“Inclusive campus can be built through student movements only”: JNUSU President Speaks on the Left Alliance, Emergent Politics and Future Struggles

img_018621 September 2016 | Mohit Kumar Pandey, PhD scholar from Centre for Media studies (CMS), who had earlier done his MPhil from University of Hyderabad; also a veteran AISA activist and a front runner in the last two students led movements Occupy UGC and Stand with JNU out did BAPSA’s Rahul by some 409 votes in the Presidential race to usher in the Left-alliance to the Central Panel.

Despite his busy schedule, he was generous with his time for an interview with The Informer.  Mohit sees the result as a clear mandate against ABVP and fascist forces and talks about the Left unity, future agendas, BAPSA’s rise and other issues.

Throughout the conversation, he remained emphatic that the need for the Left alliance was felt long before the student’s union election came up. The alliance should be seen in light of the contestation between two widely different, irreconcilable ideological factions; and simultaneously the need felt for a more resolute, united and pro-active resistance through a cohesive Left body, he reiterates.

He not only insists on the key role played by the Left in mobilizing and resolving issues from the weaker, oppressed and minority sections, but also stresses that the Left is willing to attend and engage with emergent groups to introspect on its own shortcomings and failures. Thus, an alliance must also be seen as a negotiation with the differences among the split Left parties and an aggregation of voices and efforts to collectively resolve problems in the campus.

Dialogues and negotiations appear to be the mantra of this year’s Student’s Union. Only time will tell, how it traverses the fractured grounds of the campus; The Informer of course wishes them success in their initiatives.


Below, are the excerpts from the interview:

Your comments on the election result?

This election result is the manifestation of the movement that JNU fought for. JNU being a progressive campus has stood against all atrocities and was against an attack on it. So students wanted to give a proper lesson to ABVP as well as their government. So they voted to produce a mandate that would teach ABVP a lesson. For example, ABVP finished on third place after Left alliance and BAPSA for president’s post.


There was an accusation that the alliance with SFI was opportunistic and unfair, how do you see it?

We called for the unity long back and this unity did not come just as a terrain for electoral benefits but it was a result of long term struggle. We know that there are major differences between SFI and AISA. Being political rivals we have stood for these differences. But the alliance was a consequence of student’s movement to save JNU.


SFI and AISA have different ideologies, though they could unite for an election. How long will this unity work?

The question is how to save JNU and how to put our differences. This unity depends upon that. We are not saying that we will not have differences. Moreover, if we do not put our differences our politics is useless. But we want this unity to last long till ABVP suffers severe ideological setback in campus. We want to have an ideological battle with ABVP and their government. Meanwhile, we want to expand this unity bringing more forces together who are here to fight against fascism.


Since both AISA and SFI have got 2 seats in the central panel, what will be the nature of alliance when major decisions are to be made?

We already decided it in our first council meeting. Both SFI and AISA got convenors and few are from science schools. There is a consensus among us on this.


Do you think that if the alliance was not possible, AISA would have been defeated or ABVP would have won the election?

There could have been the possibility of ABVP winning the election but I think that Left parties would have won some seats on contesting alone also. Our aim was to garner votes against ABVP, we fought and gained it.


BAPSA’s president candidate got 1450 votes and they had a good performance, how do you see BAPSA’s rise? Do you see it as a challenge to Left parties?

BAPSA is a new party but there were some parties who worked on the same idea as BAPSA. The rise of any political party is a challenge. It is good for campus that BAPSA comes forth and ABVP is sidelined. They have progressive stands and are ready for debates with Left. So there is no problem in emergence of BAPSA.

But there is a problem in BAPSA’s stand to put Left and RSS together as they say, “lal bhagwa ek hain…” This brings lot of confusion in distinguishing the politics of the Left from that of RSS. Left has always fought for equality and it has fought against ABVP.


But BAPSA has an allegation that issues of Dalits, Muslims and other oppressed communities are not addressed in the campus?

I do not think it is true. If I specially talk about AISA’s politics, it has fought for deprivation points for girls, for the reservation of OBCs, for the approval of Madrasa certificates, against fee hike and against communal witch hunt. Our union went to Malagaon, Muzaffar Nagar, Banaras, and Trilokpuri riot and our fact finding team shared the experiences. This is the legacy of Left politics in the campus, mere allegations cannot eliminate the trajectory of the Left in this campus. We know that there are some problems, but when it comes to the issues, Left parties have struggled hard for the Dalits, Muslims, tribals, OBCs and others. We want to be more inclusive and go on with struggles.


Now, Left parties including AISA are using ‘Jai Bheem’ slogans with ‘Lal Salaam.’ Does it justify the accusation that left parties always hijack Dalit movements and their political assertion?

There is no point in hijacking but we want a better dialogue to fight against fascism. The left has always been in good dialogue with Ambedkarite movements. That is why our leaders are trying to participate in Dalit movements like Una and Rohit Vemula. We want to coordinate and stand together with all, either Bastar movement, or Kashmir or Dalit movement, etc.


Though the alliance could defeat ABVP, it is clear that they have gained support in campus in terms of votes; does it imply that Left’s resistance against ABVP has failed like last year?

We have to fight ABVP ideologically. We tried to build a strong defence against it. ABVP tried to make roots among new students with the help of administration. They are creating rumours in the campus against Left politics on how it denigrates the nation. ABVP got good support and we take it as a challenge and we will fight ideologically. Still I feel that the campus has given ABVP a strong message that they are ready to unite against it and they want ABVP to go.


Instead of asking for vote on campus issues, AISA and SFI had mainly two strategies, one to keep the fear of ABVP alive and secondly to project JNU pride? Is it true?

