Left and the Organisational Question

The JNU elections 2016 have done what the mobilisation for Kanhaiya, Umar and Anirban did. It has sent a message across the whole spectrum of Right that there are possibile spaces where it cannot have it as easy as it expects. The official intervention through a Sangh-subservient Vice-Chancellor to use of all sorts of state machinery – from Police to Judiciary – could not transform it overnight into a Sangh camp. It might over years nobody knows but the different kind of politics that the campus stood for has been blocked for now. It is the student politics in the campus and its historical lineage that has withstood for now the attack that the campus has faced. However, this does not exonerate the Left in campus of many criticisms that it draws.

This reflection is not about the campus politics as such but only one dimension of the Left politics – its inability to strengthen itself even in times when the state goes into crisis. The way that the Kanhaiya Prakaran (Episode is the nearest translation but does not convey the whole meaning, which has a sense of process inbuilt into it) culminated into a politics wherein AISF (All India Students Federation) did not contest the elections needs more than just a passing reference. The episode has also created new discourses within the so-called Left such as the one concerning the significance of caste among other things. This development from arrest of JNUSU President to the non-contestation of AISF is a mere excuse here to understand the larger issue of the myopic handling of the organisational question within the Left or rebuilding of the Left.

Rumours and whatsapp discussions had already informed me about the decision of All India Students Federation to not contest the JNUSU elections. The newspaper report had further  clarified it. The Left Unity in JNU is sans AISF. Reasons are not to be debated – whether it was the lack of organisational ability to put up a candidate or it was the committment of AISF towards Left Unity and it did not want to contest alone when the two other partners tried to treat it as a junior partner. These things are immaterial to the discussion here.

And I am not writing to debate whether they have the ability or not or how far can their ability go as an organisation. I am merely using it as an excuse to raise a larger organisational question because the 2016 saw emergence of a leader who travelled the length and breadth of country and was seen as having the potential to add something to the ‘democratic’ political process.

When Facebook posts about how large audience attended his meetings in Pune or Patna were being posted I asked a student leader a basic intellectual question – when you flaunt these pictures and events do you also see a possibility of your organisational expansion with it? Or how does his travels help your organisation? I didn’t get an answer and I expected none because I had a hunch that using such possible moments as the one thrown up by JNU kind of incidence has never been on the agenda of the Left organisations or they have been incapable of taking it further. The arrest of Kanhaiya had provided sufficient meat to the Left to get this politics of Right out among the masses through a well though out organisational exercise routed through its organisational structure as the Right did across the country using the same incident. This could have been possible where the AISF/CPI claimed to have organisation or where they did not have they could have used it to start the process of organisation building there.

When the situation gives the organisation an opportunity wherein the leader acquires a popular mass appeal (and this has been the case many a times) it generates a lot of energy and momentum even within the non-existent units of the organisation. This can be visible in the way local units are compelled to respond to the tirades against the leader for being anti-national in this case for instance. The cadre prepares defence to the charges and in this process begins to devote time to the organisation which s/he had stopped doing.  The other possibility can be seen in the way the units become proactive and organise programmes to felicitate the leader or listen to him. This also becomes an opportunity to reflect on  the ideas and politics of the organisation.

When the Right-wing government, for all its miscalculations that it has been doing, wanted to make an entry into JNU to destroy the ‘different’ kind of history and politics that the institution has represented in the heart of the national capital it generated a huge reaction to the acts of aggression by the state. While a BJP spokesperson immediately remarked that ‘let these people feel the might of the state’. Now when I retrospect he must be faltering for explanations despite his eloquence on television channels. He along with all his fraternal raucous voices would be compelled to rethink their political strategy because within a period of five years it would be difficult to completely transform the nature of the politics in JNU. It cannot be made into the Delhi University kind of students politics (where money and muscle power is the predominant requirement to participate in elections) despite a subservient administration and all sorts of propaganda. The aftermath of the arrest of student activists led to an unprecedented mobilisation on streets of Delhi as well as within the campus. It led to many developments which shall be discussed separately. My concern here is look at how the JNUSU President acquired  an image of a star politician who would travel to different parts of the country to speak. One could see the reaction of people around when he would attend meetings or travel. In the same way as a people had a sense of awe when big politicians moved around with police protection he also experienced the same, obviously, for no fault of his own. Different people from different places in the country narrated how this image was created.

Communist Party of India (CPI) as well as its students wing tried to use this status of the former JNUSU President inviting him to their meetings as a speaker. As we all know CPI has been on downward slide early 1990s electorally as well as organisationally. Its mass organisations have weakened and its seats in Parliament and assemblies of states have declined. In such a situation it hardly has leaders who would have a standing of their own – intellectually as well as in any charismatic sense. Kanhaiya seemed to fill that void – of a JNU student and a charismatic leader. The over dependence on him also created an image of this leader which became much bigger that the organisation itself, whether the party realised it or not is a different question. This further happened because of organisational inability to deal with this larger than life youth leader.

What happened in this process was that his role in organisation was not redefined (as it should have been done) and the use of his image to strengthen the organisation also did not happen. Sometimes it also seemed whether his understanding of different contemporary as well as historical issues were in line with the politics that the party stood for. The answer to questions like how much has the organisation become stronger in aftermath of this whole episode within JNU and how far has AISF gained organisationally nationally from this whole episode would help one understand how can Left chart a different path than the bourgeois organisations while dealing with situations that has been created in recent past.