Thursday, November 01, 2007

My take on the JNUSU Elections 2007

The Presidential debate for the JNUSU elections which was held on the evening of October 31st, might just go down as the darkest day in the annals of the history of the students’ movement of JNU. Violence broke out in the pandal erected at Jhelum Lawns after the BSF presidential candidate responded to a question posed by the ABVP candidate on the former’s views on Ram. The BSF candidate’s reference to Ram as ‘haivan’ created a furore among the right wingers present at the pandal and student supporters including candidates and office bearers from ABVP resorted to stone pelting at the Election Commission and the candidates who were seated on the dais.

However, there is enough evidence to prove that the act of violence was not a spontaneous one and was a pre- planned act which also solicited the tacit involvement of supporters of the Youth for Equality. As the stone pelting started, I moved out of the pandal and stood on a bench with several other students and witnessed hockey sticks being passed among the ABVP supporters, several of them which included people from Delhi University and members of the RSS. A few of their supporters also rushed to the stage and pulled down the dais and started attacking the presidential candidate from SFI. In the stone pelting the YFE candidate was also hurt and was immediately rushed to the hospital. In the meanwhile the whole pandal was being attempted to be brought down by the supporters of ABVP and YFE. All along ABVP candidates and supporters beat up the SFI presidential candidate and supporters as well as members of the EC. The situation was finally brought under control after the riot police were brought in to prevent a full blown confrontation.

This was followed by an EC meeting with all the parties which went on all night and finally concluded at 8 am today. The EC is still undecided on the issue of conducting the elections on the 2nd of November as scheduled as several of their members have been injured and are unwilling to carry on their duties.

Asit Das, a student of the 80’s from JNU disappointedly said, “This is the end of a chapter in the culture called JNU.” I couldn’t agree more. But I refuse to get completely drowned in sentiment about it. For me the violence last evening was a culmination of the near complete depoliticisation of the campus and the polarized times we live in. I refuse to see the event in isolation from the process of degeneration and the rot that has set in the parliamentary left democratic forces on the one hand which have made a conscious effort to keep out the common students from the entire political process of debates and critical engagement and restricted their domain to the arena of electoral politics alone and on the other remained content with taming the right wing only electorally. The mainstream left (student organizations of CPI-M and CPI-ML)on campus have held positions of power at the JNUSU for the last four years consecutively, but all along their own cadre, activists and supporters were restricted to the electoral fray and hence are left without an iota of any understanding of the left movement in the country. An evidence of this was in full display when the candidate for Joint Secretary from AISA (students wing of CPI-ML) was asked if they belong to the revisionists or the Naxalites’ line of thought to which the candidate despite being given an opportunity to consult the higher ups in the organization responded with the ludicrous and asinine reply, “There are several strains of the left movement and we belong to the movement which lies in between that of the revisionists and the Naxalites”. The Presidential debate that took place yesterday would put a ninth grader to shame. The extent of deterioration and lack of intellect in political debates on campus was once again in full display when none of the candidates from the left could ask a single pointed meaningful question to the YFE presidential candidate to question her logical understanding of reservations. The YFE candidate not only got away making casteist remarks by referring to the deprived castes as ‘unworthy’ but also defended her organisation’s pamphlet brought out a few days back referring to the lower castes as ‘inferior mortals’, ‘unfit for education’ and ‘incapable’. While she chose to answer questions pertaining to her stand on NRI quotas in elite institutions and the issue of women’s reservations with the rhetorical, “Reservations for the needy and not for the greedy”, not a single left candidate had even bothered to familiarize themselves with the contents of the Mandal Commission Report. All this while a huge section of the crowd cheered her on and what we witnessed was a vulgar display of an upper caste, upper class consolidation, what I call the urban Ranvir Sena. The YFE also later joined the ABVP in sloganeering against the left even though their candidate was hurt during the stone pelting by the latter. This, when the YFE calls itself ‘apolitical’. The last few days of campaigning also saw the YFE invite Chandan Mitra, BJP MP and editor of the Pioneer which has openly defended the Gujarat carnage for a public meeting. This, when the YFE calls themselves ‘apolitical’. The YFE claims that they believe in reservations on economic criteria but not one of them has even read the Mandal Commission Report to find out that nearly six out of the eleven listed criteria pertain to the economic domain. But what is worse is that neither of the left wingers have read it either and hence not one of them can hold their own against this kind of intellectual depravity.

