42679 10/14/2005 12:43:00 PM 05NEWDELHI8006 Embassy New Delhi UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available. UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 NEW DELHI 008006 SIPDIS SENSITIVE E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, SCUL, ECON, IN, Indian Domestic Politics
SUBJECT: THE LEFT GROOMS A NEW GENERATION OF REFUSENIKS
1. (SBU) Summary: Although the growing strength of Congress and BJP student unions suggests that the student body has become more tolerant of centrist and right wing views, the left continues to dominate student politics at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), one of the country's pre-eminent graduate institutions. As JNU's approximately 5000 graduate students gear up for the November 2005 Student Union elections, the left remains firmly in control. On the JNU campus foreign policy debates over globalization, Iran, and the war in Iraq, dominate student politics, and the left is grooming a new generation to enter the Indian political scene and shape future contests around the issue of what it sees as continued American domination. End summary.
The Kremlin on the Jumna
2. (U) At its inception in 1969, Indira Gandhi hoped JNU would become the haven of intellectuals bent on countering right and left extremism and encouraging democratic expression. JNU failed to fulfill its stated purpose, however, as the University came quickly to be dominated by the Indian Left, which has remained in control ever since. In meetings with Poloff, JNU alumni nostalgically described their alma mater as an utopia, where politically and intellectually charged students rarely wished to leave for the real world, a haven from traditional India, where women mingled with men until the wee hours of the morning, and students from depressed rural backgrounds were provided opportunities to come into their own.
3. (U) JNU professor of American Studies, K.P. Vijayalakshmi exclaimed to Poloff that, "Politics was our socialization, and that socialization bridged acute socio-economic divisions." "Until 1982," she continued, "there was an ideological free-flow. Each group felt it had a stake in the elections, and everyone got involved." Swaran Singh, another alum and now a professor at the university's prestigious School for International Studies, proudly explained that JNU is the only Indian university in which the university "establishment" has no involvement with elections, in that the student body elects an election commission to conduct elections.
Where Foreign Policy Matters
4. (U) Singh explained that rather than focusing on the quality of university facilities and campus store offerings, JNU student union leaders campaign on international issues, such as the war in Iraq or Indian support of Palestine. JNU influences the national agenda, he contended, in that other universities seek to mirror JNU's democratic structure. The University's intellectually dynamic students have produced influential leaders of national politics, journalism, and the civil service by virtue of their talent, rather than their close proximity to national politicians. A disproportionate number of Indian diplomats are JNU graduates, giving the University a lasting impact on the country's foreign policy.
Some Shift Away from the Left
5. (U) Professors Singh and Vijaylakshmi agreed that while leftist parties will continue to be strong, a diversifying JNU student population and the globalization of India will broaden the political spectrum and that a limited shift has already occurred. As the recruitment of faculty broadened to include professors not from the left, portions of the student body became more centrist. The once-dominant Communist student unions lost some ground to the more centrist Congress union, and later, in the late 1980s and 1990s, to the BJP union. Swaran Singh contended that while idealism has permeated the campus, many of today's students take a more pragmatic view.
Reasons for the Shift
6. (U) Vijayalakshmi suggested three explanations for this shift. First, elections have become cadre-based, in that ideology no longer brings victory, which instead goes to the party most able to mobilize recruiters. Professional door to door campaigning has replaced informal political discussions in the mess halls. Second, Indians in general have become fatigued with politics, are less fascinated with taking a political position, and feel less confident in expressing their beliefs. Third, politics has become a private phenomenon, with voters concentrating on people rather than parties, personalities rather than agendas.
But the Left Remains Supreme
7. (U) Both professors agreed that at the same time, the Left Front (LF) student unions retain their dominance at JNU because of the growing power and stature of the Left Front in national politics. With 60-64 seats in Parliament and unprecedented influence over the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, the Left is able to provide greater help and encouragement to its supporters at JNU, encouraging leftist students to raise their voices to push for dramatic change even as campus politics diversify.
Comment - Portents for the Future
8. (SBU) While growing acceptance of centrist and right wing student unions at JNU mirrors a countrywide shift towards more pragmatism and less idealism, the Left will continue to dominate student politics. JNU students represent the broader Indian political class, as they come from all over India and from different economic backgrounds. JNU student union politics predicted the right-wing Hindutva wave that would sweep national politics in the late 1990's, and elections in this leftist bastion could indicate that a new generation of Left leaders in India will use relations with the US, Indian foreign policy, and growing conflict over globalization to solidify Left party gains. End comment.
9. (U) Visit New Delhi's Classified Website: (http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/sa/newdelhi/)