19 September 2016 | The walls of JNU narrate the past of student’s politics in the campus. The brick-red walls that have proudly shouldered the diverse traditions with their aspirations reflected through the caricatures, satires, provocations, resolutions and slogans on the wall can take one through the long winding history of student’s politics and the shifts, turns and forks in the path. It is to its credit that differences have not been quelled and dissenting voices have seldom been met with resistance. There have existed and hopefully shall exist diverse student’s political groups, ranging from the most extreme and radical outfits to the moderate parties, all being claimants of the Left ideology.
Student’s Federation of India (SFI) is one of the oldest student’s political groups in the campus; the party has nurtured Prakash Karat, Sitaram Yechury and hundreds of other communist intellectuals and leaders of national repute. The campus recognized as a Left bastion was dominated by SFI for more than two decades, which was challenged by the rise of AISA that turned things around and the campus allegiance was divided into the two broad factions, the new ultra Left AISA and the distinguished but moderate SFI.
AISA contested for the first time in 1993 and by the time it was 2007 SFI had lost all Central Panel seats to AISA. But SFI was not willing to accept defeat, though it seemed it was visibly struggling to turn the tide of votes in its favour. The members believed that a comeback will be possible if the party addresses relevant issues promptly and acts accordingly. What proved decisive in the last two decades and helped AISA clinch the vote count was not the ideological difference but the regional difference, or rather the linguistic difference that worked against SFI.
AISA had the advantage of being a ‘Hindi party’ while SFI was labelled a party of Keralites and Bengalis of predominantly English speakers, which perhaps had to do with the communist state governments that headed the two states of Kerala and West Bengal at that time. Nonetheless, this tag of elitism and regionalism is something with which SFI will have to struggle for a long time.
It was the time in 2012 when Pranab Mukherjee was nominated for the post of the President of India, CPI (M) which had entered into an alliance with Congress to form the government at the Centre, supported his candidacy and voted for him. The decision resulted in a rift in SFI; a faction within the party had a different take on Mukherjee. This contentious faction refused to agree with the decision taken by the parent party at the Centre. There had been problems earlier as well during the regime of UPA, when the CPI (M) members have had differences with Congress, but because of the alliance at the Centre, it seemed that they mostly had to give in to in at the end (Read: the Nuclear deal with US, the numerous scams exposed later). The relations between Congress and CPI (M) had already started to sour and one could hear grumblings of dissatisfaction within the rank and file of CPI (M) long ago. The candidacy of Mukherjee, however remained the tipping point in JNU students politics and many active leaders and cadres in the CPI(M) unit left the party. CPI (M) dissolved JNU unit and expelled its leaders.
Political scientist Yogendra Yadav observed that “Established Left has lost its moral and ideological charm. This was compounded by the split. When SFI started looking like a wing of the political establishment, AISA emerged as a formation that represented radicalism. The youth is naturally attracted to radical movement. There is an emerging space in national politics for alternative politics. In JNU, at least for now, AISA appears to have captured that space.” (Sep 17, 2013. Times of India)
Expelled members formed a JNU-SFI body and later on floated a party of their own called Democratic Students Federation (DSF).
In 2012 September election, Lenin who was expelled from the party won the president’s post defeating AISA’s candidate. The SFI candidate got only 108 votes. It was thought that SFI will take at least 8-10 ten years to make a comeback in the campus. On the other hand, nobody had thought that the rebels will be able to garner a huge support in the campus. However, with the JNUSU election results, it was clear to everyone that CPI (M) has made a major error in judgement.
In 2013, SFI had a better performance. It contested only for 3 CP posts and the Presidential candidate got 329 votes while Gaurav for General Secretary got more than 600 votes. It still failed to win any councillor post even though its candidates lead a strong fight.
In 2014 election, SFI considered the performance in the JNUSU election to be a key for the party to get its momentum back in the campus. Though CP candidates did not win, all four candidates got around 750-800 votes, igniting some hope. Besides this, SFI could win 2 councillor seats in SIS and SSS; and 1 in CSLG and SAA. This increased the confidence of its cadres and they realised that they need to continue their efforts and working harder.