Political debates on campus which are presented through pamphlets almost everyday have now been reduced to the domain of mudslinging and slander. Devoid of any theoretical understanding of their own parent party’s line on the state, capital and the Indian society, students are subject to the mainstream left organizations only calling each other names like ‘absconders’ and ‘ habitual regretters’. The process of depoliticisation has been a conscious one and sustained effort by the two organizations like SFI and AISA who have only indulged in the politics of chaos in the last four years of their being in power and have denied common students and chance to participate in the political process of debates and questions by not even holding the mandatory number of General Body Meetings every semester. Where the JNUSU constitution makes it mandatory to have at least 4 GBMS every year per school, we have only one GBM per year to pass the convenor’s report and people aren’t invited to debate but only to vote. This results in about 40 students debating and 400 people voting. Students of JNU are no longer agenda setters but are only responders to a given set of agendas set for us by the JNUSU office at Teflas. As a result we have about 10 public meetings on the Indo US Nuclear deal because the social democrats in the UPA government, viz., CPI-M wants to build a mandate among all sections including students against it in the parliament and JNUSU office which has representation of their students wing provides them the perfect opportunity for doing so. While I am against the Indo-US nuclear deal myself, although on grounds beyond that of the ‘national sovereignity’ argument repeated constantly by the CPI-M in parliament and parroted by the SFI on campus. AISA keeps screaming on the top of its lungs about the ‘killers of Nandigram’ and the ‘rapists of Tapasi Malilk’ for as many as 10 public meetings. All along SFI and AISA refuse to tell us that their parent parties fought the Punjab Assemble elections in alliance. The ‘killers of Nandigram’ and the ‘rapists of Tapasi Malik’ of CPI-M and the ‘infantile disorders’ of CPI-ML become revolutionaries a mere 1500 kms away. But we refuse to discuss increasing instances of gender harassment, ragging and communal violence even for a single public meeting. SFI and AISA have reduced themselves to being mere news reporters wherein after an instance of communal violence in which an ABVP students beats up a minority student both the parties come out with a reporting of the event failing to see the process of communal violence that actually starts manifesting itself during the T20 Indo Pak match during which about 40 odd students shouts gendered slogans against Pakistan and it goes unprotested. The two mainstream left organizations pride themselves on having tamed the communal forces electorally on campus but what they fail to see is that each year the ABVP vote bank has increased, so much so that they have increased from 12 votes in the 80’s to 700 in 2005. What they fail to take serious note of is that the loudest applause is for the ABVP candidates in the School of Social Sciences councilor elections GBM and the first slogans that are raised are those of Vande Mataram. We only react to symptomatic manifestations of communal violence but fail to engange students on campus effectively and defeat the ideology of hatred and bigotry that perpetrates the campus all along and sustains the ABVP as they grow in strength steadily.

We, the left, have reduced politics on campus to a culture of symbolism and socialization. The culture of ‘mashaal juloos’ during the pre election phase as a show of strength makes it inevitable for the hegemonic parliamentary democratic left organizations to enlist students en masse into their organization but fail to engage even with their own cadre and activists which results in a complete divorce of ideology from action. This results in SFI activists actively participating in ragging and sexual harassment and even refusing to acknowledge it as sexual harassment. This results in AISA top cadre leaving the organization and now leading the YFE when they enter the campus in 2006. This results in a party like YFE coming in for the first time in 34 year left dominated campus and that very left is reduced to a situation of near defeat. The situation is so grave that SFI and AISA admit that their own activists vote for YFE and they express their helpless about it. We may have enlisted people in number but we have failed to engage with them and enlist them in mind and spirit, we actively promote a culture of depoliticisation. Votes are now being garnered on grounds of excuses like, “we assisted you during the admission, so please vote for us” or “we kept you in our rooms till you were allotted hostels, so please vote for us”. There is no ‘mashaal juloos’ against the increasing instances of communalism or against ragging. There is not even a united front by the left at a time like yesterday when we had to put a joint front against the violence of the ABVP which was tacitly supported by the YFE. Each organization was trying to outdo each other in lung power from different locations even as some of us pleaded for unity at that point of time.

