Student polls: Why ABVP is finding it difficult to expand its support base in varsities

Updated on Oct 02, 2017 02:18 PM IST

Student union elections in many campuses across the country have resulted in losses for the ABVP. Foreboding about their future seems to have affected the way students voted

A protest against the RSS-backed ABVP in the Delhi University campus on February 28 following clashes at Ramjas College. In the union election that followed, the left-wing AISA made violence on the campus a campaign issue to galvanise students against ABVP.(Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)
A protest against the RSS-backed ABVP in the Delhi University campus on February 28 following clashes at Ramjas College. In the union election that followed, the left-wing AISA made violence on the campus a campaign issue to galvanise students against ABVP.(Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)
Hindustan Times | ByHT Correspondents

The National Students Union of India (NSUI) made their slogan “Take Back DU!” come true by winning the two top positions in the Delhi University Students Union (DUSU) elections this year. More than their victory, the result was seen as a mandate against the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP).

The RSS-backed Parishad needs to rework its strategy if it wants to remain popular among students and expand to new territories across the country. The results of student union polls in six universities indicate that its divisive politics, over-reliance on muscle and money power and hardline nationalism are working against it.

In Delhi University, the ABVP disrupted an event at Ramjas College in February in which Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student Umar Khalid was to speak, resulting in a wave of protests. The ABVP became the face of the shrinking space for dissent in the university. In the union elections that followed, the left-wing All India Students Association (AISA) ran its entire campaign urging students to vote against violence on campus. Eventually, the (NSUI), the student wing of the Congress, cashed in on the discourse. The ABVP, which had maintained its sway on Delhi University Students Union for the past four years and swept the polls in 2014 and 2015, won only two seats. “The ABVP failed to mix intellectualism with activism. That is why it could not mobilise students,” said a professor at DU who wish to remain anonymous.

That the policies of the Centre and state governments can impact the prospects of the ABVP was evident in the union election results of Gauhati University in Assam. It failed to wrest control of the union in the oldest and most reputed university in the northeast.

The All Assam Students Union (AASU), the state’s biggest student body, benefited from disenchantment and anger at policies of the BJP governments in New Delhi and Dispur which played an important part in the ABVP’s disappointing show.

“Since Independence, Assamese people have felt threatened due to illegal immigration from Bangladesh and the failure of successive Congress governments in the Centre and the state to root out the problem. It was the main cause for the Assam Agitation (1979-1985),” said Lurinjyoti Gogoi, general secretary, AASU.

The BJP’s promise to solve the problem led to a huge win for the party in last year’s assembly polls. But the party’s decision to amend the Citizenship Act to provide citizenship to Hindu Bangladeshis while handing over portions of Assam land to Bangladesh led to disillusionment across Assam.

“People were getting agitated. The final nail in the coffin was the state government’s decision to open colleges in the name of BJP ideologue Deen Dayal Upadhyay. It led to a lot of resentment among the student community and resulted in the ABVP’s dismal show,” said Gogoi.

Ever since it played a pivotal role during the 1979-1985 Assam Agitation against illegal immigrants, AASU has been a major player in student politics in Assam and in all major socio-political issues. It was no surprise that students unhappy with the BJP reposed faith in its candidates instead of veering towards Congress’s NSUI.

The ABVP, which won just two of the seats out of 15 in Gauhati University’s union, however, feels that the election results don’t reflect the true picture of how students across college and university campuses in Assam really feel.

“Although the results don’t reflect it, we are the largest student body in Gauhati University. Our candidates didn’t do well this time as NSUI and other organisations ganged up against us and decided to back AASU by spreading canards about saffronisation of campuses,” ABVP Assam unit secretary Nayanjyoti Sarma told HT.

In the University of Hyderabad (UoH), the Left-Dalit-Adivasi-Minority front got further consolidated by defeating ABVP for the eighth consecutive time. More than the dominance of the left-wing ideology over that of the right-wing, the results reflect the growing support for pro-Dalit thoughts that have been gaining strength in the campus over the years. “It is a fight against the BJP, RSS and the ABVP,” said Sannaki Munna, president of Ambedkar Students’ Union of the UoH.

The UoH students say that there was no involvement of money or muscle power and the election was fought on ideological basis. “The growing atrocities against Dalits across the country like the Una incident and Rohith Vemula’s suicide were widely debated in our university,” said Venkatesh Chouhan, a research scholar.

The main reason for the ABVP losing in every big university like UoH is said to be the growing unrest among the students against the ruining of higher education by the NDA government. “There has been autonomy of thinking among the students over the years and they are judging the issues plaguing the society independently. And that is reflecting in the student union elections,” says Prof K Nageshwar, former Member of the Legislative Council and an academic.

The saffron outfit met a similar fate in Delhi’s JNU where it has tried to make some inroads in the last few years (ABVP won the the joint-secretary post in 2015 after 14 years) but was blocked by the United Left Alliance.

Elections in JNU have mostly been a fight between different Left parties. But now things have changed as ABVP has emerged as the main opponent for the Left parties. Student politics in JNU has always been opposed to the right-wing. The JNU students’ union and other Left parties have been active in protests against mob-lynching and the alleged thrashing of Dalits in Una.

Some students said national events impact the way students vote while others said they have a limited impact.

“When students feel comfortable about events in a society outside of the campus, the voting is broadly on issues that directly face them on the campus. However, in a situation like we are in currently – where the government’s actions feel out of the norm and there is a sense of foreboding about the future – I think the student elections, too, reflect those anxieties and the voting gets impacted,” said Nivedita Kapoor, a PhD student at the School of International Studies.

ABVP did not win a single seat in the Panjab university elections. The contest was between the NSUI and the Panjab University Students Union.

In the University of Rajasthan in Jaipur, a rebel from the ABVP contested as an independent after being denied a ticket and won. This is the second time in a row that a rebel from the ABVP won the president’s post. The NSUI bagged the post of vice president and general secretary from the ABVP which had to remain content with the joint secretary’s post.

Prof Rajiv Gupta, former head of department of sociology at the University of Rajasthan, said there seems to be a decline in the popularity of the ABVP in the University of Rajasthan campus. “This decline has taken place due to the lack of attention by central and state governments to higher education and the privatisation of higher education. Anti-right forces are taking root among students and students are beginning to question the saffronisation of education.”

Inputs by Utpal Parashar, Srinivasa Rao Apparasu, Ifrah Mufti, Heena Kausar, Mariyam Alavi and Urvashi Dev Rawal.

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