This general election is important as it is witnessing the youth come to the forefront, along with debate and critique on the government and its policies. One such member of the youth is a leader named Sidhartha Namburi, who has a lot more to his ideology than just words.
A recent graduate from BITS Pilani, Sidhartha ventured into politics as he joined the Jana Sena Party to implement the change he wishes to see in the future India. He was one of the important student leaders who spearheaded the BITS fee hike protest throughout the country. Having been a part of various programmes like the Vision India Foundation, Centre for Leadership and Governance and Uni Mobility as Program Coordinator, Associate Director and Head of Operations respectively, he always wanted to contribute to society.
We got in touch with Sidhartha to talk about politics, leadership, governance and the importance of youth to actively participate in the democracy.
Here are excerpts from the conversation.
Simran Pavecha(SP): It was only last year that you were leading the enormous protest against fee hikes in BITS Pilani. After your graduation, you joined this political party. What motivated you to do so?
Sidhartha Namburi (SN): There are a lot of good people who are going into NGOs (not for profit), people willing to go into the IAS, IPS trying to bring some change, but there are very few good people at my age who are willing to go into politics and change things. So, I thought if I enter at a very young age, try to show that some positive results can be achieved even without any background and money, then it could motivate more people to walk on my path.
Thankfully, I didn’t have any pressure to feed my family. I just needed to take care of my own food and accommodation with my income. So, I can afford the risk. And, I have my father’s business and a good degree to fall back on, in case things go wrong. Currently, what I see is that those big leaders are coming from very weak backgrounds, who don’t have any money, they are coming out of their necessities and good will but those who can afford, are not willing to come out and take the risk. That’s why I thought that I should come out, take a risk and show people something.
SP: A lot of youngsters are apathetic to how politics affects our daily lives or they claim to be ‘apolitical.’ Why do you think that is happening and how can that change?
SN: The reading culture is missing in the youth right now; they are not trying to read, explore and understand new things around them. They want to have a settled, secure job and chill during the weekends, that’s how they are looking at life. But, in five to ten years, the scenario will change because they’ll start facing a lot of problems. The unemployment rate is increasing drastically.
We are building a lot of cancer hospitals but we are not thinking of curing the problem of cancer occurring in the first place. What is the solution – bureaucracy or politics?
I think that’s when they’ll come out and say, “I want to bring some change.”
Sadly, they’ll need to face that adversity to come out and see that politics is necessary. For example, farming is one field I’m deeply concerned about. After the Green Revolution and crop productivity there’s been no big improvement in Indian agriculture. But, in the last five-six years, there are few youths engaging in farming as a profession. When one sees other young people going into farming and making it economically viable, maybe that’s when they will also start thinking about it.
Another thing I’ve noticed is usually someone on social media who engages in active and meaningful debate is a student from grade A colleges in Delhi, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Bangalore, and not from smaller cities but if you go on the ground in these smaller cities, you will find an inclination to the social sector. There is a need of good politics in rural and semi-urban areas more than in urban areas.
SP: A lot of colleges and universities have student unions; political parties have student wings of the likes of ABVP and NSUI. Do you think they are making a difference?
SN: I think they are not doing as much as they should; they are capable of doing a lot more. Most of the time, the ABVP and the NSUI are restricted to bandhs. School bandh, college bandh, but they are not trying to bring reform. They must suggest good policies or how an existing policy can be implemented better.
You see, when I was contesting elections in my college, one of the points in the manifesto was that I wanted to organise a National Students’ Union Conference – a conference of all the leaders of the students’ union of all colleges.
I wanted us to be able to work on policies. Unfortunately, I couldn’t win and couldn’t get enough support and so couldn’t take it forward, but I actually feel that the student unions need to do more.
SP: So how can this change, especially now that the political climate is quite turbulent?
SN: So, the ideal situation doesn’t mean that they aren’t inclined politically. Student wings can be ideologically inclined to a party. But irrespective of who is the government, they should start playing a role of advocacy. They should fight for students representation in the parties, for more authority and control over decision making that happens in the parties. I think if the students wings together are willing to ask for it, parties will surely give in. That’s the power they have.
They are restricting themselves to who should be in power; it shouldn’t be just about winning DUSU elections, JNUSU elections or BITS elections. I know that once you start trying to risk and change the scenario or the system, you’ll face a lot of opposition and that acts as a major roadblock. But, it’s essential for them to have a vision and goal for the next ten years.
