JNUSU Polls: The Crashing of Sangh Parivar’s Cherished Dream

Rising discontent against Narendra Modi and his government’s policies has led to a string of defeats for ABVP – but JNU was a special experiment that failed.


After being comprehensively rejected by the students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in the union elections held on September 14, and despite its attempt to hijack and sabotage the counting process, a group of ABVP activists and their non-student cronies continued their violence on the campus on September 16, hour after the results were declared. The latest reports indicate that they even threatened to kill the newly elected union president when he went to file a complaint at the local police station on September 17.

The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) is the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). It thus represents and pursues the Sangh Parivar ideology openly, the target of its activities being students, especially in universities and colleges. They also act like storm-troopers of the Sangh, with a long history of active participation in Sangh- organised or inspired interventions. In this context, the violence unleashed by ABVP in JNU is not surprising, though it is unprecedented as far as JNU is concerned.

What lies behind the ABVP‘s violent tactics in JNU? There are two reasons contributing to their stance. One is frustration at being unable to gather sufficient support in the university to win the students’ union elections and the second is that they are functioning under a larger plan of the Sangh Parivar to destroy JNU’s democratic culture. The first is a current reaction, the second is an ongoing process unveiled after the Modi government came to power in 2014 and which has developed into a multi-pronged effort to take over the administration, divide and cow down the academic community of teachers, students and staff. This second dimension is what distinguishes the current events from being the usual student politics where losers create a ruckus.

ABVP Losing Ground Everywhere
The ABVP has suffered a string of defeats in students’ unions across the country this year. It lost elections in Uttarakhand, Punjab, Rajasthan, JNU, Maharashtra, and Kerala, to name a few. Not that they lost all the elections – they won in Delhi University, for instance – but the reverses were notable and definitive. The trend is so widespread that it has to be linked to the rising disillusionment with the Modi government caused by its policies. Rising joblessness, failure of programmes like Digital India or Make in India, attempts to foist obscurantism in the name of ‘nationalism’, interference in university affairs, and spreading corruption are some of the issues that have affected even the middle class from which a large number of students in higher education are drawn. Besides these, the Modi government’s anti-Dalit and anti-Adivasi policies, its failure to curb violence against women and its pandering of violent lynch mobs too have damaged its image in the eyes of the students. Importantly, there has been a rise in the cost of education flowing from the Modi government’s insistence on cutting allocations for education while pushing privatisation as the substitute. All this has angered the student community.

Contributing to this discontent is the Modi government’s clear approach of intolerance towards democratic institutions and processes. Its appointment of various Sangh Parivar loyalists to academic posts (including the current JNU Vice Chancellor), its disregard of protests and differing voices, its tendency to use the police and other coercive instruments to suppress protests, especially of students, have shaken the students community.

Put all this together and you will find it not at all surprising that the ABVP – openly tom-tomming the virtues of Modi and his government – has ended up in a dead end. Students are more enlightened than many, unlike what the Sangh Parivar would like to think or admit.

JNU – An Experiment That Failed
JNU has been a special case as far as the ABVP/RSS/BJP is concerned. Situated in Delhi, right under the nose of the Modi government, its progressive values and output were a prime target for the reactionary Hindutva forces. The strategy of uprooting them could be described as a twin approach of a takeover of the administration going hand in hand with a takeover of the student community. The first has been largely accomplished by installing a pliant VC through whom a slew of appointments, changes in functioning, subversion of established democratic norms, shackling and regimenting of teachers etc. has been done over the past few years. This has not been easy because there is relentless resistance from both teachers and students. But if you have a shameless and committed agent, with full backing from the top, to carry out the plan, then widespread damage also counts as success.

It must be mentioned here that what has been experimented with in JNU in terms of administrative changes is also a model that the BJP government wants to foist on the rest of the country’s universities. It is facilitating the road to greater private/corporate intervention in financing and managing higher education. This in turn is part of what the advanced countries of the West are demanding through World Trade Organisation, etc.

The other prong of the strategy – takeover of the student community – has backfired horribly for the Sangh Parivar. It was perhaps hubris that led the strategists of the BJP/RSS to think that merely injecting some pseudo-nationalism into the mix and backing it up with force (whether police or rowdies) would do the trick. It didn’t.

In 2016, the manufactured incidents of ‘anti-national slogans’ led to widespread violence and chaos with false charges against many students. ABVP was at the forefront of the whole conspiracy. Yet, the very next year, the ABVP failed in the union elections. The failure has been confirmed with their humiliating defeat again this year.   

Meanwhile, not only have Left and progressive forces consolidated in JNU but an even wider unity has emerged as the anchor to the resistance against creeping Hindutva. Teachers and students and university staff have joined together in this fight.

The Fight Is Not Over
Student unions are instruments of struggle. A Left victory in JNUSU means that the fight against the RSS/ABVP and against the policies of the Modi government will continue with vigour. With general elections ahead in 2019, the Modi Sarkar and, of course, the RSS and ABVP were hoping that student union victories will help boost their image. Defeat does not mean that they have folded up, as shown by the post-result violence in the campus. And, neither does it mean that new shenanigans will not be trotted out by the Sangh Parivar to continue the subversion of JNU. But, the renewed mandate in JNU, as also in dozens of universities and colleges of the country, shows that Modi and his Sangh Parivar face a formidable challenge in the coming days. 




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