ABVP redux

“Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action” — thus Bond, James Bond, in Goldfinger.

In the ongoing series of incidents pointing at a systematic campaign mounted by the ABVP, this against its political opponents, this:

After the alleged harassment and suspension of Rohith Vemula at Hyderabad University for taking on the right-wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad before committing suicide and the arrest of Jawaharlal Nehru University student leaders on charges of sedition, it is the turn of Richa Singh – the first woman president of the Allahabad University Students’ Union – to come under pressure from the BJP’s student wing and university administration.

“They are trying to throw me out of the Ph.D. programme by saying my admission should be canceled,” she told The Wire by telephone from Allahabad. “I had been fighting a battle against the ABVP. I stopped the entry of Yogi Adityanath into the campus. I have raised questions on the wrong appointments made by the vice-chancellor. So for all this they are targeting me and trying to cancel my admission,” she said.

The incidents are piling up, almost too quick to count; there is not even a cursory attempt any more at subtlety. And — as in Hyderabad University and at JNU, university authorities are complicit in Allahabad as well:

The 27-year-old student leader also claimed that the VC is also opposed to her as she has been raising the issue of women’s safety and gender sensitisation on the campus and had opposed his move to appoint as his OSD a man accused of sexual harassment, despite there being 30-35 candidates for the post.

What baffles me is this: Clearly, judging by the successive incidents, the ABVP has been given some kind of go-ahead to push its agenda, hard. What do the orchestrators see as the end-game?

Analysis in the aftermath of the 2014 election win had indicated that the Dalits — traditionally inclined to favor the Congress (and in UP, the Bahujan Samaj Party) — had drifted to the BJP in a big way.

How did the BJP fare among Dalits in this election? The party in the post-1990s era managed to attract only one in every ten Dalit voters. However, this time, one in every four Dalits voted for the BJP. The ratio is even higher for the National Democratic Alliance coalition where nearly one in every three Dalits voted for it. The BJP has surpassed both the Congress and the BSP in attracting a larger share of Dalit vote. The BJP’s Dalit vote base in this election is largely the upwardly mobile sections (urban, educated, middle classes, with high media exposure).

Now, Rohit Vemula — a gift-wrapped issue for those parties seeking to win back Dalit support. How it will effectively translate into loss of electoral support remains to be seen — but in the story of the young HU student who was harassed into suicide, the BJP has created a ghost that will dog its campaigns here on through to 2019.

Another significant finding in post-election analysis was the attraction Narendra Modi held out for young, first time voters who, given the choice between the tired policies and endemic corruption of the Congress and the ‘clean, doer’ image of Modi, gave their allegiance to the latter (additionally, young women in that age group voted in larger numbers than before, and again the BJP benefited).

So now the BJP and its student wing have gifted the opposition a rallying point for the young: Kanhaiya Kumar. A powerful slogan: Azaadi. (Already, judging by the statements of central leaders exhorting “students to study and not get into politics” allied with the fairly ridiculous, but increasingly vociferous, attacks by the ruling party’s fellow-travelers on social media (“Oh! He is wearing a natty jacket!”), it seems evident that the party is aware of the danger.

While on this, Scroll has a round-up of Kanhaiya Kumar’s interviews with various media houses. The media has clearly found a ready-made star — one, moreover, with the political savvy to realise that making a martyr of himself gives at best short term goals, and to swiftly raise the stakes and spreak on behalf of the disenfranchised of society. Given the media’s predictable tendency to feature repeatedly those voices that are guaranteed to give it quality sound bytes, the JNU student leader is going to be a highly visible tele-presence for the foreseeable future.

Easing off and attempting to douse the flames would appear to be the logical thing to do. Senior journalist Kanchan Gupta — who no one ever accused of being a liberal, pseudo or otherwise — recently suggested as much in a column, when he urged the PM to include students in his ‘sabke saath’ slogan. He explained his reasoning:

Whether the steadily spreading bush-fire is symptomatic of the insecurities of our uncertain times, or rather frustration on account of unrealistic soaring aspirations, is something for sociologists and educators to deliberate.

Second, there is a glaring absence of any robust political engagement that transcends party loyalty.

Student unions or associations backed by political parties are not the desirable instrument or vehicle for such engagement.

Political engagement should seek to unite students in a loose coalition of youth, creating a big tent that accommodates all and smoothes sharp, jagged edges of ideology.

Third, what was till now a commonly-held idea of nationalism, something sacred and inviolate across the political spectrum (barring the Stalinist Left and Maoist ultra-Left), is under stress.

The stress will only increase in coming days. What are hairline fractures at the moment are bound to expand into yawning cracks with deep crevices.

Gupta’s suggestion is realpolitik at its most basic. But instead, the BJP and its student wing appear hell bent on doubling down.

Ignoring for the moment the larger questions of right and wrong, how does this make political sense? Given that the coming election will have to be fought on actual performance and not a vague “We are better than the Congress” promise of “achche din” to come, how does it help to create fresh focal points of discontent?

You guys have thoughts? *points to comments field*

PS: Go back to this Scroll collection of Kanhaiya Kumar interviews and watch how nimbly he navigates potentially tricky areas, and how deftly he turns loaded questions (like the one Ravish Kumar asks, about slogans that were allegedly shouted, into opportunities to use the stiletto.

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