For many JNU student leaders, politics on campus is a stepping stone to a mainstream career. Joining the grand old party is often seen as a natural progression
Spending their campus life affiliated to Left-wing student organisations at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and then joining the Congress afterwards has been a trend seen across several decades among student leaders.
Kanhaiya Kumar, who was the president of the JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU) from 2015-16, representing the All India Students’ Federation (AISF), joined the Congress on Tuesday, making him the newest member of the club.
Others who have made the switch include Shakeel Ahmad Khan, national secretary of the Indian National Congress. He was the JNUSU president from 1992-93, representing the Students Federation of India (SFI). Syed Naseer Hussain, a Rajya Sabha member, was JNUSU president from 1999-2000, representing the SFI. Mohit Pandey, JNUSU president from 2016-17, representing the All India Students’ Association (AISA), is now working with the Congress in Uttar Pradesh.
Batti Lal Bairwa from the SFI, who was elected for two terms as JNUSU president from 1996-98, is currently the secretary of the Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee. Sandeep Singh from the AISA was JNUSU president from 2007-08 and is now a political adviser to Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi.
Student politics at JNU are keenly watched as several students have used the platform to launch successful political careers at the national level. The annual JNUSU presidential debate, organised before the election, sees heated discussions on not just campus problems but national and international topics as well.
Apart from a few exceptions, Left-wing student outfits dominate the union.
Mr. Kumar’s move to exit the Communist Party of India (CPI) and join the Congress has evoked much discussion on campus. Sunny Dhiman, who was the National Students’ Union India (NSUI) presidential candidate for the JNUSU in 2016, and is currently a student at the university, says although some members of the NSUI are a bit disgruntled at Mr. Kumar joining the Congress after spending his student life in the AISF, he feels that Mr. Kumar is doing no great harm to his ideology.
“The CPI is ideologically close to the left of Centre like the Congress. We believe that people with such an ideology should affiliate with the Congress. For Mr. Kumar, for him to grow, the Congress was the only party to join where someone with an open mind can work,” says Mr. Dhiman.
Students affiliated to the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) feel Mr. Kumar joining the Congress after his student days is no surprise and many Left activists have done it over the years. They feel that it confirms that in the February 9, 2016, sedition row, those who raised anti-India slogans had the support of the Congress.
JNUSU joint secretary from 2015-16 Saurabh Sharma, who was the only member of the panel from the ABVP when Mr. Kumar was president, says that in a democracy, people have the right to switch political parties but accepting Mr. Kumar shows the true face of the Congress.
“The Congress practices politics based on caste, religion and region, and from the number of Left leaders that have joined the party after JNU, it shows that Left politics is a training ground for those that the Congress later absorbs. A clear pattern has emerged,” says Mr. Sharma, who is now an assistant professor at JNU.
Mr. Kumar joining the Congress is proof the party supports “anti-national” people who call for the break-up of the country, he adds.
National president of the AISA and former JNUSU president from 2018-19 N. Sai Balaji, who is currently pursuing his PhD from JNU, says that a leader moving from the Left parties to the Congress will cause no harm to the Left-wing students’ movement despite Mr. Kumar gaining credibility from his association with the Left.
“The students’ movement is based on the ground and is the face of resistance today. The movement will not be weakened by one student leader leaving due to personal reasons. It is not about individuals but a collection of people,” Mr. Balaji said.