Will the AAP’s Student Wing, CYSS, Be Able to Mimic the Party’s Victory in the Delhi Elections at the DUSU Elections this year?

04 September, 2015

On 28 August 2015, Nandita Narain, a mathematics professor from St. Stephens College, was re-elected as the president of Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA). Narain, a candidate from the left-affiliated Democratic Front and a vociferous critic of the semester system and four-year undergraduate program (FYUP), won the election by a margin of around 700 votes. On the same day, at around 2.30 pm, I found myself at a tea stall located between the Faculty of Arts and Faculty of Law buildings at north campus in Delhi.

Here, I met Chand Kubba, a student of law at Delhi University (DU) and a former president of the Delhi College of Arts and Commerce—one ofthe 77 colleges (colleges that also run evening shifts are counted twice) affiliated to DU. Kubba, an active member of college politics for the past five years, and I were there to discuss the upcoming Delhi University Students Union (DUSU) elections, that would be held on 11 September. These elections are being conducted to select the central council members along with the president, vice-president, general secretary and joint secretary of the organisation. Explaining the significance of this annual exercise to me, Kubba said, “DUSU is meant to be the bridge between authorities and students. They may not have much power on paper, but in practice it’s a lot. In terms of money, you are handling large funds meant for events and festivals.” He continued, “Right now, you’ll see the candidates everywhere and they’ll do anything for you, but once they win, they’ll disappear.”

The nominal dates for campaigning have been set between 2 and 10 September. However, when I first went to north campus in August, I could see scores of luxurious vehicles plastered with pamphlets that advertised either the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP)—believed to be the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) student wing, or the National Students’ Union of India (NSUI)—the student wing of the Indian National Congress (INC). I did not have to look too hard to spot billboards advertising the debut entry of this, Chhatra Yuva Sangharsh Samiti (CYSS)—the student wing of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

Kubba told me that, for the past few years, the DUSU elections have primarily been a contest between ABVP and NSUI, “ABVP has held the president’s post for two years running now, and last year they won all four posts.” Other important parties, according to Kubba, included the Indian National Students’ Organisation (INSO) that is backed by Om Prakash Chautala’s Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and the All India Students’ Association (AISA), the student wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation.

A former student of DU who has been involved with campus politics for the past eight years told me, “Whatever happens at the centre follows here because all the players are involved. It’s a big game, tickets are bought or won through clout, because DUSU is a shortcut to the national stage. At present, ABVP rules with the BJP, while NSUI has grown weak like the Congress. And as the right-wing grew, the left declined. AISA is the only one left.” Another former DU student who has been active in DUSU politics for the past seven years predicted, “This time, ABVP will get two posts for sure, and there is a possibility that they may negotiate one with CYSS, sort of give them an official launch.”

A senior member of Chhatra Janata Dal (CJD), the student wing of Janata Dal [United] told me, “Like the national scenario, this time we have a socialist coalition—a mahagathbandhan—between three parties: INSO; Samajwadi Chhatra Sabha[SCS] , the student wing of Samajwadi Party; and us. INSO is Haryana based, SCS is [sic] Uttar Pradesh, and we have Bihar—so between the three of us, we have north India covered,” he joked, before adding that the coalition has filed 11or12 nominations, and that the final four candidates would be announced in a few days. He said, “Realistically speaking, for now, we are just hoping that the coalition grows in strength.”

According to Kubba, the CYSS consisted mostly of those people who were not able to get a ticket through INSO and ABVP. The party’s cadre, he said, has “new masks, but old faces.” He told me, “Personally, I don’t think they’ll have much impact this year, because they lack influential people and a good ground network. But who knows? It’s politics. People don’t vote according to ability, it’s just about floating your name in the air.” Kubba explained to me that most hostels in DU tend to go for bulk voting, since they are plied with alcohol and food as incentives. The worst part, Kubba said, was that these elections are not isolated from caste-based politics either.

Upinder Godara, who held a national post with NSUI before becoming a CYSS volunteer three months ago, told me, “There is this wrong impression that we belong to the same old DU political crowd. It’s actually just a few important people who joined, rest are all new members. With us, it’s not about muscle power and getting outsiders into campus, or Jaat-Gujjar caste politics—we have intellectual workers.”

