Student bodies such as ABVP/SFI/NSUI have turned campuses into political battlegrounds
Chaotic events in Delhi’s Ramjas College over the last few days have turned the spotlight on the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-affiliated students’ group which clashed with Ramjas students and members of the Left leaning All India Students’ Association on Wednesday. The ABVP has been involved in several disruptive incidents across the country. And it has done so with impunity.
If it doesn’t want a senior journalist to address students in Allahabad University, it gheraoes him. It gets classes suspended in Jodhpur University after a talk by a professor from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). It beats up a film studies student who refuses to chant Jai Narendra Modi. It blackens the face of a television anchor in Pune because it doesn’t care for the use of swear words.
The ABVP is not alone in indulging in these bouts of violence. Across India, student groups are on the boil. In JNU, students have been demonstrating against the administration for months. Kerala has witnessed violence by members of the CPI(M)-led Students’ Federation of India. Delhi University elections see regular clashes between the ABVP and the Congress-led National Students’ Union of India. Last August, several students were injured when the two groups clashed over university elections in Vadodara. In Raiganj in Bengal, two factions of the Trinamul Chhatra Parishad clashed with each other earlier this month.
Some of the protests are led by independent student bodies. In Kolkata’s Jadavpur University, students gheraoed their vice chancellor for three days on the campus in January – following in the footsteps of Presidency University students who occupied the VC’s office for four days in 2015.
Often, a students’ group is given free rein in a state where its parent body is in power. That could explain why the ABVP has upped the ante in the last two years, ever since the BJP came to power. It is, however, making its present felt not just in BJP-ruled states such as Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, but also in Karnataka, Kerala, Bengal and elsewhere.
Earlier limited to the North, the ABVP has been growing across the country. According to a BJP leader, around 10 lakh members were enrolled in 2014, bringing its total strength to 33 lakh. In Delhi, it has 38,000 members. It has made inroads where it hardly existed earlier – winning elections in Kannur University in Kerala in 2016 and at the College of Jute Technology in Calcutta in 2015. It also won an office-bearer’s post in JNU in 2015; the last time it had done so was in 2002, when the BJP’s Atal Bihari Vajapyee was the Prime Minister.
It is clear that these student bodies have long ceased to engage in anything meaningful for students themselves. They have turned campuses into political battlegrounds, often with undesirable consequences. They behave in many ways as the sword arm of their parent bodies on campuses.
Political patronage and protection explain why the police just look away when student bodies go on the rampage on one pretext or the other as in Ramjas. This undermines the very concept of student politics which should be all about debate, discussion and protest but not gratuitous violence.
Bishaka de Sarkar is a senior journalist
The views expresed are personal