Mumbai University is set to be the next flashpoint between the Left and Right aligned student groups, mainly the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi (ABVP) and the Students' Federation of India (SFI) as politics over the upcoming students' union polls hots up. The university on Monday rolled back an 11 pm curfew for women hostellers that the ABVP had agreed to in its negotiations for opening the library 24/7.
"Starting March 8, we will not be locked inside our hostels. We will not need the Rector's permission to go out of campus now. We merely have to fill a form informing our hostel authorities. Anyway, all students sign an undertaking while securing admission that says the university is responsible for their security inside campus, while they are themselves responsible outside," said Mumbai University research scholar Kavita Ware. Ware is also the joint secretary of SFI's Mumbai University chapter and a resident of Savitri Bai Phule hostel.
Ware said that the ABVP had tried to make inroads in the campus using the 24/7 library access issue, but failed to capitalise on it.
"Right now all hostellers and progressives are against them. They are trying to change the culture of Mumbai University."
Universities based in India's western state, Maharashtra, are expected go to poll this year after a break of 22 years. The Maharashtra Public Universities Act make student unions and elections legitimate in the state from March 1. The dates for the respective student union poll are yet to be announced.
"ABVP had a settlement with the university for opening the library 24/7 under the condition that women hostellers won't be able to access it after 11 pm. They were supposed to convert their mess (dining area) into a reading room.
ABVP also proposed a committee comprising parents of women hostellers and professors to decide if women residents should be allowed out of hostels after 11 pm. Given the ABVP's ideology, it is not very surprising. We protested over the discriminatory rules. Women in all hostels were planning to come out in protest, but a university committee listened to our grievance and rolled back the decision," said Ware.
Mumbai University is perhaps one of the few universities in the country which does not have a night curfew for women.
With the Congress-backed National Students' Union of India (NSUI) wiped out in most campuses, much like its parent organisation, and the Aam Aadmi Party students' union keeping curiously quiet, the Left and Right are fighting it out for control over campuses as evident in Jawaharlal Nehru University, Hyderabad University and more recently the Delhi University's Ramjas College.
ABVP plans to go whole-hog in ensuring that its candidates sweep the university polls and the efforts are being monitored right from the top ranks of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The logistics are being managed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that leads the National Democratic Alliance that is currently in power in India.
Although the ABVP is hard-pressed to assert each time that it is not the students' wing of 'big brother' BJP, clearly being 'ideologically aligned' has its perks. The BJP is helping enrollments by mobilising its considerable manpower on the ground.
Left groups, however, believe that it is their work in campuses that will speak for itself. "We have a special focus on Mumbai this time, it being the state capital. Fifteen Left wing students' groups have come together, including the Ambedkarites, to stop the spread of Right wing propaganda," said SFI's Maharashtra chapter vice-president Datta Chauvan.
Reverberations of the Ramjas College violence were felt at Pune University when activists of Left-wing groups and ABVP clashed over a protest organised against the strong-arm tactics of the latter.
"Our five activists were beaten up by ABVP members on February 24. This was to prevent a protest on February 27 against the DU violence. They were even calling up our student activists and trying to scare them on phone. We have registered a case," said Chauvan.