This is not right. ABVP wanted to create an atmosphere of fear which started from the 9th February incident. We want to eliminate this fear. We wanted the everyday environment of campus to remain progressive. Whenever you do something you are afraid that government may intervene and it happens everywhere, like the Rohit incident or at the FTII. ABVP is spreading this fear structurally and we want to put an end to this.

About JNU pride, when we say we are JNU, it is not about JNU. It is about the space of struggle in JNU, the space where we can fight and win for certain issues. And it is about how the idea of JNU has emerged. We have tried to negate the attempt by some people to impose their hegemony and elitist feeling. JNU is for the deprived sections also, it is for Kashmir, it is against AFSPA, is it for Bastar. It is not for the idea of elitism, it is a space where marginalised sections can come together and raise their voices. It is a space where they can put a challenge to administration and the current BJP regime.


AISA’s vote share is declining year by year, does it mean that the party is failing to attract more people?

Voting pattern depends upon many things…maybe because of the polarisation that is happening in the campus. It is there…that AISA’s vote share is declining and we are thinking about it very seriously. But on the other hand, if we talk about support, see the support we got in the last two movements Occupy UGC and Stand with JNU.


At a time when Left unity was needed why DSF and AISF were kept out?

See…it depends upon how the whole methodology works. DSF opted out of alliance and they never contacted us. They created a huge communication gap and they were not eager to be a part of the alliance. They kept on spreading rumours on alliance and they tried to keep AISA out of the ‘Left alliance’. I can say that we called for an alliance one and half months before election and we wanted the unity from the Stand with JNU movement to reflect everywhere. But DSF’s moves were against the methodology of alliance.

About AISF also, communication gap was there. In the last moment they conveyed the message that they are not comfortable with the alliance. But still they supported the alliance.


Do you think that it did not have any impact on students? Tabrez had a close fight with Pratim Ghosal of DSF, which raise questions on the fairness of the Left alliance? Moreover, DSF did manage to win a councillor seat on its own in SIS.

I do not think it had negative impacts. Electoral politics is affected by immediate modalities also. Since we got a clear mandate, we do not take it as having a negative impact. There were many rumours going around during elections.

DSF worked well. Votes may not always be in accordance with the mood of the campus. But there is a clear mandate, even from science schools that Left politics is always welcome in the campus.


What are the agendas for this year?

Hostel issue is our primary concern. Then we have reduction of viva marks, bringing deprivation points for minority, issue of drop-outs, issue of workers because they are suffering from overtime duty and harassment and many others.


A number of promises are made during the election campaigns but hardly any of them ever get fulfilled, partly because reforms are slow to implement. Don’t you think there should be a quarterly or half-yearly appraisal of the students’ union work?

We can prepare an action plan and we can do everything needed. We have to make our struggles intense. The allegation that JNUSU did nothing is problematic because it is not the signing authority. The only thing we can do is to struggle. If you see different movements like Narmada movement, they did not gain much but they are still struggling to convey a message that development with displacement is not good for society that is how we are also building struggles on many issues conveying a message that inclusive campus can be built through students movements only.


JNUSU will not be completely able to fulfil its long list of goals and agendas without negotiating with the administration. While protests and hunger strikes are one way of going about it, there should also be other institutionalized and peaceful ways of negotiating with the admin. The gulf however is increasing between the student community and the admin; and especially the students union and the admin; do you intend to reduce the differences?

We have made it clear that we will support administration for any pro-student activities. But if any move is against students we will not let them go with it. Whatever administration is providing is not out of their mercy but it is the result of past struggles. We do not have any problem with administration but we will resist their moves against students.


In the previous instance, it was seen that the president is made responsible not only for the actions of the students union and the activities of his/her own party but also the activities and events organized by marginal/radical groups in the campus. Don’t you think there is a need that the president should instead of being indifferent to them, be more in communication and interaction with the fringe groups?

We are in good relation with all organisations but we cannot put gag on any of them. Instead we, JNUSU, will express our differences if any. It is the beauty of JNU that opinions and different stand points are welcome here. The views do not necessarily match with ours. Ideology can be discussed. We want to nurture and flourish this beauty.

We cannot be in consensus with the ideology of every organisation but we insist on the freedom of expression. All ideologies should have their space to flourish.


How do you see the series of rape accusations against Left leaders? Does it have something to do with Left ideology and its limited concept of individual freedom?

This is directly related to the patriarchy that is prevailing in our society. It is everywhere, inside and outside. Left parties are and were ready to introspect on this. I agree that there is lack of sensitisation and Left wants to work more on this. Left is a hope for all and these incidents have adverse impacts. So we have to be in a principled position.


There is a talk, and even reports by newspapers that presidential debate was a cacophony which had less substance. Do you think the quality of the discussion has gone down?

I do not know how newspapers report things. I personally feel that we have discussed all issues. I talked about OBC reservation, issues of disabled, other sections, drop out issues, linking of BA-MA and others. All these happen because of ABVP and RSS where Arnab Goswami kind of nationalism is projected. Others also discussed many issues.


JNU has become an open field for the media, there is always something about the students, politics, students union, political parties in the news. What is your take on the increased media attention? Do you think there should be curbing of the media presence in JNU?

Newspapers have their own agendas. We cannot put a gag on them. But we can report this to responsible authorities. Increased media attention is actually a problem. They highlight sensational events like Kashmir as it happened with Shehla, Rama and others. They have their interests and resistance can be done through expressing our positions.


What do you feel about creating JNU’s own media platform—a campus newspaper?

Definitely, there is a need of campus newspaper. You people (The Informer) are doing very well. You should expand the scope of the paper and it will be helpful for students. It will be good if you can put some posters in the campus. JNUSU can help you all the way.

Iqbal Vavad is a student at CSSS and works for The Informer.