AISA Expands its Presence in JNUSU
— Kavita Krishnan
THE JNUSU Elections this year saw a definite broaden
ing and deepening of AISA’s victory and its support base. Not only did AISA redouble its strength in the Office Bearers’ team, winning both the Vice President and General Secretary posts, AISA also won Councillor seats in three Schools, and increased its votes in all Schools. SFI won the Joint Secretary post, and also the President post, defeating AISA’s candidate Awadhesh by a narrow margin of 73 votes.
The election was marked by the eclipse of the ABVP and NSUI, and the emergence of the Youth for Equality as a political platform which won a lot of media attention and polled third in the elections. The YFE, with an exclusive anti-quota plank, but combining much of the anti-Left rhetoric of the ABVP, emerged as a right-wing pole. AISA’s 34-day long Relay Hunger Strike in May-June contended with the YFE’s arguments head-on, mobilising students to unite to secure more opportunities in education for all, while defending quotas for deprived sections, won great appreciation – reflected in the election results too.
However, the elections did not revolve around the quota issue alone. Rather, AISA succeeded in making issues like SEZs, displacement, and neo-liberal policy a matter of debate. AISA raised the question – why did the corporate-backed anti-quota forces, have no objection when land and resources are being reserved for corporates in SEZs? When the UPA Govt. is unwilling to waive loans for suicidal farmers but is eager to waive the laws of the land for SEZs? And where were the CPI-CPI(M) watchdogs in Parliament sleeping when the SEZ Act was being passed? SFI-AISF responded by stating their opposition to the premises of the SEZ Act, and claiming that their parent parties were asking for amendments in the Act to protect farmers. AISA responded by making public the West Bengal SEZ Act, which contained all of the objectionable clauses (which deem SEZs to be ‘foreign territory’, and ‘public utilities’ in which workers cannot strike; also which exempt them from laws of the land) that SFI claimed to decry. This, and the Singur episode too served to put SFI-AISF on the defensive.
Other issues which received prominence were those of democratic rights – in which AISA took a lead in demanding justice for Afzal and a repeal of the AFSPA – issues on which SFI-AISF maintained an embarassed silence.
Finally, the elections were also a resounding endorsement of AISA’s Black Flag protest against Manmohan Singh on his JNU visit last year – most of the AISA leaders elected to the JNUSU are those who led that protest on November 14 last year. The attempts to ‘impeach’/’censure’/’boycott’ the JNUSU President last year have been soundly rebuffed by JNU students!
In School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, AISA’s candidate Kumar Mangalam emerged as the most popular candidate, winning with the maximum number of votes. In SIS, AISA candidate Arundhati Choudhury tied for fifth place with an SFI candidate. In SSS, AISA candidate Pallavi Deka was elected in the second place, while Sucheta De tied for fifth place with an SFI candidate. Bypolls for the tied seats will be held early next year. On the post of Joint Secretary, AISA candidate Shephalika Shekhar polled third with 624 votes, 176 votes behind the wimming SFI candidate. On the post of GS, AISA’s Sandep Singh won with 943 votes, 114 votes ahead of his nearest rival Arun Prashant of the AISF. On VP, AISA’s Tyler Walker Williams (last year a Councillor from SLL&CS) won with 1076 votes, while YFE candidate polled second with 736 votes, and SFI’s candidate Murtaza Ali Athar third with 731 votes. On President, SFI’s Dhananjay polled 909 votes, and Awadhesh polled second with 836 votes, while YFE’s candidate polled 810 votes.
Tyler is probably the first foreign student to win a Students’ union election in India. During the campaign, there were not-so-subtle attempts from the Right wing camp to whip up jingoism and racism against Tyler on the grounds that he, being a ‘foreigner’, had shown black flags to the Indian PM. The SFI-AISF camp too had tried to cast aspersions on his anti-imperialist credentials and whip up ‘anti-Americanism’ against him. The campus silenced all such campaigns by appreciating and warmly welcoming Tyler’s role as a committed activist against imperialist policies be they in the US or in India or anywhere in the world.
Soon after being elected, one of the first initiatives of the AISA leaders in JNUSU has been to take up the struggle of construction labourers on the campus, who are being paid less than half the minimum wage, and denied basic sanitary facilities, and drinking water. After a struggle that drew in a range of common students to conduct a survey of the work sites, the JNU Administration was forced to concede that it would ensure minimum wages for workers as well as facilities like water, toilets and creches, and that students would be involved in monitoring the working conditions and wages.