A candidate of a student organization barely two months old, Students Federation of India-JNU (SFI-JNU), was elected to the post president of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU) on Friday. V. Lenin Kumar, the party’s candidate got 212 votes more than the nearest rival, All India Students Association’s (AISA) Om Prasad. SFI-JNU was formed in July after the Delhi chapter of the Communist Party of India—Marxist (CPM) affiliated Students Federation of India (SFI) expelled four top leaders in the campus after they sided with Prasenjit Bose, the former national convenor (research wing) of the CPM, who had been expelled from the party a few weeks before.
While the decision was widely criticized outside the Left party, it had polarized the party itself on its line on democratic dissent. The September elections offer some telling results — SFI candidate Kopal Singh came in eighth in the presidential race getting just 107 votes of the 4,309 polled. The SFI, which started on campus under the leadership of the current general secretary of the CPM Prakash Karat, had been a strong force on campus, displaced from the top only in 2006, the CPI-ML (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation affiliate AISA. It had, however, remained the principal opposition on campus ever since (a period that was marked by the suspension of the student elections as court case was on against the Lyngdoh committee recommendations). But, it has little left on campus now, in a strictly electoral sense. SFI has just one councillor today of the 30 in the union.
In the larger context of the Left, and specifically of CPM, what do the results signify? Is it a political message for the party? Many say the verdict is a lesson for the CPM whose undemocratic way of handling dissent created a rebel student outfit. Lenin’s victory could be just as much about the issues on which Bose was expelled as about the expelling of Lenin and his comrades. The story of a rebellion among the revolutionaries is as layered as it gets.
In June, Bose quit as the national convenor of the research cell, opposing CPM’s decision to support “neo-liberal” Pranab Mukherjee’s candidature for the post of president of India. In a public letter of resignation, he said that though the Mukherjee decision prompted him to resign he had consistently opposed the party line on Singur, Nandigram and many other issues. The party expelled him shortly afterwards. The decision to expel Bose found little favour in the SFI unit of the very university he is an alumnus of. Having been involved in the student politics in JNU for long, he found resounding support from Lenin and others. CPM then shot itself in the foot deciding to expel Lenin and three others and dissolve the SFI unit. Almost 80 percent of the SFI members and sympathisers went with the SFI-JNU – the rebel group. By the time admissions began, the two units —SFI (official) and SFI-JNU— had pitched separate help-counters for the freshers.
SFI-JNU’s fight in the campus was a stand taken against the CPM. In a democratic electoral politics, the best way to show your prowess is winning the election. Lenin’s victory shows that the split in the campus SFI is now complete and heralds the coming into being of a new Left alternative in the campus. It is also a jolt to the CPM which was the political nursery for several leaders including Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury.
Since the last few years, CPM members have been coming out in their criticism of some of the party positions. Eminent Leftist commentator and academic, Prabhat Patnaik, had raised these issues in the past. There were whispers of the ‘Stalinist’ attitude of the party. The kinder ones questioned its structure of ‘democratic centralism’ in decision making. There were few who dared to come out in the open with their criticism. Ashok Mitra, the former finance minister of West Bengal, tore part in public CPM policies saying that there was a “sloth in both ideology and praxis”. He said that the Left Front government failed to capture the people’s sentiments in the state. Former Kerala chief minister V S Achuthanandan also spoke against the party line — and was promptly rewarded with a public censure. This, from a party which began as a breakaway from the Communist Party of India (CPI) in the sixties after it took up positions that differed with the latter’s stands. The CPM had then claimed that it was “radical” in its politics and that it stood with the “revolution of the working class”. It achieved electoral successes in West Bengal and Kerala, holding sway over the former 34 years (it lost the assembly elections in both Bengal and Kerala in May last year)!
Now, the JNU election results show that there is a deep-rooted problem within the party. Bose said that CPM should learn from JNU polls. As the diesel price hike, announcement of the FDI in multi brand retail and different scams that have rattled the country, CPM has still got historic reasons to rebuild itself. But if it keeps crushing dissent with expulsions, will there be anybody left to help rebuild?