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Tectonic shift

The BAPSA-Fraternity alliance is ahead of the ABVP in JNUSU presidential elections, and has already secured a councilor seat. Patriot analyses how the party is now close on the heels of the Left and ABVP

On  JNU campus, the fight in the student union elections has always been dominated by the Left parties (AISA, AISF, SFI, DSF). Recently, after the advent of the BJP government at the Centre, ABVP too has established its foothold.

This year too in the presidential debate, when Patriot visited the campus, all parties were their usual boisterous selves, beating drums, shouting slogans. But amidst all the “Lal Salaam” and “Bharat Mata i Jai” chants, another chant could be heard loud and clear – “Jai Bhim” – chanted by a host of students that were as strong in number as those of the Left and the ABVP. The voices of the Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students’ Association was being heard loud and clear.

As polls got over on September 6, with a record voter turnout, the first round of results was declared by the JNUSU election committee on September 8, with the final results being stalled by the Supreme Court till September 17. Left candidate Aishe Ghosh was predictably leading by a large margin but in second position, it was not the familiar name of ABVP, but that of Jitendra Suna of the BAPSA.

While the ABVP didn’t even win a single post of councilor, BAPSA for the first time secured a position, as Afreen Fatima won the councillor’s seat in the School of Language, Literature and Cultural Studies.

“I still remember two years back, when all parties had scores of students lined on the ground campaigning, some BAPSA supporters were distributing hand-written pamphlets asking for votes,” says Yash, a student of the university.

The BAPSA was formed in 2014 inside the JNU campus. The organisation, which declares itself to be Ambedkarite in nature, aims at uniting the Dalits and other social minorities on campus to raise a voice for their rights.

They have been contesting elections since 2016, but had not made an impact in student union elections. They were only a marginal party, overshadowed by the Left and the ABVP. From the sidelines to now being a significant cog in the JNU political wheel, what factors helped BAPSA achieve such popularity?

The main aim of the BAPSA movement was to unite the Dalits and lower rungs of the society studying in the campus, and talk about their rights.  “In 2017, when the administration cut almost 80% of the MPhil and PhD seats in the campus, we went on hunger strike with the JNUSU, and even blocked the administration office for 20 days, as this move would have harmed the reservation for minorities in the campus,” says a BAPSA supporter, unwilling to disclose his identity. He says this was when BAPSA came to be seen as a third alternative.

This year, what proved to be a game changer was the alliance between BAPSA and the Fraternity Movement – an organisation that looks after the rights of Muslim students on JNU campus. In his speech in the first general body meeting, general secretary candidate of the alliance, Waseem RS said that this joining of hands brings multiple marginalised communities together.

“Just like Savitri Bai Phule and Fatima Sheikh or more recently Prakash Ambedkar and Asaduddin Owaisi joined hands in a united fight for the oppressed, this alliance too will do just that,” he said. Focused on issues like Islamophobia, caste politics and reservations – the alliance aimed at keeping the campus an autonomous space for all marginalised communities, by creating what they call “oppressed unity”.

“Since I have been studying here, I have never seen anyone from my community being represented in the elections, from any of the major parties in the campus. Hence, I feel connected to this alliance ,” says Ayesha, who was one of the many Muslim student raising voices of support for the BAPSA-Fraternity alliance.

In addition to the social and religious minorities, the sexual minorities too were being represented by the BAPSA-Fraternity alliance. From GS candidate Waseem RS to Presidential candidate Jitendra Suna, both of them promised to make the campus prejudice free for the LGBTQ community.

Many people belonging to the sexual minority community too, came out in support of the alliance, and joined forces in shouting slogans for the candidates of the alliance.

“The rising forces of the right wing Brahminism practiced inside the campus by the ABVP, especially with the government at the Centre has created a lot of tension inside the campus for people of lower castes, and also their Islamophobic practices have created a stir in the mind of Muslim students,” says the anonymous BAPSA supporter. The disappearance of fellow student Najeeb Ahmed from the campus in 2016 is one of the major issues that the alliance has raised from time to time in their campaign.

“The Left parties in the campus too, in spite of being so many years in power, has always turned a blind eye to the minorities’ demands, as they have always looked after those who are more privileged – be it socially or economically,” said BAPSA presidential candidate Jitendra Suna in his speech. “This left is the Savarna left, which has completely forgotten its Marxist ideals,” he added.

This dissent towards the two major political forces is also a reason, why the minorities have come together and voted for another third political alternative.

In last week’s report on the JNU presidential debate, Patriot had mentioned that the loudest cheers were reserved for Jitendra Suna. A resident of Kalahandi, Suna hails from the Dom community in his village and had faced caste prejudice from a very small age. He even worked as a labourer before coming to study in JNU.

“Jitendra’s story of struggle is an inspiration for so many of us,” says Rakesh (name changed), a Dalit student of 1st year MA in the School of Languages. “He is an inspiration for so many students and that is why me and a large chunk of my friends voted for him,” he adds.

From being under the shadows of ABVP and the Left — to being one of the major players in the campus politics, the rise of the “oppressed unity” has truly been meteoric.