At Hyd Uni, it's ABVP versus the rest: Left and Ambedkarites join hands in student elections

Much has changed from 2016, when the pitched contest was fought between the ASA and the SFI, after the movement for Rohith Vemula split.
At Hyd Uni, it's ABVP versus the rest: Left and Ambedkarites join hands in student elections
At Hyd Uni, it's ABVP versus the rest: Left and Ambedkarites join hands in student elections
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As campaigning for the University of Hyderabad (UoH) student union elections goes into high gear, the drastic change from 2016 is there for all to see.

In the days after Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula's death, one of the main points to arise from those who knew him, and from his own writings on social media, was his disillusionment with both the Left and the Right. But a year later, his own Ambedkar Student's Association has aligned with one to fight the other.

If last year saw a pitched contest between the Ambedkarite and Left student groups on campus, this year it’s all about a rainbow coalition against the BJP-affiliated ABVP.

Where the various student groups stand

There are six main posts for which the elections are held – President, Vice-President, General Secretary, Joint Secretary, Sports Secretary, and Cultural Secretary. Besides these, two posts in the Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH) are also being contested.

On one side, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) is contesting the elections with the support of the Other Backward Class Students Association. 

The National Students Union of India (NSUI) is also going it alone, but only fighting for one post, that of the President of the student union.

In the third corner is the Alliance for Social Justice (ASJ), jointly led by the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) and the Students Federation of India (SFI). Also joining the alliance are organisations like the Dalit Students Union (DSU), the Tribal Students Forum (TSF), the Telangana Vidyarthi Vedika (TVV), the Muslim Students Federation (MSF) and the Students Islamic Organisation (SIO), which had aligned with either the SFI or the ASA last year.

Uniting against a common foe?

The re-union of the Left and the Ambedkarites on campus, has raised several eyebrows. After all, precisely the opposite shift had taken place ahead of the union elections last year.

The two major student bodies had come together for The Joint Action Committee for Social Justice, to fight for the cause of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula, whose death had rocked the nation and sparked off debates across the country on institutionalised caste discrimination in universities.

(A poster by the ASJ with word play on HCU Vice-Chancellor Appa Rao)

But shortly before the 2016 student union elections, the movement had split wide open with the two parties slinging mud at each other.

The ASA had accused the Left groups of betraying the Justice for Rohith movement, and of wanting to keep Dalit students as victims. “…as long as we are seen as pitiful victims, everybody wants to show solidarity and extend support. But the moment we start speaking for ourselves and attempt to become architects of our own destiny, barriers will be created for us by the same forces who shed crocodile tears for us,” a press release by the ASA had announced.

The SFI, for its part, had focused its campaign on fears of an ABVP takeover of the campus, using this as a reason for keeping the candidate for President within its own fold.

This time around, however, the ASA too seems to have come onboard on the anti-ABVP platform with the SFI. This is because the concerns of the general student population have changed since the last election. While the ABVP had excited enough popular anger following Rohith’s death to significantly lower its chances last year, things have cooled down since.

And while Rohith's name still finds its way into the slogans of the ASJ, students are also facing more practical issues on campus, like a lack of facilities in hostels, delays in fellowships, availability of doctors and medical facilities, and transport facilities across the sprawling campus. 

So, the ASA defends its alliance with the SFI as a broader need of the hour, even as the concerns of 2016 remain.

"In that sense of contention from last year, the Left has not addressed our issues, and it can't. We do have political and ideological differences," says Munna Sannaki, from the ASA.

 "However, we are faced with a larger enemy, that is the facist 'Sangh Parivar', and groups like the BJP and the RSS, which dictate their student groups like the ABVP, to spew venom in academic institutions," he adds.

"Keeping aside national parties and their student groups, we are planning to bring out this alliance, and set this as an example of harmony, irrespective of our differences," Munna says.

(A campaign video by the ASJ)

ASA gets Presidential candidate

According to the ‘Terms of Alliance’ released by the ASA:

1) The alliance shall be entered as two fronts, one ASA-led front consisting of ASA, MSF and SIO, and the other front consisting of SFI, DSU, TSF, TVV.
2) Each front’s partners shall decide which organisation will contest in the election for which post.
3) The Election shall be fought under a united banner without naming any organization.

"On behalf of the ASA-led front, it has been decided that ASA will contest for the post of President and MSF will contest for the post of Joint Secretary," the statement said.

Interestingly, the SFI, which had insisted on retaining the President’s post for itself last year, has surrendered it to the ASA this year.

Sai Yamarti, the President of the UoH unit of the SFI, says that this is because a union of ‘progressive forces’ is the need of the hour. “We have decided to give up the President's post to the ASA, because we want to convey a larger message. There is a lot happening on the campus right now, whether it is notices from the Proctor, or restrictions on events being conducted on campus. While the smaller point is to defeat the ABVP, we also want to show to the college administration that all progressive organisations are united,” he says.

NSUI kept out of alliance

The NSUI too, has declared that it is a friend in the fight against 'Hindutva forces' like the ABVP.

"There is a reason we have only put up one candidate. We are a secular front, and one of the oldest student unions in the country,” says G Anju Rao, who is contesting for the post of President.

However, the NSUI does not find a place within the rainbow coalition of the ASJ.

“While we were interested in the ASJ alliance, the SFI has ditched us. The ASA was interested, but the SFI made a blanket declaration that it would not be allying with us, even though we both agree with the core values of social justice for the marginalised," says Anju.

Though there is a lot of speculation on campus, the SFI’s reasons for keeping NSUI out are not clear. “SFI has decided not to ally with NSUI as part of an all-India stand,” is all that Sai says on the matter.

"While both the alliances are fighting the election on ideological grounds, and we agree that we're part of a larger ideology of social justice, our sole emphasis this time, is to field one single candidate with a short manifesto and specific promises that are achievable within a year," says Anju.

(Anju Rao was in the news earlier, after she began a signature campaign on the shortage of sanitary pads on campus, which forced authorities to act.)

The NSUI's mandate can be found here.

A resurgent ABVP?

The ABVP, meanwhile, calls the broad coalition a clear sign of fear from the other student groups. 

 "Out of the last seven years, the SFI has been ruling for six years. If they are really working effectively, they should reduce the number of alliances, as they should be confident of getting votes. Instead, they are accepting more alliances, which shows that they are afraid," says Gurujada, senior leader from the ABVP-OBCF alliance.

Pointing out that the number of NOTA votes (None of the Above) has been increasing, Gurujada says that 'unhealthy alliances' that 'compromised their ideologies', were angering students.

He adds that the discontent among students is strong, and the ABVP will gain from this. 

"Nothing has improved over the last year. Even as far as social justice in concerned, the ASA and other such groups are not even considering the discrimination faced by the OBCs. Social justice doesn't come into the picture for them, when they don't consider an organisation 'backward' enough," he states.

The ABVP's mandate can be found here

The elections are scheduled to be held on September 21, and the entire list of candidates can be found here.

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