Published: 24th March 2021
JNU PhD scholar Dipsita Dhar on contesting in Bengal Assembly polls: Never interested in politics till I joined college
Now in her final year of PhD, Dipsita says she was not always interested in politics but got involved during her days at the Jawaharlal Nehru University
India has the biggest youth population in the world but very few of them are actually interested in politics — 28-year-old Dipsita Dhar is not one of them. She will contest the West Bengal Assembly Election 2021 from the Bally constituency in Howrah district on a CPI(M) ticket. Dipsita is also the All India Joint Secretary of Students' Federation of India (SFI).
Now in her final year of PhD, Dipsita says she was not always interested in politics but got involved during her days at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. She is completing her PhD in Population Geography specialising in Migration. A graduate from Kolkata's Asutosh College, Dipsita came to JNU in 2015 for her post-graduation and continued her research here. She has been an active part of the protests at JNU as part of the SFI.
In a candid conversation, Dipsita speaks about her experience campaigning, balancing her research career and her plans for West Bengal
You have campaigned as a student leader. But this time it's for an Assembly election. How different has the experience been in the past few days?
I think it's a bit more challenging. When you are a student and you are contesting in a university or college election, you are addressing people who are more or less homogeneous, from a similar age group and similar kind of socialisation. It's easy to connect and communicate with them. Here (in Assembly or Parliamentary Elections), you are meeting different kinds of people — young, old, coming from different strata of the society and different cultural ethnicity. How they relate to you is different. Understanding that and changing your way of communication is challenging and hectic. I see this as a learning experience. Many of us (young candidates) do not have any experience in class politics. We get to know more about the contradictions and the problems that people are facing.
Did you want to contest or tell seniors that you wanted a ticket? Were you prepared for this?
In our organisation, it is the party that decides the candidates. There were rumours here and there about this but I did not have any idea that I would contest. I, of course, had a mental preparation that for the next three months I would be in Bengal and invest my time here because this is a very important election and as members of the party we would be given different assignments. It might be an assignment as a candidate, a campaigner or to manage social media. When the news came it was a surprise. But I took it like I would have accepted any other responsibility.
You are still a student. Do you think your education will be affected since you will have to stay here in Bengal for the next three months? If you win you have to invest time to fulfil the duties of an MLA. How do you plan to balance this?
In our party, I think that trend of fielding candidates with a full-fledged professional life and fielding young candidates is nothing new. In Kerala, even younger candidates have been chosen and they are taking care of their duties gracefully. Personally, I am in the last year of my PhD and in the next six to eight months I would submit my thesis. The best part is that I have finished my fieldwork in Kerala. I have to do the quantitative analysis and I will be ready to submit it. There is nothing immediate for which I need to go to Delhi or to Kerala. I can keep working from home. In general, as well I think it is possible to manage a career along with being in active politics. There are so many professionals who are maintaining both.
Will personal aspirations be compromised?
There are people who are crystal clear about what they want to do when they grow up. Fortunately or unfortunately, I never had a plan like that. As a kid, I wanted to be a scientist but when I reached Class 7 I realised that science is not my cup of tea. Then I wanted to become a dancer and then an actress. I had never had an aspiration to become a politician. But when I came to JNU I got interested in politics and of course research. Even if I become a 'whole timer', as they call it in our party, I think the scope of being a researcher will not be taken away. At the end of the day, I will be working with the people. As a social scientist, my work involves these same people. I do not think it will compromise my personal aspirations.
You have been campaigning for over a week now. What are their major demands? Has it changed from what it used to be or are the basic demands the same?
I think the demands have evolved. We have the highest youth population. We have a demographic dividend. I think the problems that the students and the youth are facing is becoming prominent. If you look at the past few years you will find that students and the youth are the ones who have taken to the street. Employment and education have been the core issues. This is due to the changes in society and demography. The party fielding so many young people is a natural process.
Do you feel MPs and MLAs necessarily need to be educated?
Education has to be a fundamental right. Babasaheb Ambedkar, while writing the Constitution, understood that education can be a very important tool for mobility. India was under a colonial power, before that people were under a casteist feudal rule where the majority of the Indian people, who are now marginalised, were not given access to education. Education was not just an avenue to gain knowledge but a vessel to fight oppression. To become an MLA or an MP too, education is important. But that does not mean you focus on meritocratic terms to choose your representative. Education is important but it should not be the only thing considered when electing a representative.
What is the most important issue, according to you, in your manifesto?
Primarily, we are focusing on employment and education. It is concerning how student union elections have not been not happening in our colleges and universities for years. The internal democracy of the institutions has collapsed. The reason I am being able to take part in the political discourse is because I was fortunate enough to take part in politics when I was a student. I am familiar with the parliamentary processes, elections and the basic structure. The young people in Bengal lack that — they are not participating in democracy as they should. So, along with building employment opportunities, bringing back the democratic structure within the academic institutions is one other major thing we are looking for.
Particularly in 2021, when you are going for polls, there is an existing binary — the Hindutva politics has tried everything to break whatever Bengal used to stand for. We want to bring back that glory by going back to the tradition of harmony where different people used to coexist in a synthetic culture.