ABVP Spreads Its Wings Under Patronage
NEW DELHI:The morning after Kanhaiya Kumar returned to almost a Dussehra-esque welcome to Jawaharlal Nehru University, Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu, known for his one-liners, gave him a piece of advice. Advice, which almost sounded like Annie ‘giving it those ones’- only more dour.
He said, “Why are they getting into politics? If they are interested in politics, they can leave studies and join politics. Simple. Join your favourite party”.
In giving his avuncular advice, Naidu chose to forget that as a 24 year old student, he had become the President of the students union of Andhra University Colleges representing the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). Perhaps he also forgot that at least eight of his colleagues in the Union cabinet including Rajnath Singh, Prakash Javadekar, Arun Jaitley, Ananth Kumar, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Radha Mohan Singh, J P Nadda, Dharmendra Pradhan, and BJP President Amit Shah have been members of the ABVP, an organisation that is politically active in colleges and universities.
Naidu also misconstrued Agha Shahid Ali’s collection of poems titled ‘The Country without a Post Office’ as a presentment against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s development agenda. He said, “The heading of the poster says: 'A country without a post office'. Is India without post office? The entire world is looking towards India under the great leadership of Shri Narendra Modiji today. The world wants to invest in India. I am a Minister of Urban Development and I can tell you that 36 countries have approached me in the recent past saying that they want to invest in India because this is the best place and also it is a hope for investment. That is the mood. The world is respecting India and some people are putting up posters saying: ‘A country without a post office’, ‘against the judicial killing of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Butt, in solidarity with the struggle of Kashmiri people, etc.”
The February 9 event - on whose title Naidu’s solecism was based - was interrupted before it began by the ABVP who demanded the permissions be revoked by the JNU administration. The administration had acquiesced, which is when the gathering had moved to a dhaba and the rest is history (or doctored history).
ABVP is not new to disruptions. There have been many instances where the cadre has resorted to violence and threats.
In 2008, ABVP activists vandalised Delhi University’s Department of History, located in the Faculty of Social Sciences building, and assaulted the head of the department, S.Z.H. Jafri.
Earlier in 2006, it has been alleged that in Madhya Pradesh, ABVP activists beat to death H S Sabharwal, a professor at Madhav College in Ujjain. Six ABVP activists accused of the crime were acquitted three years later by the courts for lack of evidence.
Last year, in 2015 ABVP activists stalled the screening of a documentary film on Muzaffarnagar riots organised by the film society of Kirori Mal College. They also threatened, Keval Arora, a professor of the college, who is renowned for coaching theatre enthusiasts.
Earlier this year 2016, ABVP forced the cancellation of a speech by senior journalist Siddharth Varadarajan in Allahabad University.
Since the formation of the BJP government at the centre, the students wing has taken it upon itself to campaign against anything it considers anti-Hindu, which it projects vociferously as anti-national. Violence in campuses, especially in the states ruled by the BJP has become frequent.
Strengthened by the parent BJP, the student wing informs the higher authorities about the goings-on in their respective university campuses. The Kanhaiyya-incident, the Rohith Vemula suicide were all instigated by this co-ordinated passage of information.
Since the BJP came to power at the centre, and even before during the Lok Sabha elections campaign, the number of ABVP members has increased exponentially. In 2003, the members of the student body was about 11 lakh. It grew to about 22 lakhs in the next ten years. Between 2013 to 2014, in about just a year, it added another 10 lakhs to its numbers. Today, ABVP controls 18 student unions of universities and has around 9800 units in educational institutions across the country.
The question to ask is what has led a large number of youth to associate themselves with the ABVP, which on the face of it has been involved in fomenting violence and muzzling free speech. Political analysts suggest a stronger ABVP cadre is much needed to reap the political harvest planted by PM Modi and BJP president Amit Shah.
The growing belief of the youth in ‘development oriented’ ABVP can easily be attributed to its association with the dream of opportunities and employment woven by PM Modi.
While the ABVP maintains that it is independent of any political influence, its genesis is closely linked to the Sangh Parivar. The RSS and its 34 affiliated organisations regularly confer on matters of policy and the head of the family, the RSS, continues to serve as arbitrator in disputes within those 35 organisations.
The RSS pracharaks play a key organisational role within the BJP as well as the ABVP and other affiliated organisations. The RSS is also, arguably, India’s largest volunteer organisation. With its broad array of affiliated organizations, it penetrates virtually all areas of the Hindu-majority Indian society. It also stands out as very cohesive force, with no major instances of fragmentation in its 90 year history, remarkable for a country as socially and culturally diverse as India.
This unusual cohesiveness is due in large part to the social solidarity that comes from the long and intensive RSS training within the small local groupings. This cohesiveness could also be attributed to its membership, which is largely made up of upper caste Hindu.
The RSS is now much more influential and its popular image is considerably less negative than earlier when it was held responsible for the communal violence in 1947. With a concerted majoritarian campaign aimed at a 25 year rule of the right-wing parivar, the BJP and RSS have succeeded in cleaning up their brand image for the youth. While they project economic development as their main agenda, what forms the core of their political messaging is the ideological goal of building a common sense of national identity or Hindutva.
These messages of Hindutva identity have also influenced a large number of Indians living abroad. The RSS has been able to mobilise the overseas Hindu communities, resulting in plans to look at these overseas Indians as an asset to be used at home. This has been apparent in the swarm of ‘internet Hindus’ present on online forums and the many IT professionals campaigning in parliamentary elections using their technical skills.
A number of these professionals living abroad are also role-models for the youth back home. Online forums give the youth living in India the opportunity to stay connected with their role-models living in the United States or Europe. The internet, to the advantage of the ABVP and the Sangh parivar has become a happy hunting ground and recruitment forum.
Under the leadership of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, the ABVP is set to increase in numbers even further. The duo recognise the importance of the youth in elections and with the forthcoming state elections in Assam, UP, Punjab the focus on ABVP is not going to abate.
The demographic dividend, which economists say is the key advantage of India is, in reality, being reaped by the Sangh parivar. It remains to be seen for how long the parivar manages to sell them short before realisation dawns.
(Nikhil Kumar writes on politics, history and literature.)