SP: The government has been implementing reforms like fee hikes, withdrawal of financial aid in TISS, and has been quite unstable and inconsistent with the reforms. Do you think it’s well thought out or we are bearing the brunt of their irresponsibility and lack of policy?
SN: The government has been very inconsistent in the way they’ve come up with educational reforms. particularly higher education. When we protested the fee hike in BITS, I was reading all the annual reports. In the past four-five years, the number of grants which we’ve been getting have been cut down tremendously. We now have the tag of an Institute of Eminence and are offered flexibility in the curriculum which we design, but there’s no financial support, so how will one even avail these benefits?
Even IITs are asked to increase revenue using their own methods. Having said that, just knowing the plan isn’t enough, it’s important to know how can that plan be implemented practically.
I believe Prakash Javadekar is not someone who should lead the MHRD. There’s only partial leadership because, usually, the government always does what the people want and reform in higher education is not a priority in the innermost parts of India.
A massive chunk of India still doesn’t have access to higher education. Hence, there’s this notion that it can be improved if student organisations use their power and authority to influence the matters of the MHRD. Like I said, leadership and vision are the most important.
SP: How does an ideal politician look like to you?
SN: This is something I’ve never thought of until you asked me. Though I’ve thought of how a general politician should be, but it’s like we’re already looking into creating the best out of waste. In the current scenario, an ideal politician would be someone with a vision, at least someone who can decentralise power.
So, my personal belief is that Narendra Modi would be a very good leader as he’s a man with a vision but he doesn’t decentralise power. It’s more like if he wants to get something done, he tries to get it done on his own. The areas that he focuses on get attention and the others don’t.
I think he needs to build leadership. I have been interacting with members and ministers who says that every little thing needs approval from the PMO. I think they should focus more on identifying young leaders and lead us into new ideas. For example, in the Madhya Pradesh elections, I think that the previous government fell because they haven’t given a chance to new leaders or new people to grow in the party in the last fifteen years.
SP: You’ve been a student leader. Now, you’re seeing it from the other end, being in the party yourself. You’ll have a better perspective to see the gap between what happens and what should happen. How is it like?
SN: It’s not very difficult once you’ve formed a government because then you can have a set ministry or a department which will make the implementation of policies very easy. That’s what I’m able to see. For instance, in Andhra Pradesh, Chandrababu Naidu has been a very good administrator, but those under other ministers are not performing well because they are not capable to put that pressure on the bureaucracy to implement policies.
I realise that things are not as easy as college out here, but I think the basic thing to get anything done is that you should have fire in you. Because, whenever people come to meet you, they try to understand what the intentions are. That’s the toughest thing here, while in college, they don’t have anything to gain from what they are doing.
SP: Tell me two realistic things that you think can be genuinely can be done for education at the earliest.
SN: Firstly, I think that school education is something which can be easily reformed if only the top leadership wanted to get it done. In Andhra Pradesh, the government spends ₹52,000 on average per student in school, while the private schools spend ₹12,500 each per year per student, but we can clearly see how much facilities and resources are being wasted.
Simply because there are a few Cabinet ministers who own institutions, they do not want to encourage private institutions, and hence stay away from bringing any change. Else, it’s fairly easy to monitor the grassroot level of corruption in the bureaucracy.
Again, higher education should be funded better and open avenues for private funding to encourage private places of study. Leaders like Nehru, and even the previous government, focused way more on higher education.
Secondly, privatisation of institutions should stop and under-resourced private engineering or medical colleges should be done away with. Accreditation needs to improve as the recognition of almost 3000 colleges across the country has been removed. A lot of private colleges are running for profit and not for innovation or invention. This commercialization of education needs to stop.
SP: Politics is known to be a dirty game. What do you think should be the incentive for the youth to join politics?
SN: I think that the incentive for me is that at least I’m trying to bring some change. This is not stopping me from doing anything else that I want, but I also don’t feel guilty about not trying. And the other thing, of course, is happiness. There are a lot of days when I’m on the field, going around, there are some good people, they identify you and they are very happy to see you.
It’s pleasant when I reach home, I can just put my phone down and sleep in a minute. I’m immensely happy that I’m working here.
SP: What would you like to say to kids who want to join politics?
SN: I think that everyone should give it a try, everyone should risk it and they should return to their normal lives only if they fail. Maybe they can stay in politics for two-three years and if they still are not able to make it, then maybe they can go back to their job and get a more stable life.
But, this is worth it – you get to be in touch with the social fabric of the country, understand how we function, and genuinely be the change you wish to see.
Note: This interview has been edited for clarity.