Three back-to-back issues – FTII row, Rohith Vemula’s suicide and now JNU controversy – have infused fresh energy to the National Students Union of India (NSUI), the Congress party’s student wing, which has been struggling to regain its space in campus politics.
The last two have also prompted the NSUI to reach out to Left, Dalit and other organisations in a bid to launch a united front against its arch rivals Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
And at the forefront of the NSUI revival efforts is Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi who joined the students twice at the University of Hyderabad to protest the suicide of Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula.
Gandhi also backed the agitating Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students who were protesting the arrest of their leader Kanhaiya Kumar. Kumar has been booked under charges of sedition over a protest organised in the JNU campus on February 9 against the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru.
The Congress vice-president had earlier visited the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) at Pune to express solidarity with students protesting against the appointment of actor Gajendra Chauhan as its chairperson.
The intent is clear – the Congress is desperately trying to win back not only the support of the Dalits, who have moved away from the party over the years, but also the youth and student community which, to a large extent, had deserted it in the wake of a series of corruption scandals during the UPA rule.
While the half of India’s population of 1.25 billion is under 25 years of age, 65% people are 35 or under. Their disillusionment with the Congress saw groundswell of support for the anti-corruption movement launched by Anna Hazare in 2011.
The NSUI had lost the Delhi University polls for the second consecutive year in 2015 and its presence remains negligible in JNU campus.
“This will certainly help NSUI to reconnect with the student community. ABVP is creating trouble in every university.
They (ABVP) have got a protective umbrella in the form of central government and are using it to their advantage. The Congress revival is also linked to NSUI resurgence,” CP Bhambri, political analyst and a distinguished scholar at JNU said.
However, the NSUI has tried to make a clear distinction as far as the JNU row is concerned. It has strongly condemned the “eulogising” of Afzal Guru and at the same time maintained that any attempt to label the institution as “anti-national” was “unacceptable”.
“We respect the verdict given by the Supreme Court and there is no second-guessing that he was a terrorist and it should not even be a subject of discussion. Just a handful of students making a martyr out of him don’t represent the collective voice of the university,” NSUI president Roji M John said.
“There is absolutely no doubt that the BJP is determined to crush dissenting voices emerging from various institutions of prominence. It is quite evident this incident is being used to further its agenda to close such centres of learning,” he added.
John sought a thorough probe into the entire JNU incident and claimed that a handful of 15-20 Kashmiri students had indulged in slogan-shouting. “They were all outsiders, a handful of 15-20 Kashmiri students. Let the government probe it and take appropriate action against those involved,” he demanded.
Apart from holding countrywide protests over the JNU controversy, the NSUI will also be part of a rally organised by the joint action committee of University of Hyderabad on the Vemula issue in Delhi on February 23, the day Budget session of Parliament begins.
“Educational institutions are meant to be open places where ideas flow. NSUI will continue fight for campus democracy and freedom of speech and expression,” John said.