Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students Association (BAPSA) is a rising phenomenon in the 2016 JNUSU election. In the hotbed of ideology-oriented politics; BAPSA, which claims to represent tribals, Dalits, backward castes and marginalized communities together has led to speculations whether this spells a new beginning for identity based/communal politics in the campus. It however, projects itself as an alternative to Left and Right parties claiming to be a platform for all marginalised sections to fight against all forms of oppression; allaying any concerns over cultural or social homogenizations within the party.
BAPSA nonetheless has impelled one to think on the working principles, organizational limitations, efficacy and the role of politics in the mainstream and how it has failed to measure up to the expectations of the marginal communities. Their mobilization in mainstream politics is as much a fight for their rights and assertion of their identities, as it is in defiance of the strategic appropriation into the mainstream and absence of interest, willingness or zeal in addressing their immediate needs and concerns.
It is true that BAPSA has been gaining momentum though it is still not certain if they have garnered enough confidence among the student community to win a central panel seat.
BAPSA debuted last year in JNUSU election without much success in the central panel; however the blue flags did not fail to grab attention. With the turn of events leading to protests after attacks on minorities and Dalits, Rohit Vemula’s institutional murder and implementation of OBC quota; BAPSA has become a major party with sound number of activists and supporters. This time many organisations including SIO, YFDA and JTSA have extended their support to BAPSA. Given its recent entry, it is a remarkable achievement for the party to be fielding contestants for all central panel posts as well as councillor seats.
Here are excerpts from the interview we did with Chinmay of BAPSA, Waseem from SIO and Abdul Matin from YFDA. They talk about their aspirations, views on the mainstream parties, contemporary issues, student’s politics and its relevance.
Relevance of BAPSA in JNU:
Chinmay: BAPSA is not a Dalit organisation though Left parties try to impose Dalit baggage on us. The party is for all the Bahujan force and the oppressed. Campus did not have an Ambedkarite organisation and the discourse of the oppressed is totally absent in the campus. They are good in number but they are divided. Left has always compromised with administration and they failed to address our demands. The unity of the oppressed is needed to fight for the demands and they have to organise. Our discourse is the unity of the oppressed.
Matin: Our support for BAPSA is on the level of principles. All of us are fighting for social justice and the issues that BAPSA takes relate to us directly. No Left party has taken serious note of Muslims’ problems like deprivation points. Here we have a new possibility where many sections have come together but not under the Left.
Waseem: Muslim discourse is absent in the campus. JNU is silent about Muslim engagement with nationalism. Deprivation point system for Muslims is not implemented yet. BAPSA is coming with a new discourse. Parties are compelled to raise ‘Jai Bheem’ slogan. Oppressed sections have to form solidarity.
Why an organisation in the names of Birsa, Ambedkar and Phule?
Chinmay: The reason behind this naming is that Ambedkar and Phule had the same language and articulation against Brahmanism. Birsa also had a similar tradition and he was also against Brahmanism and all kinds of oppression.
These people represent three broader sections of the Indian people: Dalits, OBCs and Adivasis who constitute large amount of the oppressed. We are open to all and try to broaden our platform. We talked to Adivasis, North-Eastern students and others. The problem is that these sections are not united.
Matin: We have talked to BAPSA on this issue. This is a serious thing that minorities and many sections are not represented by this name and BAPSA has to take it seriously.
Waseem: Ambedkar Students Association’s history in HCU is an answer. They represent all sections in HCU. BAPSA is more diverse and inclusive. Their engagement with all sections will make things more clear.
Outside or within:
Does BAPSA get support from outside only or do they have members within other than Dalits?
Chinmay: Now we have OBCs and minorities in leading positions though we started as a Dalit organisation. In few years, we hope that it will be an organisation which has proper representation from all oppressed sections.
Matin: We do talk and BAPSA should do introspection on their relation with Muslims. There should be space for everyone.
Waseem: BAPSA is not an exclusive party for Dalits. Muslims are joining it. OBCs are also there.
Chinmany: We are demanding reduction in viva marks because there discrimination happens in a brutal level. We want the reservation to be implemented properly. We demand for deprivation points for Muslims since their presence outside Urdu, Arabic and Persian departments is very less.
Matin: We had talks and we demanded for separate deprivation points for Dalit Muslims.
Waseem: Left never addressed Muslim’s questions. There is a need for protest for Muslim deprivation points. There are many blocks populated by Muslims which are listed as backward but they do not come under quartile and do not avail deprivation point. We demand that they should be listed.
