JNUSU Elections: All You Need to Know About Two Dalit Students who Scripted History

The United Left Alliance secured three positions, while the BAPSA got one seat in the central panel of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU) poll held on March 22.
JNU President Dhananjay Celebrating After his Win
JNU President Dhananjay Celebrating After his WinAISA X Account

New Delhi: Dalit students at the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) scripted history on March 22 when they were elected to two key positions in the student’s union after almost thirty years. Dhananjay belonging to the United Left Front was elected as the president and Priyanshi Arya of the Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students’ Association (BAPSA), supported by the Left, became the general secretary.

Following persistent demands from students, the JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU) election — which witnessed a turnout of 73% — was held after four years on March 22, and the final results were announced late on March 24 evening.

By securing 2,598 votes, Dhananjay, a PhD scholar hailing from Gaya in Bihar, emerged as the first Left-backed Dalit president of the JNUSU in nearly three decades. His victory marks a significant moment for Dalit representation in the students’ body.

He is affiliated to the All-India Students’ Association (AISA), a students’ wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) of CPI (ML). He defeated Umesh C Ajmeera from the Right wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), who got 1,676 votes.

During his campaign, Dhananjay, who studies at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, passionately addressed pressing issues facing the student community.

He highlighted concerns over escalating fees resulting from Higher Education Funding Agency (HEFA) loans, promising to advocate for affordable education.

Moreover, he pledged to address critical campus issues such as water shortages, health facilities and infrastructural challenges. Additionally, he advocated for the release of student leaders detained under sedition charges.

While talking to news agency PTI, he emphasized the significance of the victory, claiming, “This JNU students’ victory is a referendum that they reject the politics of violence and hatred.”

Looking ahead, Dhananjay outlined key priorities for his tenure, including enhancing safety measures for women on campus, opposing fund cuts, advocating for scholarship hikes, and addressing infrastructural and water crises.

He claimed that he would lead the JNUSU in effecting positive change and advancing the interests of students.

BAPSA’s Priyanshi Arya secured victory in the student union elections by defeating ABVP’s Arjun Anand with a margin of 926 votes. Arya got 2,887 votes, while Anand received 1,961 votes.

She hails from Nainital’s Haldwani town in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand. According to her, it was a long journey to reach the capital city to study.

Who are Dhananjay and Priyanshi?

Dhananjay is the youngest of six siblings, was voted as the first Dalit president by Left-leaning organizations. He had actively taken part in the protests against Delhi University’s four-year undergraduate programme while he was a student there.

His father is a former police officer. “Caste discrimination” back home ignited his passion for a good education so that no one else faced the same discrimination that he did.

Though a police officer, his father was never regarded by ‘upper’ caste people of his village. They always allegedly mistreated and called him by his caste name, showing him no regard for his official position. Because of these encounters, his father encouraged him to study engineering in order to provide him a dignified existence.

Despite having a strong academic record, Dhananjay was unable to secure admission to a government college because private tuition was out of his family’s budget. Nonetheless, the family prioritised education despite facing financial difficulties.

JNUSU President Dhananjay
JNUSU President DhananjayX

Priyanshi claimed she is the first woman in her family who got the opportunity to study outside hometown. Her struggle began at her home itself, with having to fight her family and relatives for her to be able to be at the JNU.

She revealed how alleged casteism became synonymous with her identity since her childhood. 

“Whenever I used to go to my friend’s place, their parents would ask me my full name. At times, I was provided a different utensil to eat from or was made fun of because my friends had recently learned at home that they are Brahmins, which put them above me,” she recalled.

When she came to Delhi, according to her, she wanted to explore her identity and know who she was away from the societal terms that are attached to her.

“I have faced a lot of casteism, but as I entered JNU, I found a community in BAPSA with the help of which I contested the elections,” she told The Mooknayak.

JNUSU General Secretary Priyanshi
JNUSU General Secretary PriyanshiX

Talking about representation, she said, “BAPSA has a slogan which goes, ‘We are Amebedkarwadi, Revolution is our Nature’. If we do not revolt, we will not be able to live. We have to exert our identity at every possible step so that we remain visible.”

She further talked about how caste is intertwined with every aspect of life. “No matter where we go, from renting a flat to ordering what to eat, one’s caste is questioned. It is not only the system, which has been built around the foundations of caste, but friendships as well, with friends calling each other casteist slurs to make fun of something,” she said.

A significant turning point occurred when Democratic Students Federation President Swati Singh, initially set to be the general secretary candidate for the United Left Alliance, had her nomination revoked after a complaint to the Grievance Redressal Committee.

As a result, the Left alliance re-adjusted its strategy and supported the BAPSA's candidate. This eleventh-hour shift led to Priyanshi secure victory with overwhelming support from the alliance.

However, post-elections, the BAPSA chose to distance itself from the alliance, announcing its decision to contest future elections independently.

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