Before the bigger electoral battles awaiting them in the coming months, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress are preparing in some earnest for a relatively minor but significant skirmish in Delhi.

The elections to the Delhi University Students’ Union are scheduled for mid-September. The Congress-affiliated National Students Union of India, or NSUI, believes it can make the students’ union polls a mini-referendum on the Narendra Modi government’s “diminishing” influence on the country’s youth.

In 2017, the NSUI had stunned Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-affiliated and BJP-backed Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, or ABVP, by winning two of the top four posts in the students’ union. It was NSUI’s best performance since 2012.The NSUI hopes to repeat that performance, riding on a freshly minted election campaign that will attempt to shed the perception about the Congress as a party of dynasts and elites and showcase its championing of women’s empowerment and its commitment to liberal values, India’s pluralism and diversity. The NSUI campaign, Congress sources said, also reflected how the party was changing under its new president, Rahul Gandhi, and it could become a template for its youth-centric the election campaign for 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

For its campaign in Delhi, the NSUI has put together a team of its ‘non-dynast’ leaders from humble backgrounds. Bihar unit president Chunnu Singh is the son of a former daily wager in Gujarat. Akash Sharma, NSUI’s Chhattisgarh state unit president, is the son of a former gram sevak. Madhya Pradesh unit chief Vipin Wankhede’s father runs a small shop selling utensils.

Uttarakhand NSUI unit chief Mohan Bhandari is the son of a retired Army jawan. Kerala unit chief K M Abhijit, the son of construction workers, headed home to help out flood relief.

In its interactions with college students, the NSUI leadership received consistent feedback that the Congress was perceived as a party where pedigree rather than merit was the key to success, which the NSUI is trying to dispel. Congress party office bearer and NSUI national in-charge Ruchi Gupta has played a key role in shaping the campaign. “We wish to reach out to the young, especially those from underprivileged backgrounds who are the first generation in their families to study in a college or a university,” Gupta said.

Second, the NSUI is also trying to attack what it believes to be the Sangh Parivar-affiliated ABVP’s weakness – its approach towards what women wear, what people eat, its non-acceptance of India’s diversity or its belief in the supremacy of Hindi language over other Indian languages.

As part of its women outreach, the NSUI will soon launch a leadership training programme for young women. It will select 100 young women, who will attend the training session and will be mentored by former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit. The effort, Gupta said, is to ask women to protect and expand their newly won freedoms, build a campaign for more representation of women in all sectors and help them look beyond the mother, daughter and wife roles that the society conditions them to pursue.
The NSUI campaign is also explicit in its opposition to the RSS ideology. “Do you want to be told what to think or do you want tell the world what you think.

Reject indoctrination,” states one of the lines from the NSUI campaign.With the Delhi University students’ union polls are perceived to set political tone of the national capital, the ABVP has launched a typically efficient, resource-rich and high-decibel campaign. The NSUI campaign, hobbled by lack of funds its parent political party is facing, is comparatively sedate. With an eye on the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in Delhi, the Aam Aadmi Party, after the debacle of 2015 and subsequent absence of two years, has asked its students union, the Chhatra Yuva Sangharsh Samiti, to contest the students’ union polls this year.

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