Building ABVP in JNU – The Long Struggle
It was in early nineties when a RSS Pracharak began to visit JNU campus on regular basis. He befriended a student who was quite influenced by the communist ideology. Dominance of communist ideology in JNU campus deservedly earned it the sobriquet – Kremlin on the bank of river Yamuna.
The RSS Prachark and student started to spend evenings discussing and defending their ideological beliefs – they would try to convince each other by sharing books and articles of respective ideologies. Those were the times when JNU used to be a place where presence of a RSS flag-bearer was equivalent to being a Jew in Nazi Germany. The RSS man continued his evening chats with his communist friend, a rare JNU student who didn’t mix ideology and human relationships.
One day the student invited the RSS pracharak for a dinner in his hostel. RSS Pracharak, who was in his Sangh attire and his friend took their plates and sat around a table where few students were having dinner. To the shock of RSS man and his friend, everybody eating there chose to leave the table. This was a scene directly from a feudal village where lower caste populace were not allowed to eat along with upper caste men and totally unexpected in an University which is in the heart of India’s capital and claims to be socially progressive. The friend of RSS man was so disgusted with this hypocrisy that he took a vow to fight against the communists. He became one of the first vocal voices of ABVP in JNU
ABVP was taking baby steps and grew in JNU campus slowly but steadily. Many high profile RSS leaders including Govindacharya started to visit the university and most of their meetings would be held in small 8X12 rooms meant for two room partners. ABVP which is also known as ‘Parishad’, decided to create an alternative space and this is why a distinct identity was created. Very basic steps, like differentiating themselves from the ‘attire’ of JNU students, were attempted. Given that sporting a dirty Kurta, along with torn jeans and slippers, became the trademark of any JNU student, ABVP cadres ensured that they would always tuck their shirts, turn up in a sartorially pleasing manner, and would never smoke or drink in public.
JNU had a huge pool of students who yearned to celebrate national festivals but they hesitated as no organization was there to make the first move. Left wingers mourned India’s Independence Day as a black day. In spite of JNU having a huge Bengali population, Durga Puja celebration was treated as communal. Bengali students would go to Chitaranjan Park to celebrate the festival but they would wipe the tilak before entering the campus. Parishad ensured that all these festivals were celebrated. Durga Puja Samiti was formed which was in itself a very long battle as Puja started in a room at Periyar hostel and now the times have changed as even AISA leaders can be seen taking prasad at Pooja Pandal where hundreds of students gather for evening aarti.
As Parishad kept evolving in the campus, Left used same modus operandi, tried and tested in Bengal and Kerala, to suppress it. The techniques include political violence, social boycott, threats to ruin the career, public humiliation, character assassination, wrath of prejudiced professors and vicious rumor mongering about Parishad leaders mainly among girl students.
A very decent history scholar, who planned to contest for JNUSU president post, was maligned by rumors that he beats his girlfriend, which was strongly denied by him and his girlfriend. The student was so hurt that he chose not to contest election. Any movement can never succeed without support of women, as their active participation gives strength and conviction to the movement.
Keeping this in mind, ABVP started to nurture many women student leaders, but it faced massive resistance from the leftist forces unable to countenance this. They would do weird things like calling the parents of the girl student, putting peer pressure in the girl’s hostel and if girl would not give up, every form of intimidation was used. All this was done to stop the growth of ABVP in the University campus
JNU campus always had a right wing vote base which was aimlessly drifting in absence of any nationalist student wing and most of them preferred to remain apolitical in campus or they would create movements like ‘free thinker group’ which would not last for more than a few years. Most of the science schools were known for strong right wing support – the reason why spontaneous movements like Youth for Equality or India against Corruption got huge support from science streams in JNU.
After arrival of ABVP in the campus, the nationalist movement took proper shape and every communist act were spiritedly challenged.Leftist forces used to revel in inviting Kashmiri extremists, extending open support to Naxal armed struggle, opposing any economic policies which would help India in long run, supporting Chinese government, and providing a platform for Pakistani elite to ridicule India. One such incident had happened when a Pakistani poet was bad mouthing about India and an Army personnel was present there. He opposed what he perceived to be a treacherous act and instead of letting him have his say, the Army man was badly beaten by the leftist goons.
