Amid intermittent rainfall through Wednesday night, students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) gathered in huge numbers at the Jhelum Lawns for the presidential debate for the upcoming student union polls. While all candidates tried their best to outdo each other, it was physically challenged independent candidate, Farooque Alam, who emerged as the clear crowd favourite as he attacked everyone from the Left to the Right.
In a style bearing close resemblance to former JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar, Alam — who was formerly with AISA — used clever rhetoric and one-liners to puncture holes in the claims made by the other organisations.
First on Alam’s radar was the Left Unity Panel of AISA-SFI. “Inka har movement shuru hota hai laal salaam se, par selfie me qaid hoke reh jaata hai. Ye Najeeb ko bacha nahi paaye, ye JNU ko khak bachayenge (Their movement begins with the red salute, but ends in a selfie. They couldn’t save Najeeb, let alone save JNU),” said Alam, referring to JNU student Najeeb Ahmad who has been missing since last October.
He also accused the Left for not issuing a single pamphlet on the issues faced by physically challenged students when they were in the union.
Alam also made scathing remarks at the Ambedkarite Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students’ Association (BAPSA), the ABVP and the AISF. Calling BAPSA the “Shakuni association”, after the schemer from Mahabharata, he said they played the role of “Shakuni mama” during struggles led by JNUSU.
On the ABVP, he said, “You say you got hostels and WiFi on the campus, why don’t you also admit that you
are the ones who brought seat cuts?”
Alam also hit out at the AISF for compromising Left unity by insisting on the post of president for Aparajitha Raja, daughter of CPI leader D Raja. However, he had little to offer by way of his own agenda. Three other candidates took the stage before Alam. First up was Shabana Ali from BAPSA who attacked both the
ABVP and the Left Unity Panel for Najeeb’s disappearance and the seat cut.
Next was Nidhi Tripathi from the ABVP who slammed the Left’s understanding of gender empowerment. “These organisations speak of gender empowerment, but don’t say a word on the issue of triple talaq,” she said. Tripathi also blamed the JNUSU for taking the matter of seat cut to the court and losing the case, and termed it a “seat scam”. She also said if elected, the ABVP would install sanitary pad machines and set up a campus placement cell.
Vrishnika Singh from the NSUI attacked the BJP at the Centre for failing to take a decision on the issue of ‘One Rank One Pension’, and the Left for its “unholy alliance”.
Aparajitha Raja from the AISF and Geeta Kumari from the Left Unity panel were the only two to condemn the killing of journalist Gauri Lankesh.
Stating that there was a “global Right-wing shift”, Raja criticised the Right-wing forces in the country: “Iss desh me jab koi roti maangta hai to uske haath me trishul pakda diya jaata hai. (When someone in this country asks for rotis, they are handed a trishul instead).” She also slammed the Left Unity panel, saying that fear of the ABVP could not be the basis of unity. “Will there be a politics of assertion or politics of compromise?” Raja said.
Although last, Kumari too struck a chord with the audience with her straightforward talk. Her speech was targeted at the Right-wing forces in the country and the campus, as she pitched the fight with them as an ideological battle. “They want to make JNU an RSS stronghold. Today, those who fought for justice for Najeeb are being punished, and those who assaulted him are contesting JNU elections,” she said. She also slammed the cut in research seats.