Students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) got the first taste of the candidates’ policies during the presidential debate amid thundering applause and boos with a disabled independent candidate stealing the show.
The debate on Wednesday night, ahead of the JNU Student Union (JNUSU) election, opened with the speech of Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students’ Association (BAPSA) candidate Shabana Ali who trained her guns at the outgoing union for not addressing the students’ concerns.
She also slammed it for not being able to free the ‘Freedom Square’ — the designated protest site at the administrative block — which has been out of bounds since early this year.
Ali attacked the left unity for being “casteist” and too engaged in its own politics to think about the campus issues and said there was not much difference between the ABVP and the Left groups.
The RSS’ students wing Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) candidate Nidhi Tripathi also cornered the union for being ineffective. She promised better placement in campus and vending machines for sanitary pads.
But the candidate who got the most flattering response from the crowd gathered at a space near Jhelum Hostel was independent candidate Farooque Alam who, with his scathing rhetoric and witty asides, stole the show from his more seasoned counterparts.
“These left groups consider themselves progressives, the custodians of the oppressed class… but have they ever stood shoulder to shoulder with any physically handicapped student?” asked Alam who himself is physically challenged.
“To organise a condolence meet and to distribute pamphlets, that’s the only thing they know how to do… you could not even protect Najeeb, how can one expect you to protect the campus.”
Najeeb Ahmed, a first year M.Sc Biotechnology student, has been missing under suspicious circumstances since October last year from the JNU campus.
He said the All India Students’ Federation (AISF) — the student wing of the Communist Party of India — did not go with the Left alliance because it wanted its candidate to run for no less than the post of president.
The diminutive firebrand dubbed the BAPSA “shakuni” (a schemer from the epic Mahabharat) for acting as a fifth column throughout the last one year.
“Throughout last one year, did BAPSA ever come in support of students’ union? When the entire campus was united against ABVP during the Najeeb incident, it was playing its own fiddle and undercutting our efforts. They always worked to divide the Hindu-Muslim in the campus,” he said.
Taking a dig at the ABVP he said if they wanted to engage in student politics, they should stop playing the communal card.
The AISF candidate Aparajita Raja raised the bogey of right wing forces gaining strength globally and said the JNU campus is going through “dark times”.
“There is a global right wing shift. The fascist forces are on the rise everywhere… We condemn the killing of Gauri Lankesh,” Raja said.
A senior journalist who was critical of the right wing, Lankesh was shot dead outside her home in Bengaluru on Tuesday.
“Our Prime Minister who always remains in ‘flight mode’ follows those very people on Twitter who call Lankesh a ‘bitch’. This is the height of hypocrisy.”
The divide between the Left alliance (AISA-SFI-DSF) and the AISF became clear when Raja snubbed the former saying that her party doesn’t need to get its ‘left’ credentials attested from others and that it was ‘red’ enough being one of the oldest leftist student groups.
She alleged the alliance was just an expedient of “political arithmetic”.
Referring to the ABVP, she said there were some people “who want to make the campus a slaughterhouse”. She promised to restore the seats which were cut through a University Grants Commission gazette order.
The Left alliance candidate Geeta Kumari likened the ABVP with Hitler’s Nazi party in her speech alleging that the latter wanted to turn the campus into an RSS “shakha”.
“Remember, even the Nazis had started their campaign with the subversion of the universities,” she said.
Varshnika Singh, the candidate of the Congress-affiliated National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) promised a hospital in the campus since there were many incidents of dog bites for the treatment of which one has to go to AIIMS or Safdarjung Hospital.
She also criticised the Left groups and the ABVP for making the students suffer due to their differences.
The student union polls will be held on September 8 and the result is likely to be announced on September 12.