And while this process of depoliticisation grows each day, where the new students are completely sidelined from being initiated into the political environment at JNU, the old students are frustrated with the existing state of affairs where they have no say in the political process unless they are members of some organization on campus. They are reduced to being responders to a given set of agendas when in reality they should be the agenda setters. So in a state of apathy and complete withdrawal from the political culture and the space is in turn left open for right wing forces to appropriate. They enter under the pretext of being ‘apolitical’ while what they really stand for is for a politics of ‘status quoism’. While the left indulges in myopic sectarianism and creates a politics of chaos, we are all along preparing the ground for a growing polarization, only because we fail to critically engage with the students, we fail to take note of the changed context in which we are operating. We fail to note the changing class, caste character of the students in JNU and change the course of our movement accordingly. We fool ourselves into believing that this is our territory and no one can uproot us from here, all along giving up all the idealism and values that we stood for. So much so that we even defend a Buddhadeb in Bengal for what he calls ‘development’ but what we should actually be calling ‘capitalism’. We pride ourselves for having raised our voices against imperialism and the neo-liberal agenda, but restrict ourselves to the theoretical domain alone. When we see the manifestation of the neo- liberal agenda in JNU in the form of six new car parking lots when barely 1 percent of the population in JNU owns cars and we see mosaic floors being replaced with marble flooring and a criminal waste of money in other such beautification attempts, and simultaneously we do not see our basic need fro scholarchips, more books, more public computers, we humbly accept the administration’s and the JNUSU leadership’s repetition of the excuse, “there are no funds.’ Whatever happened to the theory of praxis? Why is there no juloos then? Why can’t we attack the administrations excuses on sound theoretical grounds, supplemented by protests and not let the car parks, marble flooring and other needless concrete structures come up before we get week long health facilities, more books, more computers and more scholarships? The reality is that we have failed in understanding the linkages between our lives and the political economy of our times. And we are comfortable being that way. We occasionally throw a few terms like ‘infantile disorders’, ‘revisionists’ and pride ourselves upon that. The reality is that the mainstream left movement on campus today is a career and not about a commitment to the notion of Revolution.

This elections I campaigned very very actively for an organization called the Progressive Students’ Union which follows the line of thought of Communist League of India- Marxist Leninist. I must have about a 1000 students during my campaign at messes, hostels, class rooms. Our effort this election has been to fight the air of ‘no politics’ pasted across hostel rooms. Our effort has been to politicize the campus once again, to get students back to the movement and to get the students movement back to whom it belongs- the students. That we have been gaining ground is evident from the fact that the SFI and AISA have been actively involved in getting their foot soldiers to get the rumour mills working. Personal slander campaigns asking people not to vote for us because they cannot counter our political logic are being resorted to. The latest pretext after yesterday’s violent outbreak has been to ask people to vote for the entire SFI panel or the entire AISA panel and not the split the left vote by voting for a contending left candidate like ours as according to them, we don’t have a chance of winning and will just end up paving the way for YFE. For the last four years they have fed the same set of lies to the students here and I will not even hesitate in saying that all along they willingly paved the way for YFE. It is important for them to keep the ‘enemy’ alive in public conscience not because they want to isolate and eliminate it completely but because it helps sustain them in power. Electoral politics has consumed the entire political process in JNU.

On a personal note, these elections are not important for us in terms of winning or losing. If we win, we get a legitimacy to be a part of the seat of struggle- the JNUSU. If we lose, it will only make us ask for our right to all the missing GBMs and ask the powers that be to democratize the campus even more, politicize the campus even more and then revolutionize the politics of the campus. What matters to us is to be part of the revolution, a part of the left movement more than our organizational affiliation. Like Hafiz said to me, “We have nothing to lose and the whole world to win!”