New Delhi: Amid slogans of Jai Bhim, Lal Salaam, Vande Mataram, some booing and a minor clash, the presidential debate was held at the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus late Wednesday ahead of the students' union polls on September 6.
At the much sought-after event, the candidates raked up issues like abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir and mob lynching, the NRC (national register of citizens) and even the forest fire in Amazon.
The issues in JNU were also raised but the speeches for a major part focused on highlighting the achievements of the government, in case of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-backed Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) candidate and their criticism by the opposition parties.
The students started crowding the area near the famed Ganga Dhaba even before the scheduled time to hear candidates fight it out with their fiery words and jibes, with supporters of those leading the charge on the stage beating 'dhaplis' and shouting slogans.
There were interruptions, too, as a technical snag halted the debate for 45 minutes. Then a minor clash between ABVP and Left supporters stopped proceedings for around 15-20 minutes.
Priyanka Bharti of Chhatra Rashtriya Janata Dal and BAPSA (Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students’ Association) candidate Jitendra Suna drew the largest cheers from the crowd, and were also cheered on by their opponents on some issues targeting the RSS-BJP.
ABVP’s candidate Manish Jangid started his speech with slogans of Bharat Mata ki Jai and Vande Mataram.
"The 'tukde-tukde' gang were responsible for putting the blot of February 9 on the varsity (referring to the sedition row). When Article 370 was abrogated in Jammu and Kashmir, we were celebrating the move but the Left was abusing the Army," he said.
If elected, he said, the ABVP will offer a "campus-centric" model of politics and ensure deprivation points for women. He also raised the issue of hostel conditions and poor facilities in classroom.
"The plate in which you eat is the same one in which dogs and rats have also eaten," he told the students, amid constant booing by Left supporters and those of the Congress-backed NSUI.
The National Students' Union of India candidate Prashant Kumar condemned Jangid for referring to the sedition row and said the matter is "sub-judice". He received cheers from several Left and BAPSA supporters.
"We were promised two crore jobs but where are those jobs? I condemn what happened with Najeeb (a JNU student who went missing from the campus), " he said.
Aishe Ghosh, the presidential candidate of the United Left panel, saluted the voices of journalist Gauri Lankesh and scholar M M Kalburgi, who were killed. She also said they will not forget Akhlaq, Junaid and Pehlu Khan, who were killed in separate incidents of lynching.
"Capitalist forces are encouraging the rise of Right-wingers in the entire world. We do not consider the elections that were fought and won riding on the money power as democratic," she said.
She accused the government of diluting the RTI Act, Transgender Rights Bill, and also alleged human rights violation in Kashmir.
Ghosh's speech was interrupted briefly due to a clash between the ABVP and Left supporters.
BAPSA candidate Jitendra Suna took to the stage amid cries of 'Jeetega Jitendra'. He began his speech by saluting Kashmiris "who are fighting for their" rights and Assamese who are "fighting for their citizenship". Suna said he was a labourer and "his life's struggle" was depicted in his presidential debate. He attacked both the Right and the Left.
"The RSS and BJP are creating an atmosphere of fear. I feel that RSS and BJP are anti-national," he said.
Criticising the Left, Suna said: "The SFI (Students' Federation of India) will make you feel that you have reached this place because of them but what we have got is not charity but because of our Constitution," he said.
Chhatra RJD candidate Priyanka Bharti said the government wants to privatise education and deny access to it to students from marginalised backgrounds.
Taking a dig at the Centre for abrogation of Article 370, she said, "These people only want Kashmiri girls and the land there but not Kashmiris."
At a time when the GDP is going down, the government is talking about nationalism, she said. She was hailed by supporters of BAPSA too for her fiery speech.
Raghavendra Mishra, known as 'Yogi of JNU' as he dresses up like Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, made a last-minute re-entry in poll fray. His nomination was cancelled by the Election Committee after it was found he was allegedly involved in a brawl and was fined Rs 10,000 for it. He approached the Delhi High Court which allowed his candidature on Wednesday.
The Jawaharlal Nehru University Students' Union polls will be held on September 6 and the results will be declared on September 8.