Allegations, cheers, sloganeering, singing and a dash of chilli powder — Thursday’s students’ union presidential debates at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) had all this and more.
Close to 8,500 students will vote into office a new set of representatives this week.
The series of speeches that kicked off on Wednesday night at the Jhelum lawns was opened by National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) candidate Jogendra Singh Pawar.
The 45-year-old university, renowned for its student activism and left-leaning political culture, has a long tradition of serious post-dinner meetings in the hostels to which the students often invite public figures, writers and intellectuals.
Pawar pointed at certain harassment charges against the former president and joint secretary of the All India Students’ Association (AISA) led students’ union. However, this breach of secrecy, as per the institute’s Gender Sensitisation Committee against Sexual Harassment , attracted criticism from not only the audience but also the election committee.
The AISA, which swept the polls last year, highlighted the work done by the previous union. “JNU has always professed a model of egalitarian politics and we promise to live by the ideals set up by the previous union,” said Ashutosh Kumar, the presidential candidate for the party.
A minor scuffle broke out between the supporters of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and Students’ Federation of India (SFI). Some members of the crowd even threw chilli powder at the audience and misbehaved with volunteers in a drunken state.
“We promise that there will be stricter anti-discrimination laws to prevent any racial crime within the campus or against any student outside the campus,” said Pindiga Ambedkar from SFI.
The only female presidential candidate from the newly-formed Left Progressive Front (LPF), Rahila Perween, also attracted appreciation from the crowd.
Some crucial points raised by most speakers were the lack of hostels and alternate accommodation for students, the need for stricter laws to prevent violence against women and wi-fi connectivity throughout the campus.
Amid hits and misses, ABVP candidate Sourabh Kumar raised hackles among the left parties by calling JNU student Hem Mishra a terrorist.