Vinod Kumar & Hawaldar Bharti
Student movements in general, and students’ union election system in particular, have systematically been made non-effective through various government rulings by several electoral reform committees, particularly Lyngdoh Committee recommendations. In most of the Universities either there is no system of student representatives who can raise their voice for the cause of students, or there are some toothless students’ councils instead of unions. In this regard, the case of council election system in Central University of Gujarat (CUG) need to be discussed in which we can find how the nexus between administration and Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) is undermining and making mockery of the council elections.
In council election of 2019-20 in most schools of CUG, ABVP lost election of elected representatives, but got some uncontested seats. Most of the science schools are dominated by savarna faculty, particularly Jhas, Pandeys, Mishras, Dubes, Sharmas and others mostly from Brahmin castes. Under pressure of these savarna members hardly any student in science schools dares to come out with independent political opinions and to associate with any political organisations except ABVP. These savarnas have direct relations with RSS and BJP’s offshoot, that is ABVP. Science students, most of the times remain fearful of harassment and discrimination by this nexus of administration, savarna right-wing faculty members and ABVP. Therefore, most of the science schools remain without any political opposition against ABVP.
The last one decade witnessed the rise of Ambedkarite assertion in the university campuses across the country. In 2013-2014 a large number of students from marginalized social groups from different parts of the country entered CUG for higher education. From there students’ politics started becoming vibrant in CUG. Initially these organisations, without any formal structure, began with reading groups and gradually touched the issues of national politics as well as campus problems. Debates and discussions over anti-caste revolutionaries and social justice icons such as Birsa, Babasaheb, Phule, Periyar, Mandal, Savitribai, Fatimah and others became the central theme among the students. From reading circles, demonstrations to celebration of anti-caste revolutionaries–they entered into electoral politics of CUG. Ambedkar Students’ Association (ASA) made some significant gains in electoral politics. From 2014 to 2017, Sumedh Paridhe, Sanket Shirshat, Ajay Raut and Hawaldar Bharti made historical wins in successive years. While ASA was already there, some other organisations came into being, with agendas leaning towards social justice to left ideologies, such as United OBC Forum, Left Democratic Students Federation (LDSF) and National Students Union of India (NSUI). Through activism, CUG came to be known as one of the vibrant campuses among the university students in JNU, HCU and some other universities.
After JNU, CUG was the first university to established the Ambedkarite organization Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students’ Association (BAPSA) in 2017. Anti-caste students across communities, particularly from marginalised backgrounds, made BAPSA one of the largest organisations within a year. Birendri, a girl who is a first generation learner, from a remote part of UP, was elected as President of the organisation. In 2018-19 council election, Birendri made a historical win with a huge margin against the ABVP candidate in school of social sciences.
After 2018, although LDSF was there, some other left organization also entered the campus. Students Federation of India (SFI) was also formed in March 2019. Now the CUG has various organisations with different ideologies. In the students’ struggle except ABVP most of the organizations remain on the same side against the administration and government policies, and any undemocratic agenda of the government. These forces in the campus always raise their voices against any injustice happening in any part of the country. These organisations were able to gather a huge support from the students, and this always irritates the administration and especially ABVP.
ABVP which calls itself a students’ organisation, always works against the general interests of the students. Across the country it plays the role of a spy which gathers information about the students and labels them as anti-national if they do not fit into their ideological premises. They act as a private militia, indulge in hooliganism, terrorising students and teachers, and work for the propagation of anti-social justice and anti-minority agenda. CUG is a small campus divided into two different blocks surrounded by the right wing forces such as RSS and BJP. Often non-right wing organizations face the danger from these forces because ABVP mobilises these forces against the other organizations and they intervene in the internal matters of university. There were several incidents where RSS and BJP members have beaten up students and teachers, with full impunity from BJP government and the administration just facilitates them. Recently two students were beaten up by ABVP members, and against this violence, students protested against ABVP but administration and proctor did nothing against ABVP hooligans, and police even refused to file complaint against ABVP.
We are living in a democratic country and we should be able to exercise our democratic rights in any part of the country. Here we have to analyse why there are attempts to silence the voices of dissent and suppression of freedom of speech and expression. Who is fearful of the adventure of ideas in the university spaces in particular and in society in general? For people coming with their particular lived experiences, observation, scientific and critical temperament from different backgrounds, universities provide a better place to express themselves. Ambedkarite forces across the country stand for a society without inequality, with justice, human enlightenment and emancipation. These social values actually clash with the brahmanical hegemony of savarna, which the savarna never allows. Moreover, universities and other educational spaces shape and reshape the thinking of students and provide vibrant environment for political socialization and build the capability of critical engagement. Brahmanical hegemonic forces such as RSS, BJP and ABVP are fearful of vibrant student politics and the possibilities that can come out of it.
Here the case of CUG politics is significant to understand the larger hegemonic nexus of BJP government, the university administration and ABVP. In this council election, ABVP lost all the five seats which they contested. Ashraf Diwan from BAPSA won councillor seat of school of Social Sciences, LDSF won SIS, SFI won SLL/CS, and two independent candidates supported by the BAPSA and other organisations swept other two schools. These organisation were not able to give their candidates in science schools because of the faculties’ nexus with ABVP. Problems lie with the method of choosing council members who are nominated by the administration. There are certain criteria for nominated members. Dean takes all authority to nominate these members. Unlike other universities, CUG administration also dances to the tune of RSS and BJP. Nominated members are always pre-decided. Despite the requirement of several qualifications of the candidates, the administration prefers only one qualification: that is one has to be Sanghi or like-minded. In order to give favour to and to nominate ABVP members in the council deans refuse to follow even the LCR. After council election there would be the election of the convenor who would be elected by both elected and nominated members. Nominated half always goes with ABVP because they are nominated by the administration, which is working under BJP. Now even when non-ABVP forces win elections in different schools they are not able to elect convenor from among themselves.
Here certain questions arise. Who is fearful of the freedom of mind and conscience? Who is fearful of difference of opinion, particularly narratives and political language coming from Ambedkarite forces and lived experiences of the marginalised? Why are there attacks of ABVP, BJP and RSS on educational spaces? Brahmanism is fearful of Anti-Brahmanical tradition founded by anti-caste revolutionaries. Therefore education of Bahujans and freedom of mind always haunt these Brahmanical forces across the country.
Vinod Kumar is a PhD scholar at Center for West Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawahar Lal Nehru University.
Hawaldar Bharti is a PhD Scholar at Gandhian Thought and Peace Studies, School of Social Sciences, Central University Gujarat.