Red flags, slightly militaristic party rituals, strict hierarchy, camaraderie and the zeal of the newly convert in college canteens and university debate halls are slowly becoming a thing of the past.
Almost in every bastion of Leftist student politics – especially in West Bengal and Kerala where Western education system focused on producing generations of provincial bureaucrats and clerks, and later mostly revolutionaries – the low tide is quite perceptible.
Why? Have today’s students become too tame and apolitical? Are they too individualistic and career-oriented to think about the bigger picture? Or are they looking for an identity that eluded India’s backwards for centuries?
CP John, former state president of the CPI(M)-led student front, the Students Federation of India, said, “Once Communism was an ideology of change, which attracted the youth. But things are different now.
“Many communist states have been reduced to oligarchies and turned into instruments of intimidation. Youth need more opportunities, not outdated slogans,” he said.
CPI(M) admitted at its Visakhapatnam party congress that only 6.5% of its 10,590,060 members are below 31 years. Interestingly, those below 35 constitute 51.8% of India’s population.
But the party is still chanting the old mantra: “The youths should be in the forefront of taking up social issues, which can also inspire more youths to democratic and secular ideals. This should be part of the enhanced campaign against communal forces.”
The draft political resolution gets confused after this and fails to come up with a roadmap for the youth. Instead, it finds the party’s negligible presence in the social media one of the major areas of concern.
It’s now watching helplessly the fast receding membership in Bengal, Kerala, Andhra and Maharashtra. The exceptions are Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, which produced some of its current crop of leaders, such as Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury, and Himachal.
In one of the recent meetings in Kerala, former CPI(M) state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan pulled up youth and student leaders for failing to attract the youth. The leaders’ excuse: “The youth of today are apolitical”.
But a 20-year-old student of Kolkata’s Jadavpur University, where students recently went to war against the vice-chancellor in protest against a girl student’s molestation, said on condition of anonymity: “Students are still very much political. But they have learnt to avoid political parties.”
In Bengal, the SFI leadership is in the denial mode. State secretary Debojyoti Das said, “It is not true that the reduction in the SFI support base has anything to do with the perception that students are drifting away from Left politics.”
In Bihar, which produced several Left stalwarts in the past, the BJP’s student front, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, has taken the front seat. This followed the waning of the CPI, CPI(M) and the CPI(ML) in the state.
But for a lone CPI member in the assembly, the mainline Left parties are absent in the assembly, while they held 34 assembly seats in the 1980s. The slide began when the Leftists projected RJD chief Lalu Prasad -- then Yadav -- as the messiah of the backward castes and lost their constituency.
The quest for caste identity overshadowed the class struggle in Andhra Pradesh, too, where Leftist thoughts ruled student politics in the 1970s, 80s and even in the 90s. Student body elections used to be a bloody affair. So much so, that the NT Rama Rao government had to ban university polls in the 1980s.
Several universities, such as Osmania and Andhra, were considered to be breeding grounds or shelters of Maoists. But the influence of the Leftist student bodies has been declining for over a decade now.
The reason: Large-scale privatisation of higher education and new opportunities in professional courses changed the scenario.