Parishad activists were often manhandled by communist thugs to demoralize them. Being weak in numbers, ABVP had to lick its wounds and remain silent. Best example of such communist thuggery can be seen in Kerala where ABVP leaders are killed without any fear of law. By mid-nineties, ABVP emerged stronger and cadre base grew. A big chunk of students from Sainik school tilaiya cleared JNU exams. This is the time when ABVP could stop the violence of left groups by showing numerical strength and this is how ABVP activists stopped being apologetic about their ideology. Continuous intimidation by left wing started to get strong retaliation and left wing recognized hesitantly that ABVP was going to stay in the Campus.
Parishad began to win few school level councilor seats and the tally kept growing. By late nineties, ABVP was winning union seats except JNUSU president post. Oriya community produced many Parishad leaders and Oriya students would vote across ideological lines for any Oriya candidate. Many students from Orissa were elected on different union posts on ABVP ticket. Bihar and UP students were strongly challenging Left by giving a huge cadre support to Parishad. RSS had already started to run two Shakhas in JNU campus and several students were participating in these Shakhas.
Prominent RSS officials visited JNU every year on Guru Dakhsina Karyakrams and no event or activity, which provided platform to subversive elements, went unchallenged. This is the time when communists started to feel the heat and student politics began to change. Before the arrival of ABVP, there used to have every hue and colour of communism present in JNU campus, which was now forced to merge into a single voice to remain relevant in the campus.
SFI used to be strong with its Bengali support as majority of economics, political science and sociology students come from presidency college Kolkata. AISF then emerged and it served as a lobby group for Muslim community in JNU campus. AISA espoused far left ideology as it was the student wing of CPI (ML). It gained popularity after its Leader Chandra Shekhar, also known as Chandu, was killed by RJD MP Syed Shahabuddin. CPI (ML) was the only organisation which had courage to stand against the terror unleashed by Shahabuddin. Chandrashekhar was working tirelessly in Siwan. (Till date, his mother is the flag bearer of CPI (ML) there .The era of terror is long gone after the fall of Lalu Raj.) The protest demonstration that was held in front of Bihar Bhavan was not only about the mobilization of AISA activists only but whole JNU student community. AISA found a martyr in Chandu.
There were few other student organizations like DSU and PSU which used to talk openly of armed struggle against Indian state. JNU has provided a veritable supply chain of Maoist and communist leaders. The most prominent JNU alumni include Prakash Karat, Sitaram Yechury and Baburam Bhattarai. Bhattarai was one of the top two leaders of Maoist movement in Nepal which overthrew the Kingdom.
As the ABVP got stronger, and left parties started to loose seats, they were forced to unite and coalitions were formed. SFI and AISF chose to contest together on seat sharing basis. All this started in 2002 when Sandeep Mahapatra won the JNUSU president seat by only one vote on ABVP ticket. By this victory of one vote, the discourse of JNU changed forever. Campus, which used to debate on several interpretations of left ideology, was now divided into distinct ideological compartments – the left and the right.
2002 was also a landmark year in JNU history as ABVP invited Shri Ashok Singhal of Vishwa Hindu Parishad for the Guru Dakshina Karyakram and more than 600 cadres participated in the event. Whole leftist student community joined together to protest his visit. ABVP had by now decisively forced the left to squeeze itself into a limited space.
JNU has a history of not allowing Indian politicians in the campus. The list of such leaders is long. Indira Gandhi was not allowed to enter JNU campus, Lal Krishna Advani was stopped at JNU gate. But it has also tradition of inviting Naxal leaders in post dinner mess meetings. When Parishad began to protest the lectures of those, who are identified with subversive forces working against the unity of India, Left wing cried foul and the prime logic was ‘freedom of expression’. Arundhati Roy was shouted down when she told that Indian Army is army of rapists. The same left which had not allowed even Indira Gandhi who was PM of India, to use her freedom of expression was advocating for it. Such is the communist hypocrisy. AISA JNUSU president refused to give a bouquet to APJ Abdul Kalam when he visited JNU.
