The ultra-left students' union AISA's epic failure to deliver on its promises, its complete disregard of the accommodation problem, and its overall complacent attitude to most issues on the Jawaharlal University campus propelled students to root for the RSS' students' wing ABVP in last week's students' union elections. The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), which secured a berth in JNUSU's central panel after 14 years, was further helped by the fact that its parent party was in power at the Centre.
University insiders say that the popularity of the All India Students' Association's (AISA) — the students' wing of the CPI(ML) — hit an all-time low because it was not serious in solving the immediate problems of the students, with the hostel issue topping the list. Yashika, an MA Linguistics student, said that when she joined the university two years ago, she was heavily impressed by AISA, which at the time, was keen on helping students find a room and even went to the extent of accommodating them in their own rooms. "Thus students felt obligated to vote for them," she said. But not any longer.
Karan (name changed), an MPhil student, said that AISA was not serious to secure amenities for the students, which made them look for an alternative. "They may discuss national and international politics with great fervour, but when it comes to solving problems like hostel crunch, an inconsistent campus Wi-Fi and a poor placement cell, they do not have any solutions to offer," he asserted.
JNUSU's joint secretary from ABVP, Saurav Kumar Sharma, said that the left was able to control politics in JNU so far primarily because of its adept handling of the hostel issue. But as the left turned non-serious, its clout waned. "They talk about students who face problems in finding an accommodation but never intervene. In fact, if new hostels are built that will greatly reduce the left's control over JNU," he said.
JNU professors, however, are surprised at the ABVP's rise. Ayesha Kidwai, professor at the Centre of Linguistics, said "the ground reality is different from the electoral result", hinting that their students were still left leaning, although some of them may have opted for the ABVP.
Professor Nilika Meherotra (School of Social Sciences, Anthropology) feels that the results have come as a warning to the left. "AISA did not focus much on the local issues in its campaign, whereas ABVP did. So this got them a strong support from the Schools of Sciences; even though the ABVP itself was not anticipating this. The left's lack of performance coupled with the change in the national political scenario helped the ABVP. JNU students come from different pockets of the country, and therefore, the result was inevitable," she said in a subtle admission that the Narendra Modi phenomenon may have spilled on to the JNU campus as well.
JNUSU vice-president Shehla Rashid of AISA dubbed the election results as an alarming wakeup call for the left. "The ABVP won by a very small margin, but the fact that the SFI (CPI's students' union) is behind ABVP is alarming for us," she said. "The ABVP was able to consolidate their voters in the science schools, which are not very politically active. Besides that, AISA has been in power for two consecutive years due to which there was anti-incumbency. All other parties centred their campaign on an anti-AISA line, which turned the freshers against us," she added.
She, however, refuted the argument that AISA neglected local issues like accommodation. "It was AISA which raised these issues. We created the consciousness among students that accommodation should be provided by the administration."
AISA activists admitted that the rise of ABVP in the left bastion of JNU was a reflection of Narendra Modi's appeal among the youth across the country. "We are not an island. We get students from across the country. So we can't remain untouched by the Modi factor," new students' councillor for the School for Language Studies, Chetan Tyagi said.
Divya, a final year PhD scholar in History, too acknowledged that national politics was in some way influencing campus politics: "It would be wrong to say that we have a right wing panel in JNU now as the majority of JNU students are still left-leaning. But the ABVP is emerging as a strong competitor. It receives a lot of funding from its parent party."
Richard, who is studying in JNU under a students' exchange programme with Germany, said he was overwhelmed with the sheer intensity of the election campaign. "You would never see such political activity in a university in Germany or any other European city nowadays," he exclaimed.
English language poet, writer and professor at the Center of English Studies, Makarand R. Paranjape, said that there was "clearly some sort of shift in the JNU political ecosystem, possibly away from the 'left' and towards the 'right'. But, whether this shift is substantive or small, lasting or transient remains to be seen."