There was no dearth of drama at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) Wednesday night during the presidential debate for the upcoming students’ union polls, with speeches of both the Left Unity Panel and the Right-wing ABVP being disrupted. The debate had to be stopped several times as clashes seemed to erupt between both camps.
The Left Unity Panel — comprising the AISA, AISF, DSF and SFI — and the ABVP are the strongest organisations on campus. Their candidates — N Sai Balaji and Lalit Pandey respectively — were the last speakers of the night.
By then, the crowd, owing to an unprecedented two-and-a-half-hour delay, had got restless.
Ahead of them were six other candidates. Among them, Jayant Kumar from the Chhatra Rashtriya Janata Dal — the RJD’s student wing — emerged as the best orator, clearly articulating his politics while using witty one-liners. Once a close aide of former JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar, he had recently left the AISF. This is the first time that the CJRD is contesting the polls.
The disruption started right before Pandey’s speech, when the Left, BAPSA and students from the North East started raising slogans. The students asked ABVP to apologise for not giving them entry to a talk by three chief ministers from Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur.
Pandey, however, was undeterred. “Your slogans cannot shake me. The Left talks of fascism and freedom of expression, but does not allow their opponents to speak,” he said. The majority of his speech was centred on attacking the Left, and their “opportunistic” alliance.
Balaji, who was the last to speak, was the only candidate whose speech was disrupted twice. His speech, too, was a direct attack on the BJP-RSS. “In the last four years, this government has done nothing except jumla (rhetorics) and hamla (attacks),” he said, attacking the government for the recent arrest of five activists, as well rising cases of mob lynching.
Kumar, whose style of speaking reminded one of Kanhaiya, had the audience in rapt attention. His one liners, such as “Punjab National Bank khokla ho chukka hai, aur keh raha hai — mera kuchh saaman tumhare paas pada hai” referring to an old Bollywood song, and “Hum aise samay me reh rahe hain jab data sasta ho raha hai aur aata mehenga ho raha hai” had the crowd in splits. He referred several times to Lalu Prasad Yadav and the RJD in his speech and accused the Left of not being serious about reservation, which had “benefited so many people in such little time”.
BAPSA’s Thallapelli Praveen and NSUI’s Vikas Yadav attacked both the Left and the Right. “The Left keeps telling people not to vote for BAPSA, otherwise the ABVP will come to power. But it’s they who have kept the ABVP alive and kicking on campus for the last 49 years,” said Praveen.
Yadav said it was only the NSUI which waged a strong protest against compulsory attendance in the campus, with both the Left union and ABVP missing in action.
Independents Nidhi Mishra, Saib Bilaval and Janhu Kumar Heer attacked other organisations, saying they had not done enough for students. While Mishra spoke of the plight of ‘poor Savarnas’, Bilaval accused organisations of fighting elections only for “political mileage” and not for students’ benefit. Heer had the most interesting poll promise — to run e-rickshaws from the campus to New Delhi railway station.