“One of the factors that distinguish the political history of new nations from that of old, is the earlier appearance of youth as political class… The emergence of youth as a new political class has flowed in part from the creation and prolongation of youth as a distinctive life-stage with its attendant cultures and social arrangements, and in part from the relatively rapid build-up of the educational system.”
The above-mentioned article was a response to independent India’s need for a literate and skilled labour force, working away from home and family, to contribute towards its economic growth and the subsequent aspirations of the youth in a democracy to be informed and responsible citizens. Politics was binding the youth towards national service.
That was their analysis of the concurrent phenomenon in national politics at that particular period of time in democratic India. Since then, India has emerged as a major economic power, a cultural beacon and an important player in the maintenance of peace and security in the world. All this has been made possible with the presence of a student body that actively participated in the policy formulations and the gradual alleviation of social injustices in the country to uphold the values of a free and equal administrative system.
Student unions are affected by the same guiding principles that determine the agenda of national politics – caste, religion and regionalism. In the past few years, the student movements (both political and non-political) have seen a resurgence in the country. They have ranged from asking for reservation in education to the recent tussle between the State and the youth.
The youth can have different party affiliations based on their ideologies. The ideologies have become a political tool for questioning their objectives. The belief that education can be used to construct a non-divisive India based on reason and fraternity, where regressive mindset still persists, is a common thought which can be forged between student organisations like the communist Students’ Federation of India, the BJP-oriented Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad and the National Students’ Union of India. The student organisations were meant to put forward issues related to education, jobs and provide a fertile field for promoting critical debate among the youth from diverse backgrounds. However, certain dogmatic plans and unethical moralities have led to communalism in student politics and presented student politics negatively in the public sphere.
Students are the unified force that changes the misguided sensibilities of past into constructive opportunities in the future. The long-term sustenance of a movement is based on its goals of reforming the system for betterment. This perception will add value to student politics in the country, by having a move away from identity politics and an educated leadership which believes in reconciliation, resolution and righteousness.
The identity of a nation is based on the ideals of its youth. The student activism is a necessary critique of the ruling elite as well as a platform for the progressive leaders of tomorrow. An example would be that of Arun Jaitley, the current Finance Minister and Finance Minister. He was an ABVP student leader in the Delhi University campus and in 1974, became the president of the Delhi University Students’ Union. At the time of the Emergency, Mr Jaitley was put under preventive detention for a period of 19 months. In a democratic regime, where the sanctity of truth is questioned with ‘alternate facts’ and freedom of inclusion is still a right of a few, the student federations are here to stay.