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From Stigma to Assertion: BAPSA in JNU campus
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Amit Kumar PIc

 

Amit Kumar

Amit Kumar PIcAs an active member of BAPSA (Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students’ Association), I had contested twice for the post of councilor from the S.I.S (School of International Studies), JNU. It left a deep imprint on my mind and this experience has really helped me in evolving my personality. Cutting the stigma, coming to the forefront and raising the slogan of Jai Bhim is the confidence and the assertion of Ambedkarite discourse on the campus. and I had started asserting my identity more openly in an assertive and powerful manner. In the first year when I contested, I got 226 votes and lost the contest by just 5 votes. Many were expecting my win in the election. In 2015 election, the winning candidate got 171 votes. It was due to the coalition of two major political parties and two other left parties also supporting that the winning votes went up. The second time, the situation was the same: I secured 213 votes when 3 major left parties of the campus – A.I.S.A, S.F.I and D.S.F – formed a coalition.

It is very paradoxical that how in the initial years it was difficult in a progressive campus to do Ambedkarite politics. In the first election in which our party contested, no party was taking BAPSA seriously as they came with the assumption that we will not be able to give a tough fight to a left-leaning party in a left dominated campus like J.N.U. As it operated beyond the binary of left and right. It was stigmatized as the caste-based party playing identity politics. Even now a few people are not ready to listen and they have stereotypical kind of understanding about as BAPSA as sectarian politics, identity politics and they compare us with right-wing parties.

Coming here to JNU and taking up any other ideology except left is not seen as normal. In this so-called progressive campus, Ambedkarite politics is still stigmatized. Many comrades had asked me the reason for forming the party. They said to me, “we are fighting for the cause of the oppressed” and were open to discuss any topic so what is the need for BAPSA? If I can recall, many students were not ready to listen to me and were not even ready to accept leaflets of my party. Many a time they made us feel humiliated. They were not ready to listen to our stand, our ideology, but they had a prejudiced opinion about BAPSA.

On 15th November 2017 BAPSA completed 3 years of its existence.  Its success and imprint on the campus is unique in many senses. Formed on 15th November, the birth anniversary of Birsa Munda, BAPSA started its journey by raising the slogan of the indigenous people, ‘Ulgulaan’, a call which was given from the forest by Birsa Munda for saving Jal, Jangal, Jameen. In the JNU campus, terminologies from Che Guevara, Karl Marx, Mao Zedong were ingrained in the political culture. The Dafli, Jhola, Hawai Chappal, Cigarette, Chai–remain elements of being Leftist in J.N.U. The claim of a leftist organization that J.N.U is red and will remain red, and in academic circles of Marx, Althusser, Gramsci, Chomsky, Foucault, is common.

BAPSA as an organization fought for the first time in the election of 2015: for only two posts in central panel and one for councillor from S.I.S. BAPSA fought not only for political representation but for its own cultural space as well in this plural campus. This is the unique contribution of BAPSA to the campus. It not only came as a political party but as a cultural organization as well, representing and performing a unique culture in which they strongly asserted their voice by using traditional instruments . They have given a new discourse to the left-leaning campus, beyond the binary of the left and right. They have given the slogan of unity of the oppressed. BAPSA believes the oppressed should come together and take the representation into their own hands and exercise their own agency. The unity has not compromised the agency and autonomy of the various oppressed nationalities on the basis of caste (S.C, ST, OBC, Women, Minorities, Queer, LGBT, Racial minorities, Linguistic minorities, economic oppressed etc.).

The accusation of playing identity politics is always raised against BAPSA. The rise of identity movements is a reality; this happens if there is discrimination on the basis of identity. The use of identity here is for democratization, for claiming equal citizenship. Last year, when B.A.P.S.A fought for the second time, it secured the second position by getting 1565 votes which was unique in J.N.U election history. In this second round, it fought for all the important posts of the central panel and the major schools of J.N.U i.e. S.S.S, S.I.S and S.L and C.S.

The successive politics of tokenism by the left and failure in the question of representation, reduction of viva- voice, non-implementation of O.B.C reservation, scholarship issue, hostel issues and keeping our democratic space open and upgradation of the campus to meet universal standards remained at the forefront. Inside and outside the campus we had witnessed many changes; many other organizations also came into existence, like the O.B.C forum, Y.F.D.A, S.I.O, BASO etc. Some are social, not political in nature, but have great significance in shaping the politics of J.N.U.

BAPSA as an organization has a great future and it has proved itself in every instance and always remained in the forefront for revolution. The ideological bankruptcy of the left in JNU for petty political interests has made this space and this vacuum has been successfully used by BAPSA.

BAPSA needs to entrench itself and reach out to each and every student. The ever-increasing popularity of Dr B.R Ambedkar had forced many progressive forces and regressive organization to use the name of Ambedkar for political mileage. These organizations are co-opting and appropriating Ambedkar to suit their agenda. BAPSA believes in the autonomy of Ambedkarite politics. Ambedkarite thoughts occupy the central place in their articulation. But for other organizations, the Ambedkarite organization is still sectarian, casteist, communal and promotes caste.

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Amit Kumar is a Research Scholar at S.I.S/ C.R.C.A.S, Jawaharlal Nehru University.

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