THE DEATH of a professor during student elections in Ujjain is shocking and condemnable. While the Chief Minister has ordered a magisterial probe into the incident, it must be ensured that arrests follow a prompt investigation into the sordid episode.
Given the socio-political environment of Ujjain, the incident could have an adverse fallout on the BJP’s political fortunes in the city. Moreover, with the impending Bada Malahra and Vidisha polls, the incident could also give effective talking points to the State’s principal opposition party.
There was a time when student politics attracted the bright and ideologically committed across the globe. The radical Tom Hayden (then Hollywood’s top actress Jane Fonda’s boyfriend) in the USA, Cohn Bendit and Tariq Ali in Europe and Govindacharya, Nitish Kumar and Prakash Karat in India were all rebels with a cause and defied authorities democratically.
However, student politics today, especially in India, attracts by and large lumpens and uneducated upstarts. Why?
One, college campuses are no longer marked by a culture of debate and discussion; electoral processes are such that the winner is one who can mobilise money and muscle power during the college elections. Under these circumstances, genuine and activist students are relegated to the background.
Two, the character of parental political parties is also responsible for the prevailing state of affairs in student politics. Internal democracy is virtually absent in all political parties; elections to various office bearer posts in the organisation are completely farcical. Anyone who dissents against this is thrown out of the party and sometimes even attacked and beaten up.
Such totalitarian tendencies obviously filter into their student outfits too. Dialogue, which constitutes the very essence of democracy, is absent in the functioning of student organisations. Most workers and leaders of student outfits are completely intolerant and hostile to rival viewpoints.
Finally, the deterioration in student politics is inextricably linked to our mindless higher education policies. Unlike developed countries where higher education is reserved for higher merit, in India the focus has been on a quantitative expansion of institutions of higher education.
This unbridled expansion of colleges has led to the admission of all and sundry into higher education. Once they gain entry into colleges, these lumpen and disgruntled elements enter student politics and defile it.
What would be the impact of the Ujjain incident? Obviously, the worst hit would be the teachers. The incident has driven home the message that teachers who ‘meddle’ in student affairs and try to discipline unruly elements would be taught a severe lesson.
What then is the way out? The Higher Education Department must act swiftly and ban student polls in the State. After all, eternal vigilance is the price one has to pay for preserving democratic values!
Meanwhile, the RSS must condemn the incident in strong and unequivocal terms and instruct the State’s Vidyarthi Parishad leadership to promptly expel the miscreant members.
(The writer teaches at the National Law Institute University, Bhopal.)