ManMohan Singh, who is professor emeritus in JNU economics department, was shown black flag as he supposedly represented the state, against which these communists want to have an armed struggle. Left’s shocking hypocrisy was on display when Sitaram Yechury denied that Chinese students were brutally suppressed in Tiananmen Square and called it a capitalist propaganda. ABVP ensured that many top BJP leaders including Arun Jaitley, Rajnath Singh, Ravi Shankar Prasad were invited to JNU for public talks and these programs always attracted huge gathering.
By 2003, SFI and AISF were contesting together but due to dissension within ABVP, it stood divided. A rebel group announced the formation of a breakaway unit and ABVP State unit could not handle the situation well. Several reasons explained this divide. Sangathan Mantri, who was an appointee of RSS, was not as ideologically sound as the students of JNU. ABVP had most of its cadre base from foreign language school as they were young and energetic but most of the leaders came from history and International studies departments. If one goes through the NCERT curriculum, JNU left has a strong control over it.
JNU history department professors rule the roost but few students were challenging these professors in their own bastion. ‘Yuva Itihaskar Manch’ was challenging left interpretation of Indian History regularly in History department seminars, debates and discussions. This group of ‘Yuva Itihaskar Manch’ needed to be dealt well and it could be have been used to nurture the talent which would have formed an intellectual nucleus of those seeking to correct the distorted history in future but higher authorities of ABVP Delhi state erred at this moment. A small group joined NSUI in frustration, ABVP performed badly in 2003 but consolation was that ABVP was still having a strong cadre base. Activists with no political ambition were humiliated due to the defeat in 2003 and they chose to fight back in 2004 elections.
JNU has a very unique tradition of organizing Admission assistance camps. It is unique as assistance doesn’t stop at admission process which is very hectic and includes a lot of running around several centers, JNU students accommodate the freshers in their small rooms till they don’t have their hostel rooms allotted. This helps the students as most of them are from economically weak background but at the same time, it helps the student organizations to impact the thinking of the new students and this is how new activists are cultivated.
JNU campus is a cultural shock for many newcomers as they have never experienced an open environment were girls can roam freely at night without fear, post dinner processions happen with full throated sloganeering, everyday debates are staged on world affairs over a cup of tea, beautifully handcrafted student union posters are used for electioneering, teachers ask their students to address them by names, presidential speeches and debates are conduced as part of election campaign, dance parties are organised freshers, no concept of ragging exists and many theater groups asking students to join them, Air conditioned libraries and classrooms, are seen by many students coming from village background for the first time. All these things induce a sense of grandeur in the mind of newcomers.
ABVP used the same system and actively worked for admission assistance and many new students participated in organisational activities. 2004 elections again proved that ABVP had a strong presence in JNU campus. There were incidents that were responsible for the upsurge as few weeks before the JNUSU elections, S.A.R Geelani was invited for an evening talk. He was accused in parliament attack case but acquitted on technical ground.He is still very actively involved in Kashmiri secessionist movement .
ABVP decided to oppose the event and all other left parties including NSUI which is student wing of Congress, stood against ABVP again with the logic of ‘Freedom of expression’. We always see how the human rights is always valid for terrorists,dreaded criminals and anti-nationals but not for their victims. Young students in age group of 18-20 years literally chased away the car of Nandita Haskar. Geelani hid himself inside the car, which he later denied. Campus was once again sharply polarised in to left vs right. Many newcomers, who were being indoctrinated by left and NSUI, could not reconcile to such open invitation to Kashmiri separatist leaders and chose to be part of ABVP.
2004 elections was also notable as it was for the first time a bus load of police personnel had to come inside the campus during elections. The whole issue started with a small incident when a senior ABVP leader, who is now working as a professor in Auckland University now, raised the issue that voting hours were over and hence nobody should be allowed to enter the school building. Most of the late voters used to be from a certain religion. They would vote tactically after fathoming which way the wind was was blowing. Around twenty ABVP activists tried to block the gate. JNUSU election committee closed the gate and voting continued for those who were already inside the building.
A strong rumour went out that Parishad activists were beating SFI leaders and a crowd of 200 SFI supporters came to School of language gate, broke it and entered with tube lights, chains etc in their hands to teach a lesson to Parishad. ABVP had few girls contesting for councillor posts and they had to be hidden to protect from this violent attack. ABVP was outnumbered as it used to happen earlier and many parishad activists had to be hospitalised. This infuriated the ABVP base in JNU and later on, for almost 3 days no SFI leader came out of school building which was surrounded by police men, fearing retaliation.
