Featured Image: Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union new general secretary Satarupa Chakraborty (in blue kurta) with fellow student Umar Khalid (to her left) and others during a protest at JNU in May this year.
THE alliance of CPI-M’s Students’ Federation of India and CPI-ML Liberation’s All India Students’ Association on Saturday swept the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU) elections by winning all the four top seats.
Among the winners is a Bong ~ Satarupa Chakraborty ~ who has been elected the new general secretary of JNUSU. She defeated Vijay Kumar of BJP’s Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad by 1,094 votes.
There is an added dimension to Satarupa’s identity: she hails from Karimganj town in Barak Valley, where people became martyrs in the 1961 and after in opposing the imposition of Assamese language on them and upholding the right to study their mother tongue Bengali.
There is another aspect that needs a mention. Satarupa comes from Barak Valley where Left politics have been elbowed to a marginal corner for over three decades now.
No wonder, Satarupa’s father Sankarjyoti Chakraborty, is far from being jubilant by the fact that his daughter from remote Karimganj has travelled this far to get elected a JNUSU office bearer.
“We are happy that she has won but I believe her focus should be on studies. We did not object to her getting into election as she told us that at JNU, student politics is part of education,” Sankarjyoti said over the phone.
NEWSMEN caught up with Satarupa on a telephonic interview for her reaction to the big win, the anxiety of her parents, and her future plans. Here are the excerpts:
How does it feel having got elected the general secretary of JNUSU?
There is nothing individual about it. It is the collective victory of the people who stood up against the #ShutDownJNU campaign of the BJP and joined the fight for #StandWithJNU.
But getting elected to the student union of India’s topmost university and that too when you belong to Barak Valley where Left has no strength, is remarkable. Isn’t that?
Once the Left, in particular the CPI-M, used to have a robust presence in Barak Valley. Over time, the party has become frail there and after the demise of Nurul Huda last year; there is a crisis of leadership. But the Left politics there is not over.
How did you get drawn into Left politics?
I became a member of SFI in 2006 when I was studying XII at Karimganj College. But my association with Left politics got strengthened while I was pursuing masters at Hyderabad University in 2010-12.
Subsequently, I joined JNU in 2013 to pursue MPhil in philosophy and got elected as the student convenor of School of Social Sciences at JNU last year. I learnt a lot from the tumultuous days at JNU campus last winter; we were the ones who took lead in the protests when our fellow students were being branded “anti-nationals” and were being slapped with sedition charges.
Has your family been associated with Left politics?
Not exactly! My father was employed with LICI and had an inclination towards CPI-M but he never took part in active politics. This holds true for my homemaker mom, who is a native of Tripura where the party has been in power for over two decades now.
However, my elder brother Subhankar, who is pursuing research at National Institute of Advance Studies in Bangalore, is an active member of CPI-M and is into progressive movements.
What was your parents’ reaction to you participating in JNUSU polls?
They have been in anxiety ever since the turmoil broke out at the campus last year but they never stopped me from joining student movement. All they wanted me to is focus on studies alongside the campus politics.
Bengal, till the other day, was the strength of Left politics in India, and now even CPI-M MLA is switching over to Trinamool. Do you think, you people sweeping JNUSU polls will infuse some energy into Left politics there?
See, liberal thoughts and democratic movements across India are under attack from authoritarian power mongers, and West Bengal is not any better. In fact, Bengal has been ruined in the past few years: education sector has been ruined completely and people’s democratic rights are under suppression.
There have been mistakes on the part of the Left (in Bengal) but these can be rectified and will be rectified. Trinamool can never be an alternative to progressive Left movement that has been a tradition in Bengal.
What would be the focus of JNUSU now? Would it be any different from the policies that Kanhaiya Kumar pursued?
Despite some ideological differences, Kanhaiya Kumar and we belong to the same Left liberal politics. Hence, there will not be much change as far as the broad politics is concerned. However, as regards the campus politics, we would like to focus more on issues that students face at JNU day to day, such as hostel facilities, fund cuts by the BJP-led Centre etc.
Outside the campus, we would continue to raise our voice against the way Centre is appointing ill-qualified people in academic institutes all over India, as has been in the case with FTII Pune.
On the personal front, any plans to join active politics?
I am in the middle of my PhD in philosophy and would like to complete it first. At this point in time I am not sure about joining fulltime politics, but whatever I do and wherever I stay in future, I would continue to take part in progressive movements.
Would you like to pass on any message to the students in Barak Valley?
The people in Barak Valley are not getting exposed to the kind of student politics that are vibrant in the campuses all over India. There, students are largely discouraged by parents and others from taking part in politics. This is even as the education scenario and the state of the campuses there are really pathetic.
Look at Assam University in Silchar: it is plagued by so many problems. There is inadequate hostel facility, frequent power cuts, and above all the quality of studies is deteriorating. Yet, students are not speaking up, they are not taking stands.
People in Barak Valley must recognise the fact that if students do not speak up for their rights, the region will continue to get neglected as always.
(Bappaditya Paul is editor, NEWSMEN)