Violent Shades of Campus Politics in India

Posted on May 23, 2012 in Politics

By Neelima Ravindran:

“If this is politics, it should be banned from colleges”
-friend of Swapan Koley, victim of campus politics.

Bathing in river Pampa in Kerala is said to absolve one’s sins. But on 17th September 1996, the holy river witnessed the worst of heinous sins when the young students of Parumala Devaswam Board College took up arms in an escalation of campus violence. Anu, Sujith, Kim Karurakaran, all ABVP leaders jumped into the river to get away from the violent rival mob who were attacking them. Inhumanely, they were stoned by the mob while in the river, till they drowned to death.

Miles away and years later on August 26th 2006, in the sacred Hindu town of Ujjain, amidst the confusion over the election format, 120 year old Madhav College cancelled the college union elections that was to be conducted. As all hell broke loose, Professor HS Sabharwal, head of the college’s political science department, who spoke in favour of cancellation, was ferociously beaten up by student activists and was pronounced dead a few minutes later.

Swapan Koley, son of a pan shop owner in Howrah, was an ambitious young boy who hawked newspapers to fund his studies. On 16th December 2010, his life was brutally cut short when his political rivals in the campus thrashed him with iron rods, smashed his head with bricks and threw him in a canal. As the coffin with Swapan’s lifeless body, reached his house, the echoing sentiment from his family and friends was “if this is politics, it should be banned from colleges”.

“To banish politics for an 18-year-old student is to deny him the fundamental opportunity of becoming a good citizen to vote”.
– V R Krishna Iyer.

With the rising cases of campus violence, discussions about banning politics from the campus have come to the fore front. UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s decision to restore student unions on campuses have once again raised uneasy questions about the functioning of student outfits in colleges and universities. Campuses have been the breeding grounds of many of our national and state political leaders, with the ‘60’s and ‘70 are witnessing the zenith of student activism. Many believe that a student should have the right to read, talk, discuss and actively participate in his or her political destiny and any blanket ban on student politics robs the opportunity for the society and country to generate a politically and socially aware generation. Student organizations have hitherto taken up the role of protecting the interests of the students in various issues, from the hostel food to the fee structures influencing the government as well as the management decisions on education. They have since independence secured many concessions from the governments and have played an active role in many movements and struggles in various chapters of our history. Every passing student needs to be trained in social, political, cultural and economic existence of the country and the inability to do so will in time create a young generation devoid of any empathy to the heart beats of the nation and its people.

“Today’s student politics has changed from being a movement to being momentary.” – D P Tripathi

There is no doubt that, one which was considered to be a vigilant factor of the society and pave avenues for future political leaders of the country is going through a volatile phase now. A major reason for the rot in the student organizations is the participation of external political parties and interference of party leaders in the affairs of the college unions and campuses. The political parties’ realisation of the benefits of ‘catching those young’ and the ideological stagnation among student leaders have led to a murky turn in college politics. The open carnage of gundas, outsiders and ‘hang-on’ leaders of various student parties have resulted in bloodshed across the universities in the country. Escalating violence especially during elections, have become a feature of these organizations. The political equations and conspiracies at the centre and state have adversely affected student activism which has led to wane in campus politics. Student unions which were supposed to be a corrective force in the field of education unfortunately have become tools in the hands of political class.

“Without unions, they only learn to be submissive”
-VS Sreedhara, professor, who was attacked by student union mob

That a ban on campus politics would solve the problems of the universities and colleges is just an illusion. Restricting student unions will result in anarchy in educational institutions. The recommendations of Lyngdoh committee have been aimed at reforming the campus elections as well as the face of student politics. Curbing the expenditure, keeping away the political parties from canvassing inside the campuses, limit on the number of times a candidate can contest elections, minimum attendance for candidature are some of the key recommendations that would take the young political aspirants in the right direction. The institution heads and management can stop any group disrupting the peace and pious environment of the temples of knowledge but a veto on student politics might spell doom rather than a boon. It has to be remembered that the final onus of academic, social, political and cultural development of the campuses lie with the student unions and the students themselves. They have to take charge in elevating the organizations above partisan politics and unequivocally tend to their duty, addressing grievances of the students. Organized student movements in peaceful and disciplined manner deserves to be passionately encouraged for inculcating democratic credentials among the youth, empowering the conscious citizens of today and raising better leaders of tomorrow.