts. But the decision of the four Left groups – AISA, SFI, AISF, DSF – to contest together for the first time in years, turned out to be a smart strategy. The cementing of the United Left has also been a landmark.
Both BAPSA and NSUI got highs: BAPSA got between 594 and 827 votes among the office bearers, while the NSUI got between 376 and 744.
This triumph will be remembered for a long time. The JNUSU sweep will make both secular and communal parties think over what went wrong. Back to the drawing board.