The ABVP-OBC Front alliance in the recent Hyderabad Central University student’s council elections reflect changes in subaltern political equations that could potentially decide India’s future.
Lately, Indian campuses have seen a lot of experiments in forging alliances against right-wing student factions. So, when the Left and Ambedkarites united to form a grand alliance against the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) by announcing the Alliance for Social Justice (ASJ) at the Hyderabad Central University (HCU) students’ council elections, it instantly made news.
In 2016, in the first election after Rohith Vemula’s suicide, the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) had put up a lone candidate for president (who ended up third) as no agreement could be reached between the Students Federation of India (SFI) and ASA. ASJ was declared only a fortnight before the election bringing together ASA, SFI, Dalit Students’ Union (DSU), Tribal Students’ Forum (TSF), Telangana Vidyarthi Vedika (TVV), Muslim Students’ Federation (MSF) and Students’ Islamic Organization (SIO).
In the larger perspective, such an alliance against the ABVP is natural and a reflection of national politics in the campuses. A couple of years back, the then ASA leaders, who are now part of the alliance, were vocal against SFI, terming them ‘Savarna’ leftists and had ruled out aligning with Left organisations. The ideological differences between the Left parties, which are against identity politics, and the Ambedkarites, were ironed out against an imminent saffron threat. The ABVP had emerged stronger in the campus in the successive years leading up to 2017 as the narrow margins of victory for the SFI-led alliance in 2016 indicated. This was a result of polarisation engineered through Hindutva and through orchestrating a North-South regional divide on the campus.
Just after the alliance had been declared, SFI came out with a clarification statement saying there would be no alliance with the SIO, the students’ wing of Jamaat-e-Islami. ASA tried damage control by portraying the alliance as two teams where the MSF and SIO would be aligned with them and the DSU and TSF would align with SFI as two separate panels.
The ASJ swept the polls and won all the six posts despite the ABVP-OBC Front managing to improve their vote share marginally. The notification of the result for the office of the vice president won by Lunavati Naresh of the TSF has been withheld to this date after ABVP alleged that Naresh didn’t fulfill the mandatory 75% attendance needed for candidates and a retired judge has now been appointed to solve the conundrum after the grievance committee couldn’t sort it out.
As evidenced from a couple of pre-poll and post-poll incidents in the HCU campus, the ASJ may not be a long standing alliance. The fissures are deeper than they appear and may ignite further discussions on subaltern politics, Dalit politics, identity politics and theo-politics. But it is important to analyse this further to understand the scope of future alliances.
Ambedkar and Maududi cannot be part of the same tea party
Communism hasn’t flourished in India despite being a fertile ground due to its historical failure to come out of the class struggle framework of Marxian dialectical materialism. They failed to understand or accept the more complicated and deeply rooted evil in Indian subcontinent – caste. This is the fundamental premise where Amberkarites and Marxian political scientists differ. Identity politics of the subaltern political movements and class struggle theorems of Marxism mutually are contradictory and the latter has been rendered ineffective in the Indian scenario.
Now, the question of identities that are part of subaltern political movements need to be analysed further. Muslim identity politics has a unique relevance in contemporary politics – especially when it’s the Muslim identity that is being targeted. Post independence, 28 of the 73 All India Muslim League members of the Constituent Assembly stayed back in India, and the party was revived as the Indian Union Muslim League, to address community issues and to ensure the electoral representation of the largely poorer Muslims who stayed back in the Indian Union. But post the 1980s, the League has been relegated to Kerala and pockets of Tamil Nadu as part of multiparty coalitions. But not all Muslim political movements are based on identity, when viewed through the subaltern political prism.
The Maududian interpretation of Islam and the consequent formation of Jamaat-e-Islami in 1941 is a theo-political movement where the ultimate aim is formation of an Islamic nation. Theo- politics, be it from minority or majority is something a democratic society cannot afford to not oppose. The Students Islamic Organization has tried since its inception in 1956 to influence campuses, infiltrate academia and muster popular support among Muslims which has not made much headway all these years; just like their parent organisation Jamaat-e-Islami Hind. They were against the idea of their members cooperating with a non-Islamic democratic system and had requested their associates and members to resign from government jobs in the past decades.