In 2015 election, the Presidential candidate got only 600 votes while other CP members managed to secure more than 900 votes. Meanwhile, SFI could win 3 councillor posts in SSS and 1 in SIS. SFI was growing up to be a strong contender but still remained uncertain if it will be able to grab CP posts at this stage. The left space in the campus was shared between many parties and SFI was having difficulties in making a niche for itself, though it had expanded its member base considerably. This growth was due to the support the party got from its new cadres who entered the campus after the fierce days of the split. They appeared least bothered about the past mistakes. On the other hand, DSF slowly realized it will need to work harder to shed its label of ‘SFI rebels.’ Its founding leaders were now old and their time in the campus was coming to a close. They were also struggling to attract more committed members.
In 2016, SFI wanted an alliance in the wake of the consequences of 9th February. Even earlier SFI had called for an alliance to defy Lyngdoh and counter the growing popularity of ABVP, which lead to all-organization meetings and debates but nothing materialized. In 2016, AISA knew that it was formidable enough to win CP posts on its own but the rape case against one of its senior leaders came as a shock and AISA was compelled to go for the alliance. Now, 2016 has been a memorable year for SFI which marks its return to the power politics in the campus. The 9th February incident paved a platform for SFI to work hand in hand with other Left parties and it also brought its national leaders like Yechury and Karat to the campus. SFI members threw themselves in the ‘StandWithJNU’ movement and worked hard to build a reputation that will help them contest the election with confidence and winning chances.
In the 2014 GSCASH election, SFI’s candidate Aparna Mahiyariya won defeating AISA’s candidate Shehla Rashid who later on became the Vice-President and there was a marked difference in the attitude of the party members who were now more hopeful of the future. SFI worked hard and took up campus issues to get attention among students and it worked. In 2013 GSCASH election also SFI had secured 680 votes but it was not a true reflection of SFI’s strength in the campus. In 2015, SFI again lost to DSF and AISA but now it could boast of having covered a lot of ground in terms of vote share.
SFI’s national committee member Nitheesh Narayanan says that JNU is a political campus and SFI’s ideology has the capacity to occupy a space here. And it is because of this that SFI could regain its strength in two-three years. He further said, that he agrees that AISA has been able to occupy the Left space but it was SFI who always stood and fought with ABVP directly.
2016 is a golden year for SFI and it denotes the comeback of the party in its complete form. While DSF was kept out of the alliance, SFI and AISF were supposed to get one post each while AISA was supposed to get two. But the last minute changes within the alliance resulted in SFI getting one more post thereby balancing the seat-share with AISA.
Amal P. P. and Satarupa Chakraborty were selected to be party representatives respectively for Vice-President and General Secretary posts. SFI’s cadre system is not as strong as AISA’s but it could get reap the benefits of alliance in all senses. SFI contested in 3/5 of councillor posts in SSS, 2/5 in SIS and 1/5 in SL and all of them came triumphant.
SFI candidates Amal and Satarupa got 2461 and 2424 votes respectively which show that they got all left votes while Mohit and Tabrez are far behind them with 1954 and 1670 votes. SFI got more votes to be able to win two Central Panel seats after 2007. So what was the strategy? The strategy was to make use of the main opponent since 2005 AISA for a tactical promotion of its own candidates. Along with ABVP, SFI is the only growing party now while AISA is declining year after year. DSF has come to an end owing to many crippling limitations though it got a councillor seat in SIS and performed well for Joint Secretary post.
It is true that SFI won two CP post with huge margins but there is still a doubt on its political credibility of being completely faithful to the Left. Since it is a student wing of CPI (M) which has ruled Tripura, Bengal and Kerala; the performance of the parent party on some accounts has led SFI to faces lots of criticism. Moreover it bears the allegation that it failed to address the issues of minorities, Dalits and other oppressed sections both in ruled states and the campus.
Instead of basking in the past glory, SFI needs to observe the ground realities and be proactive if it wants to make a mark on its own. It should realise that a campus which was their bastion once is now a shared space of Right and other left parties and that it must fight tooth and nail for reclaiming the lost grounds.
Iqbal Vavad is a student at CSSS and works for The Informer. The views expressed are personal.
With inputs and data from Nitheesh Narayanan. The data provided is an approximate figure, there might be slight variations.