The nomination process for the elections was concluded yesterday. The CYSS’ candidates are Hitanshi Chauhan, Garima Rana, Kuldeep Bhiduri and Rahul Raj Aryan. According to a report in DNAthe daily newspaper—Garima Rana, CYSS’ candidate from Hindu College is Jaat while Bhiduri, from Pannalal Girdharlal Dayanand Anglo Vedic College, belongs to the Gujjar community. Although ABVP and NSUI are expected to announce their nominations only by 5 September, according to Shauryaveer Kadyan, a senior NSUI member, the party’s four candidates are Amit Sehrawat, Amit Chaudhary, PradeepVijayran, and Anjali Singh. Of these, two, the DNA report stated, are Jaat, while one is from the Gujjar community. Saket Bahuguna, the Delhi state secretary of ABVP, told me that ABVP has registered six candidates for the four posts: Satinder Awana, Nikhil Yadav, Chatarpal Yadav, Sunny Deda, Tanvi Manchanda, and Anjali Rana. He added that the final four would be announced sometime today. According to the DNA report, both Awana and Deda are Gujjars.

None of the parties have released their manifestos yet. Describing CYSS’ agenda, Bhiduri—one of the four CYSS candidates—told me over the phone, “ABVP and NSUI have been fighting these elections for more than 40 years with more or less the same manifestos. Each year, they talk about creating more hostels, removing corruption in the admission process, and so on—because they never do the work. So first of all, we will do all this pending work that they have been promising to do for years without any results. Then, we will move forward.”

Godara said, “We will tackle real student issues and their everyday problems—not like the big hollow promises of the other parties. We will start a helpline cell, bring central wi-fi, and fight for metro discounts for students up to 50 percent. We will also take up the issue of hostels and rent control act.” Ravinder Negi, a CYSS worker I had met during my trip to north campus in August, summed it up by saying, “We want to end dirty politics, so basically, we want to improve everything.”

Amit Sehrawat, who is reportedly one of NSUI’s candidates, told me, “Our main agenda is to protest against CBCS [choice-based-credit-system] brought in by Smriti Irani [union minister for human resource development]. I believe our chances are bright.”

I asked Bahuguna about ABVP’s stance on the controversial CBCS that had been launched by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) amidst fierce opposition last year. Bahuguna told me, “CBCS will revolutionise higher education in India. It will provide employment and update the government universities like private ones. As for the practical problems of infrastructure, they will be taken care of gradually—DU will take action.”

When I asked Godara about where CYSS stood on the issue of CBCS, he replied, “We haven’t taken an official decision yet, the matter is being discussed. But I’ll give you my personal opinion. When UPA [the United Progressive Alliance] brought FYUP [Four Years Undergraduate Program] in 2013-14, both ABVP and even NSUI protested against it. Now, NDA has brought CBCS, which in essence is the same as FYUP. They think it’s a joke, playing with children’s lives.”

Bahuguna appeared to be hopeful of ABVP’s victory and told me, “We have been demanding more hostels and the implementation of Delhi Rent Control Act around campus. Currently, hostels can’t accommodate more than two percent of total DU students. Regarding examinations, we reinstated the revaluation process and revived the procedure for special attempts and repeats. We also started university shuttle services with special buses. Now, we are hoping to reap the benefits of all that work.”

As for ABVP’s connection with BJP, he maintained, “That is a misconception. ABVP is not directly related to any political party. It was established in 1949 while the BJP was made in 1980. We share a similar ideology and so a lot of our former activists later end up joining BJP.” Bahuguna was unperturbed by CYSS’ entry and said that, “They will have no impact, because they are not working on ground and so they lack popular support. Look at their posters, half of them contain Arvind Kejriwal’s [Delhi chief minister and national convener of AAP] photographs. It’s a misuse of funds. DU students will not be fooled by such tactics.”

Negi countered this and told me that, “There is not much interference. AAP provides us volunteers and network, but no funding. As for the CM’s [Chief Minister’s] photo on our posters, it’s simply because we want to stick to his anti-corruption image.”

