Published: 17th April 2019
The journey of Nikhil Gupta: From researcher who snubbed netas to MP candidate in South Delhi
The face of the #HikeResearchFellowship movement that rocked the MHRD and India, this 26-year-old is currently a Junior Research Fellow in CBMR, Lucknow
When Union Ministers Prakash Javadekar and Harsh Vardhan first heard of research scholars protesting they possibly dismissed it as a token protest. One that possibly wouldn't survive the news cycle. Boy, were they wrong. For months, research scholars upped the ante, plagued the bureaucrats in the MHRD with phone calls, WhatsApp texts, conducted stirs, got scruffy and even lambasted the powers to be on national and social media. Through it all, one man stood apart as the face of these brave protests. That man was Nikhil Gupta.
Even when the government deigned to hand out a hike, much lesser than what they had asked for, Nikhil was at the forefront — transparently refusing to take the handout quietly. He wasn't the settling kind of unionist. He was the belligerent kind. The kind that doesn't back down. If only the MHRD, Javadekar and Harsh Vardhan had known all this when they first heard of him. If only.
Politics was the last thing on Nikhil Gupta's mind until recently. A researcher who led the Hike Research Fellowship Movement from early 2018, this Junior Research Fellow at the Centre of Biomedical Research, SGPGI, Lucknow is about to file his nomination to contest the elections from South Delhi as an independent candidate. Nikhil's taking the fight to their turf.
One of the youngest candidates to fight this year's polls, the only experience in politics that this 26-year-old has is a stint as the department legislator in IIT Madras, where he did his MSc in Chemistry from 2014 to 2016. It was during that time that he took part in the first Hike Research Fellowship movement of 2014. Following the hike that year, the government had promised the researchers a hike in their stipend every four years. But, after the government failed to keep its promise, research scholars from all over the country staged a large scale movement, which even led to the arrest of 2,000 researchers.
Nikhil was active in coordinating them and organising meetings for the researchers with the authorities. Almost a year of vigorous protests later, the stipend amount was hiked by 25 per cent, much to the disappointment of the researchers. These incidents instigated an interest in politics for Nikhil and he says that the research scholars would need a representative in government to save education. "Until now, we have only seen politicians dividing people on the basis of caste and religion. But I want to unite them for education," he says.
A few demands that Nikhil puts forward in his manifesto include a hike in the fellowship stipend, regular disbursal of fellowship, an end to the mental torture and harassment of scholars, implementation of an honorarium for guest faculty, regularisation of ad-hoc faculty, and the unification of State PCs and UPSC. "Almost all the decisions that the government has taken regarding education in the past few years have been politically motivated. No one wishes to do anything for the sake of education and research. I want to change that," he says resolutely. It is a quality that he possesses that makes him someone to watch out for. Especially if you've underestimated him, seeing as how he's diminutive and soft-spoken.
While Nikhil says that he is being fielded as the candidate on behalf of the Research Scholars of India (RSI), a few other researchers have now come up and criticised his candidature. Some even went as far as to call it a farce with posts on social media that are far from cordial. "No such matter (Candidature) was discussed among IITs/IISc representative panel and we are not supporting any candidate for upcoming Lok Sabha elections in South Delhi," reads a post by a Facebook page titled Joint National Broadcast for Hike Research Fellowship 2018. Commenting on this, Nikhil says, "When it comes to politics, disagreements are bound to happen. The people who are criticising this decision are the ones who didn't raise their voice against any issue." He added that if the researchers are unhappy with his candidature, they're welcome to field another person and he will be more than happy about it.
But it's not going to be easy. Nikhil probably knows the backroom realities of what he's up against. South Delhi has always been a BJP bastion. The constituency's sitting MP Ramesh Bidhuri is fighting the polls this year too. AAP MLA Devinder Kumar Sehrawat too is facing the polls from the same constituency.
We asked Nikhil what his thoughts were on fighting his first election. He says, "I am scared. This is my first time and I'm definitely nervous." But at the same time, he is ready to face the voters. He is also busy campaigning and meeting other student organisations and unions in Delhi. "I wish we had a little more time. It would have definitely fetched us more support," adds Nikhil. At least he's honest. How often do you get to say that about a politician.