The spreading of this discourse at national level:
Chinmay: This has to be taken at a national level and moreover it is a reflection of what happens in many parts like Una and Rohit movement. But there are problems at the ground like conflicts between many sections. But these are linked to caste and people are divided within and they are manipulated by Right wing forces culturally and socially.
Matin: It should naturally evolve instead of us taking it out. We will be happy to see that like Una model. Rohit issue was hijacked by Left parties and Kanhaiya became a leader out of it but Una is different.
Waseem: Only solidarity of oppressed can counter BJP’s politics and it is witnessed with Una and Rohit. It should spread all over India and it will be the only option for marginalised sections to attain dignity.
Decasting and Anti-Brahmanism
Chinmay: Caste will not decay immediately because it is a product of thousands of years. First requirement is the organisation and unity of all the oppressed sections. To protest for your rights and fight against the enemy are the most needed things.
Ghettoisation and sectarianism:
If all communities assert their identity, will not it lead to ghettoisation or divisive politics?
Chinmay: There are possibilities but I am sure that it will not happen with Dalits, Muslims and Adivasis because they have an organic alliance. One section alone cannot fight against Hindutwa forces and all sections have to be together. So, common objective and interest will unite people.
Matin: We have fought for common issue. Whenever one talks from a platform he will be aware of other’s problems and rights as well. It is a celebration of democracy when many sections come together.
Divisive politics is part of the larger Sangh parivar politics. They pit against each other. Our concern should be to connect with masses.
Waseem: The conflicts between all sections will be solved through discussion and dialogues. They can solve their problems on their own.
Muslims and Dalits of different classes
Chinmay: In JNU and HCU, Ambedkrite movements are led by Dalits from poor background and we have support from all.
Matin: We are in favour of social justice in our community. We will fight for the Dalits. Ashraf Muslims also have problems but they are different. We do not treat Muslims as homogenous.
BAPSA’s stand on SIO?
On providing a space to Jamaat-e-Islami which has a different religious ideology of that of the establishment of ‘Hukumate Ilahi’ (God’s rule).
Chinmay: Left accuses us of having alliance with fundamentalists. We have a clear stand about SIO. Basically they are part of the organic unity of the oppressed. We differ at some point. They will not be part of Right wing. Their interests are similar to ours and we have to unite for this. We feel that labelling SIO like anything is problematic and they are victimised by the Left, the Right wing and the government. How CPI(M) can be progressive after doing Singur and Nandigram and label others fundamentalists.
Waseem: We are not using BAPSA to gain political space. Social justice is our concern and we will remain united. We have nothing to hide. This unity will last long and will be strengthened.
Why SIO and YFDA?
Chinmay: Muslims in JNU do not have an organisation which we could approach and just because of this we approached SIO and YFDA, the only active organisations. Whoever are coming, personally or organisationally we will accept. We did the same with Adivasis and North-Eastern people.
BAPSA does not have any restriction for anyone; we have members from general category also.
Why no candidates from Minorities and other sections?
Chinmay: We tried to get candidates and it did not happen at the end. But there are many supporters. But I feel that if there were candidates from many sections it would have made significant implication.
If Muslims and Dalits come together, nobody can stop them.
Matin: BAPSA approached us, but we said we are in an evolving process. There is no point in picking up a candidate just for the sake. BAPSA should engage with Muslims, other minorities, Adivasis, Kashmiris and others. But the issues that BAPSA raises relate to us naturally and principally. We will be part of this culture in future.
Waseem: It is BAPSA’s second election only. They tried to get candidates but failed. Just picking some Muslims is also problematic. It is not different from the politics of other parties. It is against the dignity and self-respect of Muslims and it is right.
Right and Left are two sides of the same coin:
Chinmay: Yes, they are.
Matin: Right is not even a matter for us to talk about. Left is a vast arena. We cannot bash Left just because of SFI or AISA. As a person from Bengal I can tell you that social justice was not a concern for Left. We have problems with both.
Waseem: Left and Right are not the sides of same coin. Left talks about communalism, social justice and other issues. But they failed to understand the crux of the problems. They are romanticising without going to the roots.
Fear of ABVP
Matin: We don’t need to support Left anymore in the fear of ABVP. Let the Left give space for all sections. Let hundred flowers bloom as Mao said.
Waseem: ABVP fear is no more a factor. How long will we carry this fear? All the problems happened not because of ABVP but its Brahmanical machinery and the root of the problem should be addressed.
Why did not SIO contest alone?
Waseem: Social justice should not be addressed on exclusive platforms. There needs to be solidarity and all of us have larger perspective. There are mistakes with every organisation but we have to welcome the new discourse that is coming up.
Iqbal Vavad is a student of CSSS and works for The Informer.