Sehrawat echoed Bahuguna during our conversation over the phone, “Their job is to tell lies. AAP won the Delhi elections by promising free water and free wi-fi, where is it? But these are students, they are aware, you can’t fool them.”

Negi seemed to differ on this as well and said, “We are old players, we know DU politics well. Dharmender ‘Dhamu’ Bhandary, who has been involved with DUSU politics for ten years, is our campaign in-charge. Earlier, he used to back ABVP, but then there was a feud last year, so he joined CYSS like the rest of us.” He added, “This time, if power comes to the right hands, a lot can be done. Aakhir varchasva ki ladai hai—After all, this is a battle for absolute power.” Despite repeated attempts, I was unable to get in touch with Bhandary.

In this war for dominance, CYSS has already come under the spotlight, following accusations that it put up hoardings displaying “fake” opinion polls that stated CYSS would win this election with 45 percent of the votes. This strategy has since been emulated both by ABVP and NSUI.

The Delhi Congress has also claimed that CYSS violated the guidelines of the Lyngdoh committee, which was set up by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in 2007 to—among other things—curb the trend of lavish spending during student elections.” A memorandum submitted by the Congress delegation stated that CYSS’ hoardings and posters  adorned with the images of Kejriwal “confuse people with false propaganda on issues like free wi-fi and CCTV in buses.” The memorandum further added that, “There is no clarity as to whether these are poll promises or an attempt to flaunt the so-called 'achievements' by the AAP Government in Delhi. These are done to deliberately mislead and confuse the students.” Ajay Maken, the president of the Delhi Congress committee, further alleged that CYSS had put up “more than 50 hoardings,” in an unprecedented campaign since “no paid site has been used before.” The Lyngdoh committee guidelines state that no candidate may spend more than Rs5000 on campaigning during an election. Maken has alleged that a cultural extravaganza that was held by CYSS at Talkatora stadium on 1 September could not have cost less than Rs 50 lakh, even by “conservative estimates.”

Godara told me that the CYSS had decided to refrain from using any pamphlets in their campaign due to the excessive expenditure they would result in. He refuted Maken’s accusations by saying, “We do not take any money from AAP. You are talking about DU ROCKS, we only spent nominal charges for renting the [Talkatora] stadium. Vishal Dadlani [a singer] and Raghu Ram [the former anchor of Roadies, a reality show], as you might know, have been AAP’s supporters since the beginning. They did not charge anything for their performance. Our billboards that you  talk of, cost Rs. 1000-1500 per day to rent over a month’s time, and I think we have around 100 spots. And since we’re not advertising individual candidates, the cost is between Rs 30 to Rs 40 lakh in all.” The Lyngdoh committee guidelines, he said, would be “violated only when it can be proved that the candidate himself spent more than Rs 5000.” Godara added, “To be honest, Lyngdoh report is also wrong. There are around 50 affiliated colleges, and campaigning lasts for around 20 days—do you think it is possible in Rs 5000? The guidelines need to be more flexible and realistic.”

Meanwhile, a former student from the Faculty of Law, told me that day before yesterday, on 2 September, Nikhil Yadav—one of the CJD nominees—was detained by some ABVP and CYSS members at a house in Mukherjee Nagar. The former student claimed that they were trying to convince Yadav to withdraw his nomination, but he refused.  Other members from the CJD allegedly reached the spot soon after and extracted Yadav from the situation by around 1 am.

Godara called this confrontation a “negotiation” that had taken place because Yadav was a “dummy candidate” whose nomination had been prompted by the strength of another Nikhil Yadav, a candidate from ABVP. Two candidates with the same name, Godara asserted, would confuse the voters since the electronic voting machines list only the name of the candidates and their colleges, not the name of the party.

Musing about the possible outcome of these elections, Negi said, “NSUI is out of the race. They are just wasting time and money. It’s ABVP versus CYSS. We are hoping to win all four seats, but one seat is confirmed—I can give that to you in writing.” When I asked him if this “confirmed seat” had anything to do with the rumours I had heard of back-room negotiations, Negi smiled and answered, “See, we all come from the same network, so we know each other. But all that will happen later. It depends on Dhamubhai and which way the wind blows.”