Telangana polls: Politics in the state's universities changes due to massive drift in ideologies of student organisations

Aravind Singh Rajpurohit | Nov 12, 2018 | 6 min read


What’s cooking in Telangana universities?

The political affiliations of students in Telangana have recently left many stumped.

Always in the thick of things – be it the Telangana movement of the 1960s or the recent resurgence of the right-wing in the state – students are now reevaluating their ideologies, which is affecting their politics. The slow churning was evident last month when the right-wing ABVP won - nay swept - the students’ union elections in University of Hyderabad (HCU), a surprising trend for the Left stronghold varsity.

Most of Telangana’s universities been pivotal in state politics. The politically aware Osmania University (OU) has had more than 20 student organisations linked to political parties and has been the ground for face-off between right-wing and left-wing groups, with students actively raising their voice on socio-economic issues and initiating agitations. Gone are the days though when most student organisations would stand by K Chandrashekar Rao, the state’s caretaker CM, bound by the common desire for state formation. Now, KCR is said to have lost his grip on student outfits which were his strength during the 2009 Telangana agitation.

Not just that, there has been a massive drift in ideologies of student organisations since the formation of the state.

Upheavel at Osmania University

Manga Anji, a PhD scholar from OU and an ABVP (RSS student wing) activist, points out that the traditional ideological fight between the right and left-wing has come down in the university because of the scattering in left unions and caste-based unions. Anji insisted that left-wing unions had lost their credibility “because of their caste-based and opportunistic politics”. “ABVP is continuously fighting for the welfare of students and issues in the field of education, which made the outfit the single largest organisation at the national level,” he said. He also highlighted the fallout of 1988 ban on student union elections in state varsities in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, saying the "atmosphere of healthy competition is lacking among students’ unions because of the long ban”.

According to Shanker, another PhD research scholar from OU, and an AISF (CPI-affiliated) activist, unions once used to dominate state politics but are now confined to the university because of lack of political awareness among the new crop of students. “At the time of elections, unions used to mobilise students through ideological debates and meetings. Though union elections were banned, the trend of choosing left or right-wing ideology remained,” he said. He blamed poor academic atmosphere and politics based on ‘Dalit, Bahujan or Ambedkarist’ movements as the reason behind dilution of student politics. He also stressed on the need for students to unite to achieve political power which could change the fate of the downtrodden.

The case of HCU and Rohith Vemula

Union elections are currently being held in only two central universities - HCU and Hyderabad’s English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU). Of these, HCU has been in the limelight ever since the suicide of scholar Rohith Vemula two years ago and the ensuing focus on student politics. Events at HCU are since eagerly watched by political parties and analysts. The university has long been a stronghold of the Students Federation of India (SFI), a wing of the CPM. In 2017, the Ambedkar Students Association joined hands with SFI, cobbling up the Alliance for Social Justice, and won all key union posts. But last month, after eight long years, the ABVP and its alliance partners - OBCF (Other Backward Caste Federation) and SLVD (Sevalal Vidhyarthi Dal) - rode to power in the students’ union polls , marking a drastic shift in the ideological orientation of students. 

The poll results, where ABVP won four out of the six posts with OBCF and SLVD winning one each, clearly highlight the shift in political dynamics, which may also be reflected in the upcoming state elections and general elections to be held in 2019. Talking about Vemula, Karan Palsaniya, PhD research scholar at HCU and ABVP’s south India convener for central universities and institutes, alleged that “a fake and sponsored movement was carried out in the name of Rohith Vemula to give the name of ‘suicide’ to an ‘institutional murder’, by managing the media and funding from political parties”. 

“At the end of the day, however, this fake movement was busted and their voteshare has gone down drastically,” he said, adding that the HCU election results reflected the rejection of divisive politics. According to Palsaniya, the “ABVP has risen above caste, creed and regional politics and imbibed the idea of ‘India’ that Dr APJ Abdul Kalam dreamt of”.

Another HCU student, Ravikiran, of mass communications, explained that the mindset of students has changed in the past few years and that they are fed up with caste politics.  He mentioned the reason for swing in ideologies as the break in the greater alliance in which Dalits, leftists and left-conservative participated individually. He observed that the left and Dalit unions had failed to convince the students, whereas the ABVP saw success with its attractive campaign, manifesto and sense of sympathy. HCU’s politics, however, may not have a great impact on people unlike Delhi’s JNU because of the university polls being sidelined by the mainstream media, Ravikiran pointed out.

EFLU’s ‘paper tigers’

At EFLU, unlike the other state varsities, student politics has not grabbed the limelight. The unions here contest elections under different banners, such as Students Alliance for Justice and Democracy, Allied Students’ Union for Action and Democracy and Unity for Better EFLU, but all of these have some ideological differences. "The students who join the university come from elite family backgrounds and don't show much interest in politics," an EFLU researcher not wanting to be named said.

ABVP activist and university scholar Srinath pointed out that the union’s view on matters “is not considered by the university administration, and that the voting percentage has gone down drastically in the recently held elections”. He added that though the union president and members for other posts are elected by the students, they remain “paper tigers”. The university’s students’ union president Saiyed Dawud Rizvi blamed the administration for unnecessary restrictions and guidelines which were scaring off students from participating in union activities and resulting in political inactivity.  He also condemned the varsity for seeking a written agreement from students that said they couldn’t participate in any kind of protests against the administration. Rizvi called it “a cruel step to end student politics in the university".

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