I have never been a big fan of presidential-style debates or Jawaharlal Nehru University. The former almost always reduces social justice to grandstanding and the number of hunger strikes while the latter takes itself too seriously as the citadel of equality, never mind the festering casteism, sexism and homophobia.
Therefore, when I managed to sneak into the university's south Delhi campus last Wednesday, I had little hope of a politically engaging process. For the most part, the debate scraped the bottom of the barrel – dominant caste men hid their caste, shouted at Dalit men; men ordered women to sit down, parties wrangled with each other's history as if anyone had a clean slate, and gender justice was bandied about like some meaningless word. A progressive candidate even expressed his support for the army.
But the night was saved, for me, by the perceptible influence that the historic and powerful campaign by the Birsa Ambedkar Phule Student Association had left on campus politics and other presidential candidates.
For the first time, political parties are trying to read up Ambedkar, talking about him in their speeches, mentioning his politics, even appending jai bhim to everything they do.