The Cambridge dictionary defines bastion as something that keeps or defends a belief or a way of life that is disappearing or threatened. In India’s political landscape, Communists are an endangered species, almost staring at electoral extinction. In that sense, the scenic Jawaharlal Nehru University, standing on the southern ridge of the Aravalli Hills, remains the last consolatory bastion of the Left. This year’s student union elections, held in the backdrop of the Central government’s bold move to withdraw the special status of Jammu and Kashmir granted under Article 370 and split the state into two Union territories, once again saw the desperate coming together of disparate groupings to form Left Unity. This opportunistic alliance has swept the JNUSU polls, winning all the four central-panel posts. Left Unity’s presidential candidate Aishe Ghosh defeated her nearest rival Manish Jangid from the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the students arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). To its credit, the ABVP stood second on the other central posts of vice-president, general secretary, and joint secretary as well.

The striking dimension of this year’s elections is the fact that the ABVP has been able to sharpen its appeal among JNU students, raising its vote share by almost one percentage point to 19.7%. By contrast, the Left Unity’s vote share slid by 1.4 percentage points. There are no prizes for guessing which organization would have emerged victorious had the various hues of the Left—the SFI, AISF, AISA and DSF—not forged a cynical alliance to stop an ascendant ABVP in its tracks. The rise in ABVP’s vote share is a testament to the undeniable fact that issues of national security and India’s territorial integrity, not to mention Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious economic vision, found a strong resonance on the JNU campus.

Historically, the ABVP has never formed any alliance for JNUSU elections, as opposed to the Left organizations. It has determinedly fought a lone battle, breaching the Left bastion on several occasions. The latest instance of an ABVP candidate winning a central-panel post was in 2015, when the nationalist organization’s Saurabh Sharma was elected joint secretary. Sharma’s victory and the alleged anti-India sloganeering on 9 February 2016 reinvigorated the ABVP cadre and common students of JNU alike. The surge in nationalist sentiment after that threatened the existence of leftist student organizations. It is this existential crisis that forced them to bury their rivalries to collectively take on the might of the ABVP.

This year’s JNUSU elections have been remarkable in another manner–the absence of post-poll violence. The Left cadres, encouraged by the Left Unity’s victory last year, blazed a trail of violence, singling out ABVP members, females included. Let’s face it. The ABVP has long secured a moral and ideological victory in JNU despite an inhospitable political climate engendered by its unabashedly Left-leaning faculty members. The ABVP has come a long way in JNU and has the potential to go much farther. Where the ABVP perhaps has failed is in its seeming inability to win to its fold students who are increasingly disillusioned with the Left’s doctrinaire politics that holds little promise. This has apparently led to the mushrooming of several caste-based political formations on the campus, anathema to an ideologically-driven campus like JNU. The ABVP needs to reorient its strategy, broaden its arc of appeal, and help dissolve the narrow identities that are at the heart of caste-based political groupings. It must tap the growing disillusionment with the Left and thus end its stranglehold on the campus.

The author is Senior Editor at Mint. He was an ABVP activist during his JNU days

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