Most of them went in hiding for weeks and ABVP won most of the councillor seats and one joint secretary seat. Parishad lost presidential seat but got many more votes on each seat than the past and could be defeated only by tactical voting of left wing. ABVP victory procession was much bigger than the SFI procession as nobody from SFI came out. Left tactics is clear, when numerically strong, they attack physically, if less in numbers, they talk of democratic traditions and ethos. JNU is a sample case of communist doublespeak all over the world.
Post elections, ABVP activists were upbeat and wanted a Parishad JNU Unit president and team chosen by popular will of cadres but as the RSS tradition goes, the decision had to come from the above. The higher authorities failed again to read the minds of activists and ABVP got divided. 18 Persons who were at the root of the extra-ordinary performance of 2004 were suspended and another organization called JNU patriotic front was formed by them as these activists could not compromise with their ideology.This resulted in two organisations with similar nationalist ideology inside JNU. JPF proved to be a very strong cadre based organisation which was more aggressive due to its younger crowd. ABVP remained with senior Phd students but they could not shout louder, nor they could resist the communist crowd.
2005 elections were fought by both ABVP and JPF separately. Relations between ABVP and JPF turned so bitter that when ABVP leaders, tried to protest against Brinda Karat for her remarks on Ramdev, to maintain the relevance of Parishad, they were chased away by SFI and few of them were beaten. No JPF cadre supported Parishad but on the same night, one JPF cadre was slapped by SFI cadres and JPF ensured that they found the SFI president the same night and slapped by that cadre – to give a message that manhandling of their cadre will be strongly retaliated. In the mean while, one JNUSU Presidential candidate of SFI blamed a cadre of JPF of sexual harassment which was often used by left to pin down ABVPsupporters.
The student who had completed his course was declared out of bounds of JNU campus and thus 6 JPF boys sat on indefinite hunger strike to revoke the order. The strike continued for 5 days and after few of them were unable to maintain the will to not eat for 6th day and their health was deteriorating JNU administration negotiated with striking students and issue was resolved, but the concerned student was still out of bounds.
JPF decided to avenge this false accusation and at the time of 2005 elections, many supporters of JPF voted for AISA presidential candidate Mona Das. SFI candidate Sona Mitra, who allegedly used sexual harassment as a political tool, was defeated and lesson was taught to her and SFI. As it happens with organisations that have no organized system, JPF faded away.
Parishad had to be revived but in 2006, UPA introduced ruling for OBC reservations, Youth for equality was formed which attracted a huge cadre base from a host of student bodies including ABVP. ABVP lost badly in the elections.By next year Lygdoh commission forced JNU to introduce certain rules for JNUSU elections. Lyngdoh commission was formed to clean student politics. It had appreciated JNUSU for no use of money, alcohol etc but certain rules like age limit were not suitable for JNU as most of the student leaders were Ph.D. scholars. This led to JNUSU elections being stopped for few years.This depoliticized JNU and most of the ABVP leaders passed out and new team could not be developed.
SFI was divided as their central leadership supported UPA but Prasenjit Bose took a position against it and as a result, he was suspended. His team formed another group which contested till this year and this is how AISA, which used to struggling, came back in reckoning and it is winning JNUSU elections continuously. Iftar Parties are organised in every hostel and every student is charged the extra mess bill but AISA opposes celebration of Janmashtami Pooja in hostel mess after dinner time! just because it would hurt ‘sentiments’. The combination of Bolshevik and Shariat can be seen in the double standards followed by these communists. The illegitimate child of this combo is the ideology which is followed bylLikes of Javed Akhtar or Mani Shankar Aiyyar
NSUI is hardly relevant in the context of JNU has it has been unable to convince JNU students despite humongous money power – it simply as no ideological convictions. One notable leader of NSUI who climbed political ladder is Ashok Tanwar who came in good books of Amit Jogi when he was studying in JNU and now he is MP from Haryana and strong contender for Congress State president post. But NSUI could never gather more than 200-300 votes.
