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Activism and academics

With the AISA coming to power after the JNUSU polls this year, its winning candidates talk to Gauri Kohli about how they managed to attract voters to the group’s ideologies.

education Updated: Sep 24, 2013 16:39 IST
Gauri Kohli

The tables may have turned at the seat of power in Jawaharlal Nehru University’s student politics, but the institution continues to be a red bastion. With the All India Students’ Association (AISA) sweeping all four key positions of the JNU students’ union, it has emerged as a group that attracted students to its fundamental movement.

AISA has served as an alternative to pro-Left students who didn’t want to go with either the National Students’ of India or the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad. With a presence on the JNU campus since 1992; the group has come a long way and has establishing its stronghold in the university’s student political system.

Akbar Chawdhary and Anubhuti Agnes Bara, who won the posts of president and vice president of JNUSU, respectively, had a clear ideology of making JNU more socially inclusive and affordable. Besides catering to students’ issues on campus, the duo also aims to remain a strong voice of support for people’s movements across the country.

Social inclusion on their minds
Within two weeks of coming to power, the new office bearers, along with their team, were on a “solidarity visit” to riot-hit Muzzaffarnagar.

“Uttar Pradesh has recorded incidents of riot in the last several years but this time, the communal facet of Muzzaffarnagar was badly exposed. We have a vision of social inclusion and that is why we chose to go there. After the July 31, 2013 incident, we are also working with the School of Social Sciences for a module on gender sensitisation,” says Bara.

The road ahead
Talking about their agenda, Chawdhary says, “We want reduction of weightage of the viva voce exam in JNU, opposing state repression and witch-hunting of dissenting individuals in the name of countering Maoism, increasing of the merit-cum-means fellowship, ensuring hostel accommodation for all students, ensuring institutional mechanisms in JNU to counter the prevalent patriarchal commonsense which restricts women’s freedom of movement and choice, opposing the UPSC’s move to disallow foreign languages as optional papers in the UPSC exam, and opposing the imposition of FYUP.”

JNUSU has always seen the struggle for students’ rights as an integral part of the larger people’s and workers’ struggles for their rights, against SEZs and forcible land acquisition for instance.... “In the coming year, we will also ensure that JNUSU remains a strong voice of support for people’s movements across the country,” says Chawdhary.

Banking on achievements
AISA also has many achievements in the last one year. “The JNU press was finally put in place after our intervention, and we also ensured that the entire process remains transparent and democratic. The UGC’s attempts to curtail the JRF fellowship in the name of ‘fund-cuts’ were rejected; institutional mechanisms to address violation of workers’ rights were put in place... Moreover, after the December 16, 2012, gang rape, JNUSU, AISA and the JNU student community played a very important role in the mass protests that happened in Delhi - a role which was crucial because it helped to shape and shift the discourse and focus attention on the need to ensure women’s freedom without fear. We have also been at the forefront of struggles to oppose the FYUP in Delhi University, and against the anti-student moves to reduce the age limit in the IBPS exam,” adds Chawdhary.

The AISA team is proud that they worked round the year trying to address various concerns and take up campaigns. “In a sense, for us, election preparation is the hard work and struggles that we collectively engage in throughout the year. As far as money is concerned, we hardly need to spend much money in the JNUSU elections. AISA’s campaign was a campaign based on ideas and vision; it was a campaign that relied on our ideology and also on our track record of uncompromising hard work and struggles for the issues we promise to take up. It is a well-known fact that JNUSU elections are by and large free of money and muscle power,” he adds.

“When I came to JNU in 2009, I found the intensely political culture of this campus very compelling. Soon, I found myself getting attracted to AISA’s vision of the student movement, and its visible attempts to address so many concerns on campus. Whether it was defending OBC reservations, opposing the imposition of the Lyngdoh reccomendations, fighting for enhanced financial assistance and better infrastructure, or strongly opposing state repression, AISA always worked hard towards its vision. So, soon, I too became an activist,” he says.

Bara, who hails from Jharkhand, has seen the political culture at Delhi University too. “I did my bachelor’s and master’s from DU and then joined JNU. Whatever we study at JNU, we are applying here and the work that we do as JNUSU members will be a great learning experience,” says Bara, pursuing her MPhil from the Centre for Historical Studies.

‘Activism, part of studies’
For these student activists, contesting elections and winning essentially means shouldering more responsibilities. “Being the JNUSU president is not something to enjoy, it is a seat of struggles and not a seat of power! It is about carrying forward our vision of social transformation,” says Chawdhary. Both believe that in JNU academics cannot be separated from activism.