With Delhi University’s North Campus being in the eye of the storm lately, the age old question reiterates itself, should temples of learning be kept separate from politics? Much as this idea may seem like the panacea to the predicaments today, the importance of students’ politics ought to be acknowledged.
The youth possesses in itself an innate sense of idealism which propels it to look for causes to fight for. Indeed, it is this singeing desire to change the world for better that has driven the youth to act in ways which have significantly altered the course of Indian history. Thus, had the students not acted as intermediaries between the jailed nationalist leaders and the underground ones, the Quit India Movement of 1942 wouldn’t have been the monumental success that it was. Furthermore, history would have been conspicuously different sans the role of students in movements like the Naxalbari, Chipko and anti-immigration movement in Assam. Student politics also awakens a political consciousness among the youth accompanied by a deeper knowledge of democracy and human rights. Seeing student affiliations of major political parties operating up close, thus gives a more refined insight into their workings.
Student politics becomes important for another reason. There’s no gainsaying that politics influences almost all aspects of our lives. That said, if the intention of college is to prepare the students for the society at large, then college does them great disservice if it keeps them away from the sphere of politics. The fact that textbooks aren't enough to make a complete student needs to be understood. Further, history acts as a testament to how the college administration often ends up taking authoritarian and anti-student decisions. Mobilization of students in such situations can be used as a leverage to pressurize the administration and put them on a back foot.Politics in its most fundamental sense can thus be understood as a means by which certain objectives are attained. One also needs to acknowledge the imperative role politics plays in honing leaders of tomorrow. Thus, it can be said that campus politics institutionalizes the merit based search for leaders of tomorrow. Leaders along the lines of Ajay Maken, Arun Jaitley, Prakash Karat et al have emerged as leaders of stature after cutting their teeth in student politics.
Unfortunately, for all its noble endeavors, politics has been relegated to the lowest possible station today. The illustrious Delhi University, drawing students from all over the country is a case in point. Here, we see Lyngdoh Committee’s recommendations being openly flouted, excessive usage of money and muscle power along with handing out of doles to students to secure their support during elections. Politics it seems, is no longer about working in tandem with the values one upholds. Rather, many of the members get involved in dharnas just to be a part of something dynamic. Indeed, campus politics today has been reduced to a mere launching pad into state and national level politics. Even with respect to the Ramjas incident, an attempt is being made to politicize the issue from both the sides to reap political dividends instead of fighting for the larger values at stake. What becomes important in such a scenario is to reclaim our right of free speech as individuals and not through any organization whatsoever.
All however, doesn’t seem to be lost. It has been historically observed that consequential students’ movements have been conceptualized whenever situation demands so. Something similar has been seen in cases of FYUP, Rohith Vemula's suicide and the like. Thus, campus politics per se isn’t vile and degrading. What is despicable is the current shape that it has donned. There exists a need to revive politics as a tool for facilitation of debate and discussion between contradictory ideologies, of taking up issues afflicting those less privileged than we are and of raising issues of vital concern for the students.
Questions are often raised as to whether student politics has any impact on issues of national concern which they often rake up. For that, we only need to remember movements like India Against Corruption and Nirbhaya which had witnessed large scale student participation and significantly impacted policies subsequently formulated. More importantly, one needs to take into cognizance the fact that universities are the realms where future leaders of tomorrow are trained. If they will not discuss issues of national importance, contemplate and critically analyse them and look for solutions, then who will? Conversely, efficacy of debating a university level issue at the national level is also raised. For that, one needs to remember how the government was forced to rollback its decision to withdraw scholarship of non-NET students after the occupy UGC movement which had drawn solidarity from student organizations all over the country.
Student politics and activism becomes all the more important at a time when government's decisions seem to be aimed at privatizing the higher education system, be it the cancelling of non-NET scholarships, cutting the funding of CSIR labs and IITs and the offers made during the 10th ministerial ministerial of WTO inter alia opening higher education in India to foreign universities.
Some pressing questions however, do need to be answered. How much politicization is desirable, for a line has to be drawn somewhere. Further, since the quality of politics rests on the relative autonomy of the educational institutions, do our institutions of higher learning enjoy the requisite autonomy, so that they reflect the democratic ideals that our nation espouses? More importantly, what about the lot which is indifferent to politics, whose immediate and primary concern is academics? Are we not infringing upon their free will when, say protests in JNU demand suspension of classes for days altogether? Do they not get the right to choose to not be a part of politics and have their lives unaffected by it? It further needs to be seen whether, despite all the protests on part of the students, the other side is even up for a conversation and willing to be receptive to their needs and desires? Does it not speak volumes of the administration's bend when, despite a 139 day protest by students of FTII, Gajendra Chauhan ends up holding the reins of FTII without major debate and the administration manages to disqualify scholarship, foreign exchange programme participation of certain protesting students on 'disciplinary grounds'? Moreover, we need to ask ourselves if declaring our allegiance to a particular ideology is actually sowing in us the seeds of intolerance towards contradictory ideas and making us averse to the idea of having conversations? Our faith in the prudence of students aside, we need to see whether the students are indeed being played. Whether this young lot's desire to contribute to the society is being channelized by societal stakeholders (media, political parties etc.) to push their own agendas?
Despite all the concerns engulfing student politics, debunking this idea is not the solution. Hackneyed as it may sound, utopia isn't a reality but utopia is a must. Sans the element of idealism, the society can never think of progressing. The cynic in them still being in a deep slumber, the youth dissent, protests and fight, all in an effort to attain their utopia thereby becoming the harbingers of change. Indeed, because we believe, we fight.