The winning methodology of left parties has changed drastically as JNU has 3 departments (Arabic, Persian and Urdu) which attract students from Madarsa background in big numbers. This vote bank is used for tactical voting. Apart from voting tactically, these centers have failed completely in creating job options – many of the ex-students from these centres are running Dhaba, grocery stores, typing thesis of aspiring PhD students, and don’t be surprised if some day some autowallah tells you that he was a JNU student as many Urdu Centre alumnus are forced to run autos due to lack of job opportunities.
Hindi Centre has been hijacked by communist professors like Manager Pandey, Namwar Singh and Purushottam Aggarwal. The stranglehold is such that they have completely suppressed the nationalist literature of poets like Ramdhari Singh Dinkar but these professors have been blamed several times of being casteist in their approach. JNU is witness to left hypocrisy where seminars on poverty are held and speakers talk of hunger after eating a mouth watering plate of Gajar Halwa. Left ideology has diluted and Durga Puja is celebrated with lot of joy which was a huge issue earlier.
Murli Manohar Joshi, who was HRD Minister in NDA regime, started Centre for Sanskrit studies and this Centre was strongly opposed by all communist student groups and this step was projected as promotion of black magic and superstition. At the time of Deepawali, all hostels are decorated by students as tradition was started by ABVP activists. In past, Diwali night seemed like a mourning night with darkness all around. Students who wear clean clothes are not treated as outsiders any more. Language students earn money through freelancing and this has brought prosperity in campus, many new motor cycles are being bought and cars are not a big deal any more
One thing that is most important to mobilize activists for any organisation is slogan shouting, catchy slogans that incite the students. Some popular ones, I would like to mention.
1. Chor chor mausere Bhai, AISF-SFI.
2. Abki hogi Kiski Pitayi- AISF-SFI.
3.Ho-ho-ho chi Minh Bharat chhodo jao chin.
4. Chao-Mao jo kehte ho to Bharat me kyun rehte ho.
5. The Communists frustrated shall always be defeated. (sing it)
6. The parishad united shall always be victorious.
7. Na maowad na jaatiwad, sabsey upar Rashtravad.
8. Gyaan sheel ekta, Parishad ki visheshta.
9. Vampanth ki kabr khudegi, JNU ki dharti par.
10. Kashmir ho ya Guwahati, Apna Desh apni maati.
11. China ke dalalon ko ek dhakka Aur do.
12. Prakash karat ko bhejo mail, SFI ki ho gayi tel.
The slogan that was used to convey the message to left that Parishad was not going to be intimidated anymore was ‘ haarenge to hurenge, Aur jeetenge to thurenge’ which loosely means that we will beat the communists in both cases either we loose or we gain.There are many more slogans which continue to attract students towards Parishad.
Notable ABVP leaders from JNU are now working at several important positions.Nirmala Sitharaman is national spokesperson of BJP( not sure if she was active for ABVP though), Dr. Manish Kumar who is editor in Chauthi Duniya and active on twitter was from Sainik school tilaiya and an active ABVP leader, Ashok Sharma is professor in Auckland university Newzeland, Vikash Pathak covers BJP beat for Hindustan Times, Shiv Shakti Nath Bakshi is editor of Kamal Sandesh (BJP magazine), Swadesh Singh is office secretary of BJYM, D.D Gautam is media in charge of BJP SC Morcha, Sunil Mohanti is pracharak of RSS in Arunachal Pradesh, Siddharth Rai is working as reporter in Hindustan Times Gurgaon.
Editor and sub-editor of RSS publication panchajanya are from JNU, many of JNU parishad team are working as professors in several renowned universities in India and abroad, many of them are journalists and well placed in several news organisations, Sandeep Mahapatra, the only ABVP JNUSU president till date, is working as supreme court lawyer, Irfan khan is heading development projects for a notable NGO, Many are working in Indian Administrative, police and foreign services. Many ABVP activists are successful in their career and supporting nationalist ideology at several platforms. Bangalore IT sector has a huge community from JNU foreign language schools. This list doesn’t include every notable name but it gives an example as how ABVP presence in JNU is important and needs to be maintained as this university produces intellectuals which the Right wing needs badly.
Note: It should be treated as a tale from eyes of an observer.