Is student politics returning to Mumbai? ABVP gets three booster shots

Recent events — Rohith Vemula's death and the buzz around revival of college elections — coupled with BJP rule in Centre and state, help Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad's student wing scale up

Like they say, any publicity is good publicity. This year, the number of members of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad's Mumbai wing has increased by 10,000 to 45,000 from last year.

Some members of the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad — Yadunath Deshpande, Amit Mishra, Aniket Ovhal, Bharat Gathekar, Susheel Kumar, Rohit Chandore, Bhushan Thakare, Ameya Gode and Suraj Lokare — at the Press Club of India, Mumbai, on Friday. Pics/Bipin Kokate
Some members of the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad — Yadunath Deshpande, Amit Mishra, Aniket Ovhal, Bharat Gathekar, Susheel Kumar, Rohit Chandore, Bhushan Thakare, Ameya Gode and Suraj Lokare — at the Press Club of India, Mumbai, on Friday. Pics/Bipin Kokate

According to ABVP sources, the steady rise began three years ago, around the time the Modi wave hit the city with its pro-BJP sentiment.

An added boost to the BJP-associated students’ union came with the statement of Vinod Tawde, state education minister, in support of student university elections last year.

On Friday, the Mumbai wing of the ABVP organised a press conference where Susheel Kumar spoke out about the suicide being politicisedOn Friday, the Mumbai wing of the ABVP organised a press conference where Susheel Kumar spoke out about the suicide being politicised

ABVP again rose to national consciousness after the death of Hyderabad University student Rohith — who ended his life on January 17 due to caste-based discrimination, unwarranted academic restrictions and loss of stipend. When ABVP’s Matunga unit office was attacked on January 23, it created more sympathy for the group. Student members circulated an audio clip, which went viral across the city. It voiced their stand that the incident has been politicised, facts had been distorted and the ABVP was being targeted.

The attack on ABVP’s Matunga office, in which a member was injured, gave the two units an opportunity to come together. According to a student member, soon after the attack, they received a message from the higher-ups to hold protests across the city. Vaibhav Tripathi, General Secretary of Mumbai East, ABVP, claimed, “A lot of negative things were being said about ABVP. We had to protest. We didn’t need to persuade students, they came on their own.”

50th celebration
According to students, the golden jubilee celebration of Maharashtra ABVP, titled 50th MahaABVP Adhiveshan, also garnered growth. “We targeted apolitical students and explained how ABVP functions. We may be close to RSS, but we do not take students to BJP rallies or for any political events,” said Tripathi, who added that around 3,000 students and members attended the function. “Since the Adhiveshan has been held, we have had a surge in the numbers of students wanting to join us,” said Tripathi, who had organised a mock parliament, for 200 students on January 19 for which over 4,000 turned up.

According to a state senior RSS functionary, ABVP appoints one RSS member who plays the role of an organisational secretary who presents students’ grievances to authorities.

Success stories
The fact that many ABVP members have gone on to become ministers in the government, also helps. General Secretary of ABVP Mumbai Aniket Ovhal said, “Vinod Tawde is one such example. In the last three years our numbers are on an increase, it mostly used to be between 30,000-35,000 but now it has increased and crossed 45,000 this year.”

A new beginning
After a ban on the student union elections in 1992, response had dipped. Student elections in Maharashtra were banned after National Students Union of India (NSUI) candidate Owen D’Souza was murdered during the Mithibai College class representatives’ elections. “However, now with the announcement that the elections will be held again, we are a bit hopeful,” said Ovhal, who added that the ABVP members are a floating population, hence, an accurate figure is not known. “In the ’90s, we had around 90,000 members. This is when elections were legal,” said Ovhal.

While the current students’ union in Mumbai is ruled by MNS’s student wing MNVS and Shiv Sena’s Yuva Sena, ABVP, NSUI, the Congress’s students wings have an upper hand in competing in a university students’ union election as the bodies existed in the ’90s.

'I've to clear my image'

On Friday, ABVP held one of its most successful press conferences in connection with Vemula’s suicide at the Mumbai Press Club. Susheel Kumar, one of the workers of ABVP in Hyderabad, whose name has cropped up in the list of suspects for abetting Vemula’s suicide, spoke about how the organisation is being framed in the case.

Q. Why has ABVP taken so long to come out with their counterview?
A. I was shocked after the incident and had locked myself in a room. I cannot tell you how many times I have read his suicide letter. Everybody was blaming me for it on Facebook. It was very difficult to deal with death of a friend, no matter our differences. We are requesting a judicial probe in the incident.

Susheel Kumar ABVP Hyderabad’s member
Susheel Kumar ABVP Hyderabad’s member

Q. Any pressure from the ABVP higher-ups?
A. No, but I want to put the facts in front of people. The issue should not be politicised the way it is being done.
We need to know what really drove Vemula to take such a drastic step. I am not a political person. I want to complete my PhD in linguistics and begin my career in academics. Of course, I have to clear my image too.

Q. What about your academics right now?
A. In this academic year, I have not been able to focus on my studies at all. I am severely tensed in the current scenario; as politics is not the choice of career field for me. I want to get back to academics.

Q. Question have been raised over your story about being assaulted by Ambedkar Students Association (ASA), and that the medical documents are instead of appendicitis surgery.
A. Yes, it was an appendicitis surgery, but it had to be done urgently after injuries from assault aggravated it.

Q. ASA has alleged that ABVP disrupted the screening of documentary ‘Muzaffarnagar Abhi Baki hai’ on the HCU campus.
A. We did not disrupt the screening.. There are different students groups active on campuses with differences of ideologies. SFI had organised a successful campaign of ‘kiss of love’ that we were not able to counter. Scuffles between student groups are normal

Q. Wasn’t it a political intervention when Bandaru Dattatreya wrote to MHRD to intervene in the matter regarding assault on you?
A. It was an attempt to approach the ruling government seeking to resolve the issues that the varsity authorities couldn’t solve. In his letters to MHRD, Dattatray only reported assaults on campus and asked MHRD to take cognisance of. He did not call any specific students union antisocial. With this issue, all political parties are conducting rallies on the campus.

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