New Delhi: It's 10:38 PM and near the Sabarmati Dhaba crossroad in Jawaharlal Nehru University campus students stand in groups that are of differing political ideologies. A long torch rally held by AISA (All India Students Association) and SFI (Students Federation Of India) students emerges from near a hostel and the participants shout slogans against the RSS and ABVP. Amit Kumar is unimpressed.
"There's no difference between ABVP and Left. We are not with them," Kumar, an activist with the Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students Association (BAPSA), says as the rally passes by.
"Like the mainstream Indian political discourse, Left has used Dalits, Muslims and other OBCs for furthering their own political agenda on campus," he says.
As the rally moves ahead, Kumar heads out carrying a sheaf of BAPSA posters in his hand. He is on his way to do some room-to-room campaigning through the night in the hostels.
Established in November 2014, BAPSA fought its first elections for three posts in 2015 but didn't secure a single seat. Advocating a cause of social justice, the student union has fielded candidates for all the four posts of the university's central panel this year.
"There's realisation among us for a long time now that we have allowed others to speak on behalf of us," Kumar, a Dalit student from Haryana, told ScoopWhoop News.
While there were expectations of a grand alliance consisting of the Ambedkarites and Leftists in the campus following the controversial February 9 event, the students belonging to different minority groups including Muslims, tribals and Other Backward Castes have decided to go their own way this election.
Some say that BAPSA could clinch a chunk of floating vote (voters who are not affiliated with any political party). Around 4500-5000 students of the total 8000 students cast their vote in the university elections.
The fact that there's no room for compromise with the Left is perhaps best illustrated by BAPSA's slogan: "Lal Bhagwa ek hai. Saare comrade fake hain (Red, Saffron is one. All comrades are fake.)"
A Muslim student of the university says that he sees no reason why he should continue to vote for the Left.
"Various Leftist groups were instrumental in persuading the JNU administration to accept students who have come from different madrasas and to treat their religious degree as an equivalent to other degrees for eligibility for various courses. Since then, the Left has been selling that point to us for votes as if they have done us some favour and we are paying for it," he says.
"They are deliberately creating a fear psychosis of ABVP in the minds of students from marginalised backgrounds," the student, who has been on the campus for five years, said.
"There are many issues that are there since years and the Left has failed to address them. It has created a vacuum and the answer is BAPSA. JNU elections is a triangular contest," the student said, adding he'll be voting for BAPSA.
The recently stitched AISA-SFI alliance says it has no problem with the presence of BAPSA. But some say the split in Left's traditional vote might give an edge to right-wing ABVP.
"In JNU, it has always been a fight between mainstream Left and the far-Left. When the collective movement against the arrest of three students in February united all the factions of Left and Ambedkarite groups against RSS's onslaught on JNU, many of us were of the opinion that the unity should be carried forward in the elections. But unfortunately that didn't happen," Om Prasad, an activist of All India Students Association (AISA), told ScoopWhoop News.
The primary aim of AISA-SFI alliance, Prasad says, is to "prevent JNU from becoming an RSS shakha."
"They can do their own politics. But we expect the track record of Left in JNU to attract the voters towards us," he said.
The ABVP, however, doesn't see any major impact due to the rise of BAPSA. However, it says the Left has suffered a "dent" in its image due to the February 9 event that ended with students being charged with sedition.
"Our politics is based on campus issues and development. We can't say whether we'll gain or lose but our focus remains to persuade a voter through our agenda. The kind of anti-national activities Leftist groups have done on campus will not persuade a voter. We want to solve problems of students. We don't talk big," Saurabh Sharma, JNUSU Joint Secretary and ABVP leader, says.
For the AISA-SFI alliance, there are other worries. Last month, an FIR was registered against AISA leader Anmol Ratan by a fellow JNU student, who accused him of raping her at his hostel. While the accused leader has been suspended by the party, JNU students say the AISA "was too lazy and soft" in its response against the accused leader.
"This translated into a fierce war of words between AISA and Democratic Students' Federation (DSF) - a breakaway group of SFI - in the general body meeting ahead of the elections. DSF is campaigning separately now," an SFI activist says.
"The faces of February 9 JNU movement - JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya - are not participating in the elections. Even though they have indirectly supported the view of Left to create an 'ABVP-free' campus, it's not clear which side their vote will go in the Left spectrum," the activist says.
This year, there may be surprises in store, the activist says.