Communist parties see yellow

November 29, 1996

India's only communist stronghold among universities - the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi - has fallen to the right-wing and pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party in the elections to its powerful student union.

It is the first time in the 30-year history of JNU, set up in the 1960s to promote the progressive and secular ideals of Jawaharlal Nehru, that communists have lost control of the union traditionally dominated either by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or the Communist Party of India.

The second line of leadership in the two parties consists almost entirely of former JNU student leaders, and two of the most important CPI(M) politburo members - Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury - are one-time presidents of the JNU student union.

Even as the left is analysing the debacle the media has gone to town with screaming headlines such as "Saffron Splash on Red Bastion", "Saffron Brigade Storms Left Bastion" and "JNU Fails to See Red, Begins Wearing Saffron Look". Saffron is the official colour of the BJP.

Mr Karat attributes the outcome to a split in the left vote but he also admits that the student profile at JNU is changing and the current crop of students, especially from the urban upper-middle class, is essentially apolitical, more interested in a career than in the sort of radical causes which the left in its heyday was able to sell so effectively.

The results also reflect the growing right-wing shift in national politics.

The BJP emerged as the single largest party both in the last parliamentary elections a few months ago and in the elections recently in Uttar Pradesh, the country's most populous and politically significant state.

The setback in the student union in JNU follows the loss of the teachers' union a few years ago and similar reverses for the left in Delhi University and some other opinion-setting campuses.

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