In Bihar, a Student Election Reflects Emerging State-Wide Equations

Prashant Kishor was involved in the Patna University election, which pitted the JD(U) against the ABVP. But was it a ploy to keep anti-BJP votes within the alliance? 

Patna: In the recent Patna University Student Union election, the Janta Dal (United) bagged two seats – president and treasurer – while the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) took the remaining three – vice-president, general secretary and joint secretary. The results wouldn’t normally qualify as national news except for the signals they send about the new political equation between the BJP and the JD(U), which, in turn, has implications for the the 2019 general elections.

The JD(U) and the BJP are allies in a strong coalition ruling the state. But their student wings contested against each other in the Patna University election.

Moreover, Prashant Kishor – celebrated election strategist and now national vice-president of the JD(U) – became personally involved in managing the student election, which meant defeating the ABVP, the student wing of his state-level ally. Mohit Prakash, the winning presidential candidate, defeated the ABVP’s candidate by more than 1,200 votes.

Election strategist in the university

Manish Singh is associated with JD(U) youth wing, where he has held key posts like media coordinator and district vice-president. When the party formed an alliance with the BJP in 2017, he and several party-workers felt left out and began working independently for other organisations. As soon as Prashant Kishor joined the JD(U), Singh was called back up in the party and asked to resume work under Kishor’s guidance.

Explaining the rift between the JD(U) and the ABVP in Bihar, Singh said that the former is fighting hard to build its cadre. “First we fought alongside the RJD, then forged alliance with the BJP. The party felt that it lost most of its cadre – mostly youth – in these years, and the recent student election is the step towards the same.”

The Patna University campus in Bihar. Credit: Siddhant Mohan

“ABVP has its BJP-RSS cadre but we don’t,” Singh added. “We have been feeling that the BJP or the ABVP’s cadre has not been submitting to the ruling JD(U), so the youth feels that it can dissociate.”

On December 3, Prashant Kishor went to meet Rasbihari Singh, the vice-chancellor of Patna University. The motives of the meeting are still unclear, but while there, he was attacked by ABVP cadres.

His vehicle was badly damaged. Police had to be brought in to extract Kishor unhurt. A day after the attack, Kishor lashed out at ABVP for the attack on Twitter: “ABVP has been uncomfortable with the lead we were getting in the students groups,” said Singh.

Prashant Kishor’s new interest has allegedly made a simple student union election more expensive. Students say JD(U) candidates used SUVs, cars and large convoys while campaigning – a rare sight in the university.

Manikant Mani, the ABVP’s newly elected general secretary, alleges that Kishor managed the election as if it was a state assembly poll. “I am not saying JD(U), but just Kishor won the union presidency on the basis of money,” he said.

Also read: Opposition Parties Should Draw Some Lessons from Recent Student Elections

The ABVP distances itself from the attack on Kishor on campus, saying, “That’s not the politics we believe in.” However, he stands firm on the two student wings fighting separately.

“We are not under the BJP but the RSS. I say we run our politics parallel to the BJP, and we can decide if we want to fight separately or jointly with any party,” Mani said.

Since joining the party, Kishor has held meetings with politically motivated youth in Patna and in several other districts of Bihar. Many party workers told this reporter that Kishor has conducted orientation meetings Bihar’s youth, preferably between 21 to 35 years, to build a youth base of the JD(U) – like the RJD did in past – before next year’s general elections. The power-show in PUSU is a step in that direction.

Kishor has been accused of interfering with election results and altering it in the party’s favour.

Rahul Yadav, a student at Patna Law College, is the president of the RJD student wing in Patna University. “I condemn the unfortunate attack,” he said, “But Kishor should also tell people why he went inside university premises while the code of conduct was in effect. That is why we protested his presence in the university at the time.”

The JD(U) said that Kishor met the vice-chancellor to discuss the law and order situation inside campus. There has been no answer to why he was in university premises while the code of conduct was in effect.

Mahagathbandhan in the making

Another important factor is the nascent and much-anticipated grand alliance against the BJP. In the student union election, the RJD contested in alliance with the AISF and the AISA, student wings of the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation respectively

On campus, their alliance is advertised on posters portraying Che Guevara alongside Rohith Vemula.

“This is something you do not see every day,” said Rahul Singh, a postgraduate student. “Everything in the name of secularism, while forgetting their individual identity.”

Posters put up by student organisations in the run up to the PUSU elections. Credit: Siddhant Mohan

Left groups and the RJD have all been saying that a secular alliance is necessary to stop the spread of communal hatred. This is complicated by the Left’s stand against casteist politics, of the kind exercised by the RJD, and also the Left’s longstanding differences with the RJD since the killing of comrade Chandrashekhar Prasad in 1997.

Anshu Kumar, alumni and ex-general secretary of the PUSU, comes from the AISF. She was a prominent campaigner for the united opposition candidate. “People should not think that we have merged. No. This is just an alliance to stop the BJP-RSS from take over and killing every educational institute,” she said.

Also read: How the ABVP Was Able to Return to Power in University of Hyderabad After 8 Years

“We didn’t forget death of Chandu, but for us now, his principles are important. We respect and salute him. I don’t think Lalu Yadav exercised any criminal activity, and recently the RJD is working in all sects,” Kumar added.

The opposition blames alleged “management” of vote by Prashant Kishor for its loss in the election. It also says that the way the election was fought, it would soon be inaccessible to poor and marginal students.

Analysts believe that the emerging political equation is still confusing for voters. Mohammad Sajjad, a professor at Aligarh Muslim University, told The Wire: “The RJD and Left parties have been talking and trying to exercise this political equation just under the tag line of ‘secularism’. I don’t think that is really important. This is a power fight.”

He added, “It is very likely that the apparent separation of the JD(U) and ABVP is just a gimmick to consolidate anti-BJP votes in favour of JD(U). They certainly don’t want those votes to go to the RJD or the Congress in future elections, so they could enact that they are fighting alone to gain anti-BJP votes in favour of the JD(U).”

Siddhant Mohan is an independent journalist and photographer.

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