But in 2011, the same organisation floated a political wing named ‘Welfare party of India’. SIO is probably the only student organisation which has protested decriminalising homosexuality in India and their country-wide protests on this issue have been documented on their website. The gender discrimination of the organisation is a brilliantly hidden fact. When the organisation enters comparatively progressive university campuses, they pretend to stand for gender equality. But when it comes to campuses where orthodox ideas prevail, a separate faction for girls called the ‘Girls Islamic Organization’ gets floated.
From gender to LGBT issues, the Theo-political movement of Jamaat-e-Islami has consistently exposed their conservative and regressive mindset which can potentially alienate the Muslim community further from the mainstream.
Dalit movements should introspect if they need to share a platform with theo-political organisations that can discredit their just cause. Somehow, the SIO in the campus succeeded in conveying the idea that ‘any stand against them is tantamount to Islamophobia’. On the other hand, the student community has failed to distinguish between Muslim Students’ Federation, which is an organisation practicing identity politics and the SIO, which is a theo-political Islamist organisation. It is important to distinguish Islamist politics from Muslim identity politics.
On the eve of the day of result declaration, SFI members of HCU started shouting derogatory slogans against the MSF involving the Malayalam word ‘Moori, which stands for Ox. SFI officially condemned the act and clarified their stand later.
Future of Ambedkarite politics on campuses
For the Ambedkar Students Association, the future remains uncertain. Another Dalit students’ organisation, DSU, split from ASA in 2015 due to a conflict between two Dalit castes from the Telugu region. If castes within scheduled communities discriminate against each other, the idea of subaltern and Dalit movements will collapse.
Accepting the fact that hierarchies exist among Dalit communities, the way forward is to bring them together into accepting a common identity. Thus, identity politics should have a broader approach rather than narrowing down to specific castes. The usage of ‘Brahminical’ religion or hegemony doesn’t point to the Brahmin caste in particular, but only as a way to represent the entire caste system and the politics behind it. Annihilation of caste within the Dalit communities and backward classes should be the way forward to achieve the long-term goal of equality.
The alliance between the ABVP and the OBC Front is a reflection of the mainstream politics of the day. In the class hierarchy, the lower classes try to imitate the upper class and similarly, in the post-Mandal era, economically empowered backward castes have begun to ally with upper castes in their quest for a renewed Hindutva identity. The electoral results of the past two decades show that it’s the OBCs in India who have aided the surge of saffron politics. The time is ripe for a rethink of subaltern political equations that can potentially decide India’s future. The split among subaltern movements has reduced their collective electoral strength.
Here comes the question: How far can the fragmented Ambedkarite organisations carry forward the dreams of the marginalised communities? Social justice is mostly connected with electoral representation in an inherently divided and biased society like India.
To quote Arundhati Roy:
There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced or the preferably unheard.
As Ambedkar believed only electoral representation could bring social justice to his people, the words of Roy should resonate among the divided house of Ambedkarites. In a society where dreams are sold to the middle and upper class citizenry, it’s foolish to expect candlelight marches for the deliberately silenced section among our people. The way forward for them is to embrace mainstream politics to ensure that their voices are heard.
At a time when the ideological presence of National Students Union of India (NSUI) in many campuses has been diminished to the point of near annihilation, Anju G. Rao stood out for her impressive campaign and for garnering a large vote share despite her defeat in a largely bipolar contest at HCU. It would also make sense for the NSUI to team up with the weakest section of the society to shore up future alliances. If they can be part of a larger rainbow coalition, such an alliance could prevent the spread of Hindutva and Islamist politics in campuses and beyond and also aid Ambedkar’s dream of electoral empowerment of Dalits.
Anand Kochukudy is a political journalist and lapsed academic.