New Delhi: The unprecedented move by the CPM to disband SFI-JNU for not toeing the party line could well turn out to be the beleaguered student body’s best hope yet for political redemption on campus.
Increasingly isolated and electorally marginalized – a downslide set off by its decision to defend CPM’s positions on Singur and Nandigram – SFI-JNU seems to have been struggling for some years now to stay relevant in the JNU’s political landscape.
Once a formidable influence that launched the political careers of top Left leaders such as Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury – SFI JNU now stands dissolved on the watch of its best known former members.
Describing CPM’s decision as “one of the most bizarre things to happen,” Aditya Nigam, who spent two decades in the CPM and has served as secretary and president of SFI Delhi between 1982-85, said, “It is not understandable even in terms of their own logic. This goes against any possibility of a future SFI on campus. It is effectively driving a nail into their own coffin.”
“Going by SFI-JNU’s statements, something was obviously brewing. Many of them traced it back to Singur and Nandigram – the land acquisition there and Party’s stand on it. Obviously, it is a bigger issue. It is not just Pranab Mukherjee. The issue of the president’s election is probably only the last straw,” Nigam, a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Study of Developing Societies, said.
That the rupture was only a matter of time is apparent from the statements from members of the disbanded student body.
Roshan Kishore, president of Delhi SFI and among the four state committee members from JNU who were expelled on Tuesday, said, “In the 2007 and 2012 elections held in JNU, SFI did not win any office bearer positions…our review of the election results showed the primacy of political factors starting with Singur-Nandigram, which have been major influencing factors in JNU politics, for our poor performance.
“We cannot defend the CPM’s support to Pranab Mukherjee – who has been at the helm of UPA’s anti-people neoliberal policies- nor can we remain silent on acts like the recent murder of Revolutionary Marxist Party leader TP Chandrasekharan in Kerala. Such political developments have continuously eroded our credibility among the Left and democratic-minded students on campus. JNU has its own interests to guard and we think we should take forthright political positions,” he said.
While Kishore insists that this is not the first time the SFI-JNU has taken an independent stand that opposes the party line, the development has surprised those who have been keenly watching Left politics.
“This is both significant and surprising. Considering that the SFI in JNU is seen as the fourth bastion of the CPM after West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura and that the top leadership comes from there, the SFI has never taken a position that has been a radical departure from the larger position of the CPM,” said
Amit Sengupta, former president of the JNU students union and currently Executive Editor, Hard News magazine.
“Even when ruptures like the Tiananmen Square massacre or later the human rights violations in Tibet or in recent times Lalgarh, Singur-Nandigram happened, SFI unit in JNU or SFI units elsewhere have just followed the party line,” he said.
“This, therefore, is a positive and significant development in the history of SFI. We should appreciate the fact that they have shown courage and defied the ossified leadership of Prakash Karat. That they are creating a new intellectual culture is very good sign,” Sengupta said.
The SFI-JNU’s venture into unchartered waters has even won it praise and an open invitation from its arch political rival, the ultra-left All India Students Association, which controls the JNU students union.
“We have been raising our voice against the policies of the CPM and how it is harming the Left movement. If now SFI-JNU is raising these issues, it is a welcome development. But the criticism so far has been partial. And partial criticism doesn’t lead anywhere. We hope that SFI-JNU will take its criticism of the CPM to its logical conclusion. And if there is space for a united battle with the radical left, we welcome them for a united battle,” said Sucheta De, president of the JNU students union.
But not everyone is as optimistic about SFI-JNU’s newfound status. Premjish Achari, a PhD student at JNU’s School of Art and Aesthetics, believes it is too little, too late.
“There was a general resentment on campus for Left organizations’ support for Pranab Mukherjee. SFI reflected on that and took this decision. But they raised the issue much after other left organizations took it up. It was a late comer… SFI’s blind defense of CPM’s politics, starting with Singur-Nandigram, has led to their isolation on campus. Now it is introspection time for them. But it is too late. It should have happened much earlier,” said Achari, who grew up in Kerala and has seen firsthand the violent politics of SFI.
What the impact of SFI-JNU’s dissolution will be on Left politics in JNU is a developing story.
For now, the disbanded unit has said that it will continue to function as SFI-JNU and has appealed to SFI members to build pressure on the central leadership to reverse its decision.
When asked if these developments had re-invigorated the student body and marked a new beginning, Kishore said, “Yes, we think so. The students of JNU have continued to vote on the Left plank and when we have taken a principled position we are hopeful that the students of JNU will stand by us and will give us strength. The SFI- JNU is going to go from strength to strength.”