Kanhaiya also conceded that a lack of cadre base and poor organisational strength in the state also contributed to his defeat. He has since set his base in Begusarai in an effort to establish a connection with people in his hometown
The Left-leaning parties in India are turning towards outspoken and ambitious student politicians like Aishe Ghosh and Dipsita Dhar in an effort to rejuvenate their stagnated political units and their shrinking cadre base in most states of the country.
Both, the Communist Party of India — Marxist (CPM) and the Communist Party of India (CPI) have implemented a strict two-term policy for ticket distribution in Kerala, the only state to have a Left government in India. This has been done to infuse new blood in a party, even as some perceive it to be a way to bypass senior leaders who are considered to be a challenge to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. In West Bengal, the party has roped in student leaders like Aishe, Dipsita and Srijan Bhattacharjee.
However, the failure of the Bihar experiment, where the party brought in another student leader Kanhaiya Kumar to contest polls, might hold some lessons for the new aspirants.
Who are these young leaders?
Aishe, 26 shot to prominence after she was injured during a prolonged protest against fee hike in JNU, which was allegedly attacked by the BJP’s youth wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). She became the face of the university’s unique brand of politics as pictures of her with blood streaming down her face were reported across media. She was hailed as the symbol of defiance as she was back on the protest site the next day, her head heavily bandaged.
She is the first sitting president of Jawaharlal Nehru University Student Union (JNUSU) to contest elections. Kanhaiya too was a JNUSU president but his term had already ended by the time the elections arrived.
Aishe is pursuing MPhil from the School of International Studies at the university. She was elected as the JNUSU president as the candidate of CPI(M)-affiliated Students’ Federation of India (SFI) in September 2019, and her term as the students’ body head was extended last year after the students’ union elections could not be held owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.
She had done her graduation from Delhi’s Daulat Ram College (DRC).
Dipsita, meanwhile, is a former JNUSU leader who unsuccessfully contested the student body’s vice-presidential polls against Shehla Rashid and was also a councillor in the student body. She has also served as the acting president of SFI of Asutosh College Unit and District committee member of Kolkata district in her graduation days, before moving to JNU in Delhi.
Aishe will contest from Jamuria seat in West Bengal’s West Bardhaman district while Dipsita is contesting from Bally on a CPM ticket.
The JNU brand of Politics
Both Ghosh and Dipsita are students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, like Kanhaiya who tried his luck in electoral politics against Bharatiya Janata Party’s Giriraj Singh in 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
He contested the polls from Begusarai amid much media attention and with the support of popular celebrities and activists like Shabana Azmi, Swara Bhaskar, Prakash Raj, writer-cum-lyricist Javed Akhtar, director Imtiaz Ali and TV-cum-theatre actor Sonal Jha.
However, he failed to capitalise on the star power or disassociate himself from his ‘student leader’ image in the poll campaign. He continued to diss BJP on ideological issues as he had done in his stint as JNUSU president, instead of combatting the communal pitch or making local issues the main talking point. He also belonged to the Bhumihar caste, the dominant caste in Begusarai, as did Singh. But he failed to capitalise on that front either as well as the Left has traditionally been against caste politics.
Kanhaiya also conceded that a lack of cadre base and poor organisational strength in the state also contributed to his defeat. He has since set his base in Begusarai in an effort to establish a connection with people in his hometown and had also campaigned massively in the state Assembly polls without giving in to the distraction of contesting a seat himself and diverting his efforts into two places. These efforts seemed to have paid off as the CPI managed to win 16 of the 29 seats it contested in Bihar.
Heading into polls in a state where the Left once ruled for 30 years and now has been relegated to the third spot, Aishe and Dipsita face a similar predicament.
Although from West Bengal, they are both groomed in the Delhi brand of politics and are seen as popular ‘student’ politicians. To shed that tag and be accepted as a leader of the masses in their respective constituencies might be a challenge.
They both are commanding support from prominent faces like Rashid, Jignesh Mevani, and Umar Khalid. But the local support base or individual identity is yet to be created as both leaders have been parachuted from Delhi into these polls.
Dhar still has the edge as she was part of Kolkata student politics during her graduation days, but Aishe started off in politics after leaving Bengal.
Aishe hails from the industrial town of Durgapur in the West Burdwan district and grew up in a home influenced by Leftist thinking. She has done her schooling from Durgapur but had moved to Delhi in 2013 for her graduate studies.
Her rise as a student leader had come as a surprise even for her family. Her mother Sarmishtha Ghosh had told The Indian Express that she was taken aback by the way her daughter had presented herself after the attack, as she was a “shy girl while growing up”.
It was during her days at DRC that she was initiated into student politics and the SFI and has never really witnessed Bengal’s culture of politics first hand.
Her opponents expressed doubt over whether Aishe will be able to familiarise herself with the local issues in the primarily tribal region.
Sankudeb Ponda, the BJP’s Yuva Morcha vice-president told The Print, “I appreciate the CPM’s decision of bringing youth leaders into politics. The party now looks like a party of ancient people. Aishe is a young leader, but her political grooming took place in a different region altogether. The brand of politics she did in JNU and the politics in Bengal are distinctly different.”
TMC’s Tamoghna Ghosh echoed similar sentiments while speaking to the publication. ” I am not sure how much knowledge she has about Jamuria and how much understanding she has about the requirements of the locals.”
Aishe, however, appears unfazed by this. When asked about her political outlook and her plans for her constituency, if she gets elected, Aishe made it clear that her politics has not changed.
“It is a big responsibility, but my politics will remain the same. The issues we fight for in JNU are an extension of what is happening across the country. Be it reservations, communalism, our fight for better education, employment, better living conditions. The issues are the same everywhere in this country. I will carry these issues that I fought for in the JNU to the people of West Bengal,” she told PTI.
Aishe also said that she would have Jawaharlal Nehru University in her heart and mind as she tests the politics she has practised so far in the coalfields of West Bengal.
When asked will she be treated as an outsider, she said, “My roots are still in the state. I was born and brought up here. I see no contradiction in this. I faced all the issues that are being faced by the people there. I know what the situation is there. My parents still live in Durgapur.”
When asked how will she balance her roles as a politician in Bengal and a student at JNU in case she wins the Assembly polls, Aishe exuded confidence about being able to do so.
“I am yet to think about it. While I believe education is extremely important and I will continue it, I can promise the people of Bengal that I will not run away like others have done in the past. If they show their faith in me by electing me, I will stand by them forever,” she said.
However, given the Kanhaiya experience in Bihar, while the Left’s decision to invest time and resources in grooming young leaders may eventually pay off, it may not be so soon. Aishe and Dipsita may need more time in their constituencies to match the grassroots presence of their opponents.
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