Ground Report: ABVP resorts to violence during the JNU Students’ Union elections; continues after loss

17 September 2018
A Left Unity victory march after the alliance won the JNUSU polls. Facing a loss, members of the ABVP disrupted the counting of the votes for nearly 14 hours.
Courtesy Samim Asgor Ali
A Left Unity victory march after the alliance won the JNUSU polls. Facing a loss, members of the ABVP disrupted the counting of the votes for nearly 14 hours.
Courtesy Samim Asgor Ali

The 2018 election of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Student Union witnessed a massive turnout of 67.8 percent, nine percentage points higher than the previous year and the highest since 2012. The candidates of the Left Unity alliance—made up of the All India Students Association, Students Federation of India, Democratic Students Federation and All India Students’ Federation—won all four posts in the central panel and a majority of posts in the student council. The RSS-affiliated Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad lost all the polls for the top posts. In an unprecedented sequence of events for a university that has rarely seen violence in its student elections, the counting of votes was halted for close to 14 hours, after members of the ABVP disrupted proceedings.

Even after the result was announced, the ABVP-led violence continued. According to the newly elected president of the students’ union, N Sai Balaji, a few hours after the result was announced, a group of over 25 ABVP members attacked two students at JNU’s Sutlej hostel and Jhelum lawns respectively. Balaji said that when he and former president of the union, Geeta Kumari, reached the Jhelum lawns, the student was unconscious and a PCR van was already present. “I was threatened by the mob,” said Balaji. “I was shocked and fearing my safety.” He says they have filed a police complaint regarding the attack but that it hasn’t been reported as a FIR yet.

The first sign of trouble appeared during the presidential debate on 12 September 2018, when scuffles broke out between supporters of the ABVP and the Left alliance. Polling, however, proceeded smoothly on 14 September. Counting began in Building 1 of the School of International Studies around 10 pm that same night.

By 2.30 am, ballots had been counted for the council posts in the smaller schools—including the science schools, the School of Arts and Aesthetics and the School of Sanskrit and Indic Studies—and counting began for the central panel votes from these schools. Each candidate is allowed to nominate representatives to witness the counting of ballot papers. Himanshu Kulshreshta, the chairperson of the Election Committee, said in a press statement that as per procedure, three announcements were made on a loudspeaker asking for the representatives to assemble at the counting venue. “Fourteen counting agents for ten different candidates had reported at the counting venue, after which counting process had started and sealed boxes were opened in the presence of the counting agents.”

The early returns from the smaller schools, which—barring the SAA—have long been the bastion of ABVP support in the university, were not encouraging for the saffron outfit. The Left Unity candidates were leading for all four posts. According to six people present outside the venue, counting agents from the ABVP arrived an hour late and demanded to be allowed inside. “As per the established norms, no new counting agents can enter the counting venue, once the seal of the boxes is opened,” Kulshreshta said in his statement. “Election Committee had to reject the request of new counting agents being allowed inside that respective counting venue. ] intimidation and violence on our EC, including on our female members led by a Presidential and a Joint Secretary candidate”

Hrishita Rajbangshi writes and edits stories for Spotlight Northeast, an independent website producing digital news in Assamese and English. She has previously been an intern at The Caravan and The Citizen. She received the Zubaan Sasakawa Peace Foundation Grant in 2018.

Keywords: JNU ABVP JNUSU Student Elections