Once vibrant students’ politics takes backseat in Bihar’s caste driven campuses
Bihar, once known for robust students’ politics which blossomed during the movement under Loknayak Jai Prakash Narayan and propelled leaders like RJD chief Lalu Prasad, chief minister Nitish Kumar, deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi, union ministers Aswhini Choubey, Ravi Shankar Prasad, former state Congress chiefs Ram Jatan Sinha and Anil Sharma, former minister Narendra Singh and many others on to the national stage, is experiencing a vacuum in student leadership.
New crop of students’ leaders nurtured in the universities are as hard to find in the state as any student movement on important social issues. Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students’ union former president Kanhaiya Kumar is the only student leader who, despite losing in the last Lok Sabha election, is a visible face to have moved on from university politics to get acceptability on the larger stage, but there is none in the same league from state universities, especially Patna University.
A couple of years ago, the then JD(U) vice president Prashant Kishor did take a keen interest in the Patna University polls to the extent of ruffling the feathers of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), an arm of the BJP.
Kishor, who had those days kicked off a programme to groom youth for politics, had to be later rescued from the campus.
PK’s adventure in PU including housing students in a hotel to prevent poaching—a first for the university, confirming the degeneration of students’ politics--- however, did result in a JD-U backed candidate winning the post of president for the first time ever in 2018.
Kishor also took his experiment to LN Mithila University (Darbhanga) and Tilka Manjhi Bhagalpur University. But students’ politics did not move beyond that and none of the leaders could make an impact to create space and acceptability in state politics, unlike their predecessors in the 1970s and 1980s.
Former Patna University students’ union president, Anil Sharma, who went on to become Bihar Congress president, said the lack of students’ movement in the state on important issues had been the biggest factor against the emergence of student leaders in the last four decades, which could have added a whiff of fresh air to mainstream politics.
“They need to make a mark to get acceptability. They could not develop in an atmosphere of caste divide on campus and under the influence of crime. If I became the Bihar Congress chief, the seeds had been sown in my student days. In the past, students’ movements were so powerful that the government had to bow. It happened during Karpoori Thakur and Dr Jagannath Mishra, when VCs had to be removed due to the movements. If Lalu Prasad and Ashwini Choubey reached the top level, it also had its genesis in the JP movement,” he added.
With the students’ politics taking a violent turn in the 1980s, the universities developed a cold feet over holding elections after 1986 and it was only in 2010, on the order of Patna high court, that the students’ union election could be held after a gap of two and half decades on the basis of the Lyngdoh committee’s recommendations. But it was just a routine exercise done at the prodding of the court and the chancellor, without the intensity to give students’ politics the right direction.
Former Congress chief Ram Jatan Sinha, who became president of PUSU in 1971 defeating Lalu Prasad and handed over the baton to Prasad in 1973, said with “hooliganism replacing politicisation”, the essence of campus politics was lost. “In our days, the impact of leaders and their personality took them to the posts, now despite holding positions they are unable to create any impact,” he added.
Sinha, who switched over to JD-U last year, recalled how during his days, present BJP president JP Nadda’s father late Prof Narain Lal Nadda was the treasurer of the students’ union and nobody could ever manage to get even a penny without a valid reason. “A newspaper writing an edit on a student leader like me amply tells about the influence of students’ politics those days,” he added.
Young student leader Devyanshu, who won the PUSU polls in 2018, too agreed that caste and crime were two big factors why genuine and aware leaders with social connect were not emerging to raise important social and campus issues. “Unfortunately, those who emerged in the past and went on to don important positions also did nothing to rid the campuses of caste and crime, as it suited their interest,” he added.