The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Left goes local in JNU

New Delhi, Nov. 7: It’s red versus saffron in the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union elections.

With the university going to polls tomorrow, the Students Federation of India-All India Students Federation combine is leaving no stone unturned to ensure a repeat of last year’s performance, when it swept the elections to beat the BJP’s students’ wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarti Parishad.

At the core of the presidential debate conducted yesterday was the issue of communalism and secularism, given that 2002 witnessed incidents such as the carnage in Gujarat and the saffronisation of education. Issues directly concerning the students have, for the first time, formed a key part of the poll planks of the three major contenders, the SFI-AISF combine, the ABVP and the Congress’ students’ wing, the National Students Union of India.

The Left promises financial and academic assistance for students from deprived sections, besides ensuring teachers’ vacancies will be filled up and library facilities increased. The ABVP lists course restructuring in various subjects, setting up of a central placement cell and scholarships for students as part of its agenda.

Interestingly, there is a lot of similarity on issues raised by the SFI-AISF and the ABVP. Outgoing union’s president Albeena Shakil claimed that the AVBP has picked up many issues, including faculty vacancies and monetary help for poor students, that the Left had raised during campaigning.

Students feel it will not be a cakewalk for the Left. This is not because the ABVP — which made inroads in the Left bastion for the first time in 1996 — has been impressive as an opposition organisation. It is more because there is a general apathy towards leaders who have been unable to fulfil election promises and take up local issues, says one.

“Apart from ideological leanings, this time it is a question of political opportunism. Who will win depends on how the organisations capitalise on the situation,” said Shakil, when it was pointed out that students do not seem enthusiastic about the elections.

The ABVP’s chief campaign coordinator, Manmath Narayan Singh, expressed confidence that they would do better in the polls this time as the Left has not fulfilled its promises. He also blamed the Left for “mastering the art of provocation”. Both parties are charging each other with introducing hooliganism in union politics.

The ABVP seems to have deliberately left out national issues from its agenda, fearing that it would backfire. It does not take credit for the change in school syllabus, which its parent party has been proposing.

The NSUI, on its part has shifted from the right-of-centre stance it took during last year’s elections to a left-of-centre one, Pramod said. The organisation’s manifesto reads: “Congress; Always ahead of the times. Communists; Waking up late, always. RSS & ABVP; Jurassic Park politics.” The party seems to be banking on anti-Left and anti-Right votes.

The results of the elections will be declared on Saturday.

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