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The Student Community And Polity in Bengal: Why It Has Lost Track

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By Saikat Bose:

I remember a scene from Ray’s Pratidwandi where the protagonist played by Dhritimaan Chatterjee appears for a job interview. He is asked what according to him is the biggest international occurence after the world wars. Dhritimaan replies that he considers the Vietnam War to be the most shocking event of his times. Cinema being a mirror of society holds for us the turmoil of the times when the streets of Calcutta resonated with the cries of “tomar naam amar naam,Vietnam Vietnam”.

Ray’s hero is only a representative of that multitude of young minds whose concerns and ideas operated beyond the constricted realm of narrow personal interests. It was the voice of an educated,conscious mass which was to bring about the Naxalite revolution. One of the darkest periods in the history of Bengal, the Naxalbari revolution marked a significant discourse in the political history of India. It showed an educated mass revolting against the aura of cold elitism exuded by Congress leaders, who were then in power. For the first time after independence, a movement led by the youth refused to identify the “sympathetic concerns” of dynastic politics and ‘demanded’ their rights.

Since then the academic realm of Bengal has been abuzz with considerable political activity.Be it Operation Bluestar or Babri Masjid demolition, Godhra riots or the recent Nandigram killings, the student community of Bengal has always voiced its opinions and have served to amplify the cries of the downtrodden,the exploited and the wronged into a deafening cacophony for the ears of every autocratic authority. Splinters of revolt have come together to form the revolutionary fire that has scalded the tentacles of authoritative establishments. However revolutions need a cause and ideologies need circumstances and both causes and circumstances change with time. A closer look at the active student organisations functioning currently in the state would reveal that its all smoke and no fire. The cause of student politics has been lost amidst the noise of slogans and the colurs of graffiti. National and Regional political parties in order to build a strong support base have created student organisations. Such organisations are nothing but masked mouthpieces of their mother parties and serve to repress the autonomy of student communities to voice their opinion. This leads to a situation where politics is not about having an individual opinion but rather having an opinion that matches with one of the political parties operating in the state. So, the argument at the assembly is re-enacted in the battle within the campus, often leading to short term injuries to students’ bodies and long term injuries to their career prospects and personality development. The reactions of this ‘so-called’ crowd of student politicians after a national event of political significance is absurd. A ‘loyal’ member of Student Federation of India would be curiously indifferent to a genocide allegedly brought about by CPI(M). Conversely, a Trinamool Youth Congress member would pronounce every accident to be a result of a CPM conspiracy. Their deep-rooted belief in factually erratic concepts can easily outperform the religious indroctinations of religious funfamentalists. What is more interesting is a feeling of being perenially victimised by the ‘Other’. In an attempt to prevail over the influence of the Ruling Party or the Opposition, student leaders comfortably forget about the interests of the community they represent. More often than not, the act of supporting a particular party is motivated by personal relationships among student than by an actual knowledge of ideologies and their relevance in the contemporary society. What emerges is a drama of personal affections or contempt dresses in the garb of social responsiility and political consciousness. Such a political culture not only jeopardises the careers of thousands of students who become instruments in the hands of extra-campus powers but also ensure a political paralysis among the youth of the state by making them voices which echo the ideology of political parties.

Barring the student wings of political parties are some student organisations that identify themselves as independent and autonomous. While such organisations do provide an alternative to the students at the elementary level, they have to meet with challenges in sustaining a political culture that depends on a support base restricted to the walls of the college. As every year a batch passes out of college, such political parties have to indulge in a new search of supporters. However, a dissapointing aspect of most of such organisations is a liberal socialist ideology that is no longer relevant in an age of outsourcing, brand hierarchies and retail chains. To a student whose idea of cinema is Hollywood, who refuses to settle for a Bata and insists on a Nike shoe and whose perfect sunday plan includes a Zing Kang Box from KFC, the idea of a communist movement can appeal at the most as an ‘interesting experience’ for a little while.Such an approach ensures that three years in college becomes a ‘revolutionary period’ in an otherwise comfortable existence, a sort of Political internship, more often than not driven by a desire to seek attention than by a conscious commitment towards society.

The purpose of this article is, however, not to demotivate student organisations. If a social revolution is meant to come, it will be the youth which will propel it. But, a revolution can only be brought about when the young minds are united against the Establishment that is not any political party but rather, the entire political culture of the state that operates on fake democracy and divide-and-rule policies. The more the youth of the country becomes ‘politically diplomatic’ so as not to talk about the Maoists and blindfoldedly support a media-hyped ‘event’ like Anna Hazare’s, the further we move away from a social change. We live in a society where truth is manufactured and revolutions are marketed by a sensationalist media and the new-age elites who are stylishly called corporates. One needs to perceive the rays of reality that pierce through the canopy of lies. Youth is about freedom and rebellion. It is time that we refuse to be enslaved by archaic ideologies and rebel against a complacent social existence of each-one-for-himself. It is time we act.

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  1. Mukherjee

    “One of the darkest periods in the history of Bengal, the Naxalbari revolution marked a significant discourse in the political history of India. It showed an educated mass revolting against the aura of cold elitism…”

    Why call it the darkest period if it ‘showed an educated mass revolting…’?

    It’s the Naxalite movement that started the ruin in Bengal, just like the Beatnik movement did to the US.
    I could agree with you on all the well-elaborated arguments except those in favor of student politics. There is a difference between youth and students: when students stop studying and engage in rebellious activities, it creates upheavals, not solutions.
    If they’re still ‘students’, they’re still learning, right? How can they be expected to know what should be fought for or what should be protested against, when they’re still (mostly) feeding off their parents’ income?

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Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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