JNU Politics 101: For the Newbies

In JNU, we often say that the personal is the political. In fact, in JNU everything is political, as I think it should be. As I write this, political parties in the campus are working for a national convention of students that will take place at JNU between 15 to 16 July against the ongoing assault of privatization and Brahminism. A huge section of JNU is political and even though most of the students do not identify with a political party or a single ideology,  everyone has his/her own set of ideals—like  social justice, gender equality, and tribal rights—that they cherish. Finishing a course at JNU without delving into the  depths of campus politics is like attending Hogwarts without meeting Hagrid, or not attending the broom-flying classes under Madame Hooch; it simply isn’t done. College is one of the most important parts of our lives, and, in JNU, campus politics is what makes this life complete. In this article, I would like to talk about what activism and politics in JNU is all about, and how politics drives this campus.

There are around 25 political organizations in JNU, though most of them are less visible than a handful of others due to a lack of resources or few supporters. Out of these 25 political organizations, a majority of them call themselves ‘Left’, standing for ideals like socialism, Marxism, and a host of other things. The most visible Left-leaning parties are the All India Students’ Association (AISA), All India Student Federation (AISF), The Collective, Democratic Students’ Federation (DSF), Democratic Students Union (DSU), and Students Federation of India (SFI). Then there are the Right-wing political groups spearheaded by the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). There are organizations which struggle for tribals and lower castes like the Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students Association (BAPSA), and a group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender* rights called Dhanak. We also have the National Students Union of India (NSUI) which is a centrist political party. These political parties have their own set of perspectives on the issues around the world—Israel-Palestine, Kashmir, ISIS, globalization—and on issues inside the campus—hostel allotments, representation of lower-caste students, and prevention of the harassment of women. Every year around September, we have an annual festival of JNU— the Students’ Union elections, where seven of the 25 political organizations contest for four Central Panel seats: President, Vice-President, Secretary, and Joint Secretary. They also field their candidates for School counsellors and GSCASH (Gender Sensitisation Committee against Sexual Harassment) elections. Elections in JNU are a wonderful affair.

Politics in JNU comes with its own share of hypocrisy. It can be frustrating at times, and especially when you don’t study enough and you have ended up devoting too much time to activism. Political parties can at times really be the ugly versions of  the family setup—senior leaders dictating most of the times, and infantilizing newer members. The Right-wing ABVP members—or ‘hooligans’ or ‘lumpens’ as they are called by most Left-wing people—can really irritate you by their levels of stupidity at times, especially if you believe in civil rights and individual freedoms. Needless to say, sexism, masculinism, and minority-hatred runs rampant in this section, and they thrive on their symbiotic relationship with hate-mongering. But when you move to the Left, you see how women are not a part of the decision-making process in the ‘progressive’ political parties and how mansplaining systematically and efficiently works in party as well as all-organization meetings. The Left stalwarts are allegedly homophobes, and transphobes in this University. Sadly, I have also seen a very patriarchal attitude even in the most ‘feminist’ of organizations.

Despite all this, investing your time in activism and politics, or joining a political party has so many advantages. You become aware of the things around you and you learn to see things differently. One year of being a part of the political conversations, debates, movements, and struggles in JNU has helped me grow more than the total of the rest of my life, and this is not an exaggeration. I am extremely grateful for the culture we have here, and this is because of a legacy of continuous struggles for more freedoms, rights, and the representation for women and other oppressed communities. By being a part of active campus politics, you hone your skills in debating, public speaking, and, most of all, you learn the art of listening. You also learn to accept your mistakes, you will fall into art and you will develop your teamwork skills. You will work in atmospheres of common minimum understanding, and learn to co-operate with people who think very differently from what you believe in—these are the skills that you need for the world out there. In a political party, you will make a new family—and I mean the positive aspects of a family—and you will make strong bonds with people that are likely to last till the end of your lives. This demands time, energy, patience, and a lot of other things that you will discover, but I promise it’s worth it.

Kumar Prashant is a BA student in CRS, and works for The Informer. The views expressed are personal.