ABVP: The Trajectory and the Design
NEW DELHI: Student Elections of Universities in Delhi are often seen as a ‘referendum’ on the performance of the national political parties, with the contest keen and influenced by the larger politics of the day. So when the RSS youth wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad announced that the students union elections in Jawaharlal Nehru University would be a ‘referndum’ it was , for once, pretty much on the dot.
Despite being aggressive in its campaign on what it is pushing as the neo- version of nationalism along with its parent organisations, the ABVP was wiped out in the ‘referendum’ in JNU with the four student union seats going to the Left alliance of SFI and AISA, the student wings of CPI(M) and CPI(M-L) respectively.
And this despite the high voltage campaign that was intended to be the basis of this ‘referendum’ seeking to dub the University as anti national, its student leaders seditionists. With of course, the full power of the administration, the police, the ‘establishment’ and the media behind the ABVP that was placed in the lead.
Delhi University, despite the general disinterest and low voting, also registered a negative response. NSUI emerged as a close, and not distant second, securing one of the four seats of the Students Union from the ABVP. A small but significant dent, given the fact that the ABVP has been on the aggressive ascendant across the country since 2014, and its politics should have resonated with its support base in DU that it regards as a bastion.
After the BJP government came to power, the RSS has further empowered the ABVP in the campuses regardless of its actual strength on the ground. As part of the RSS intervention on education and culture, the ABVP has assumed an important role eclisping the official BJP youth wing, the Bharatiya Yuva Morcha that is barely heard of.
The ABVP has been mobilised to attack progressive and Left student groups and individuals in university campuses across India, mandated to disrupt meetings and file legal cases on the spot. Campuses across India---Banaras Hindu University, Allahabad University, Hyderabad Central University, Indian Institutes of Technology and numerous others--have faced the brunt with meetings on issues of democracy, secularism, rights, justice being disrupted, and legal cases filed against unsuspecting professors and students.
Kashmir is a target issue for the RSS, and hence for the ABVP that has been directed to sniff out any such meeting in the campuses or even in cities, and send its members to shout slogans, disrupt the proceedings, and prevent organisations from going ahead with the event. ABVP members file legal cases, that then the police invariably proceeds on even in Congress ruled states like Karnataka as was evident in the recent case involving Amnesty International, India.
The ABVP muscle is further enhanced by RSS clout so evident in government. Opposition leaders see a pattern, maintaining that the students of the ABVP have become the ‘eyes and ears’ of the RSS inside the campuses. The pattern is discernible, and was set in the Rohith Vemula case that went awry because the Dalit scholar upset the plan by committing suicide.
A careful study of the recent violence in campuses involving the ABVP shows a distinct pattern as follows:
First progressive students are targeted; their activities questioned; complaints filed. During this first step a campaign is also carried out targeting the students, the targeted organisation and the activities, as being against the interests of the nation;
Two, the local BJP MPs or even Ministers enter the picture soon after writing to the University administration demanding action against the said students groups;
Three, as was more obvious earlier but is more under cover now, the HRD Ministry follows this complaint asking the University authorities to respond.Reminders are sent, if necessary, to ensure action.
Four, as in HCU strong disciplinary action is taken with students suspended or expelled, organisations banned, on often exaggerated and trumped up charges. In HCU the students were thrown out of the hostels with their academic life in serious jeopardy. That the picture changed dramatically was entirely because of Vemula’s suicide.
In JNU there were two additional points to the above:
Five, a specific event on Kashmir was targeted, lies spread through the media, and students arrested for sedition. Here, the cacophony did not allow any voices to be heard with the BJP and the government taking the issue away from the ABVP and driving the attack as it were through the courts and the media.
Six, the arrests and the campaign fed into the RSS/BJPs nationalism versus anti-national campaign on an all India scale in what was a major escalation in the ‘natinalism’ campaign, with the issue being taken out of campuses into the streets. The media of course remained very actively engaged in the campaign throughout.
The ABVP describes itself as a “nationalist” students organisation, and an affiliate of the RSS. It has been openly indulging in acts of violence through the years, taking up issues that concern the RSS from time to time. Since 2014 it has been made very assertive in the Universities with the progressive and Left students directly in its sights.
The JNU and DU polls are a setback. The ABVP, given the intensity of its campaign on nationalism, had been expected to retain all seats in Delhi University and increase the margin of victory over the NSUI, the Congress students wing. Instead the margin of victory was not high, and the NSUI wrested one seat. The Aam Aadmi Party student wing did not contest the DU students union polls.