Guest Column

Beyond the Alphabet soup : Decoding Hyderabad University campus politics

By Anju Rao Guddugurki (Follow @anjuraog)

The need for political assertion seems greater than the need for victory in this year’s central panels for the University of Hyderabad Student Union elections. With 26 September 2019 as the polling date, students of the varsity are gearing up to witness a five-way contest marked by splits in conventional political equations, the rise of new student political outfits, non-political student bodies, and the aspiration of independent candidates.

The incumbent Right-wing alliance formed by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-affiliated Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), Other Backward Classes Federation (OBCF) and Sevalal Vidyarthi Dal (SLVD) is fighting to retain power. However, what has upset karyakartas within the ABVP in campus is the fact that its presidential candidate has only recently joined the organisation after a long service record with the Congress affiliated National Students Union of India (NSUI). This move is proving to be ammunition for the opposition on campus to call out poaching tactics in student politics.

Meanwhile, the NSUI has decided not to contest this year as it has reportedly taken a principled stand against splitting the liberal and secular vote bank in favour of the ABVP in the current arithmetic. However, it has released an innovative door-to-door and social media campaign called `13 Reasons Why’ students must fully reject the ‘anti-student’ ABVP in the elections.

The OBCF received a raw deal in the bargain for posts in the ABVP-led alliance after it decided to contest the vice president’s post as opposed to the general secretary post that it usually demands. Moreover, the organisation has witnessed a split in its membership owing to personal differences over its leadership. Due to this, a splinter group called the Youth for Inclusive and Sustainable Society (YISS) has emerged. YISS claims to be a non-political student body committed to student welfare and development. Students expect that YISS may create a dent in the Telugu vote bank of the ABVP-led alliance.

However, according to sources in the ABVP, they are confident of consolidating the required numbers to win key posts and the damage done by YISS may be minimal. They are also counting on the SLVD, an alliance partner rooted in the indigenization theory of tribal welfare, to help them sail through.

Despite the ideological conflict between Ambedkarism and Marxism at large, Ambedkar Student’s Association (ASA), Students Federation of India (SFI), Dalit Students Union (DSU) and Tribal Students Forum have come together to form a Left-Dalit-Tribal alliance. ASA of the alliance claims to represent the struggle of the Rohith Vemula anti-caste movement.

Though popularly considered a major force challenging the Right-wing and its alleged saffronisation and privatisation agenda, the formation of the alliance was marred by negotiations that left out ASA’s natural ideological partners, the Indian Union Muslim League’s student wing, Muslim Student Federation (MSF) and the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind’s student wing, the Students Islamic Organisation (SIO).

Interestingly, the MSF and SIO are going by the MSF Fraternity banner in order to include the participation of non-practicing Muslims in their campaign. This Fraternity has accused the SFI of Islamophobia against the SIO and is thus contesting a separate panel for the post of president and vice president alone, where the SFI and the DSU have fielded candidates in their alliance respectively. Meanwhile, the SFI maintains that it rejects communal politics of any kind despite the Fraternity’s argument that voices of minority religions cannot be equated to Hindutva majoritarian fascism and that it is fighting for legitimate existence.

The Bahujan Students (BSF) Front has pledged support to candidates from MSF, ASA, DSU and TSF separately apart from fielding a candidate for sports secretary. The BSF states that it believes in the unity of the oppressed and alleges SFI of casteism. It is important to note that BSF has not pledged support to the SIO candidate either.

The ASA and the DSU have sociological differences, the former dominated by the Mala sub-caste and the latter by the Madiga sub-caste. However, they have united to form part of the Left-Dalit-Tribal alliance reportedly under the common agenda to defeat the ABVP-led alliance.

The most unique feature of the UoHSU elections this year is the rise of the Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) Liberation’s student wing, the All India Student Association (AISA) in the university. On August 20, 2019, the Telangana police arrested five students from the organisation who were screening Anand Patwardhan’s documentary Ram ke Naam in the varsity. Since this incident, the party has seen a large number of students turn out in support of them and is expecting to garner left votes at the ballot.

Students of the university are looking forward to the general secretary and presidential debate on Tuesday where ideological positions and electoral promises are expected to be made clear on the dais.

The writer of a former student (2017-2019) of the University of Hyderabad. The views expressed are her own. 

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