India's Students Face Brunt of BJP Wrath As Resistance Gathers Pace in Varsities
THE CITIZEN EDITORIAL
The very first action by the Modi government when it came to power was against students in Jawaharlal Nehru University where the full might of the state was evident in trying to crack the Left bastion, and arrest and jail student leaders. Accompanied by violence, even at the Patiala courts where lawyers beat up students and journalists, the effort was to break the resistance and ensure the virtual takeover of the campus by the BJP students wing, Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). The students, starting with former JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar who faced the brunt of BJP/ABVP ire, have fought back refusing to be cowed down. And even though life has become a struggle for the progressive students and faculty of JNU since, with daily issues inviting daily protests, the recent victory of the United Left that captured the Students Union has been a landmark of sorts. As despite the odds, laced with threats, the students of the University rejected the ABVP that has been visibly aggressive in this campus over the past three years. A case in point being scholar Najeeb Ahmad who disappeared---it is almost a year now since he has been missing---after an altercation with ABVP students.
Delhi University has, despite the money and the support, moved away from the ABVP to the Congress students wing, National Students Union of India (NSUI) in the recent students union elections. NSUI bagged the two top posts, despite the aggressive presence of the ABVP in the campus, stirring the pot as it were on almost every possible issue-- be it the screening of a documentary film, or a seminar or literary event as in Ramjas College earlier this year. This victory by NSUI registered a clear disapproval of ABVP violence and goondaism by the students, a major setback for the ABVP in an University it regards as its own.
Before the DUSU elections, were two other significant ABVP defeats in Rajasthan University where the students wing has been very active under the protection of the BJP state government. The presidents post was won by a ABVP rebel and the general secretary and vice president by the NSUI. And this after again aggressive and in your face posturing by the ABVP. It also lost the students union polls in Punjab University with the top three positions bagged by the NSUI.
But spectacular has been its defeat in Hyderabad Central University where---as in JNU---the full might of state power was used to curtail the aftermath of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula’s sucide. In what became a prolonged battle with students taking to the streets of Hyderabad and Delhi, the centre rejigged the university administration (again as in JNU) to gain control of the campus. ABVP came into its own as it were, with any number of muscle flexing incidents being reported. But in this electoral test, the students of HCU have rejected the ABVP to embrace the CPI(M) backed Students Federation of India and Ambedkar Students Association led coalition ‘Alliance for Social Justice’. This alternative defeated both the ABVP and the NSUI, in HCU as the United Left did in JNU.
The crackdown on the protesting students in Banaras Hindu University by a state government that has no respect for dissent was thus, to be expected. The police force stormed into the University campus, thrashed the students and left several injured. For BHU authorities the protest demanding security for girl students, and arrest of culprits who had molested a student, was “anti national”. But if the objective was to silence the students with fear this has not worked. As almost immediately a major protest against the attack was held in Lucknow, addressed by the young and the old both. More are being planned in Adityanath land but also in Delhi and other parts of India.
The BJP that had come to power using force to quell dissent in campuses now is coming up against a wall of resistance. The ABVP that has been empowered across campuses to smell out dissent, and crush it with the help of the authorities---including varsity administrations, the parent party, the state dispensation, and hence the police---finds the ground slipping. And now the BJP has no real idea how to quell dissent that has moved from the campus of JNU into most other Universities as the recent wave of students union elections indicates. This is apparent from the attack on the BHU students, but instead of fear the BJP/ABVP is being confronted by growing and fast spreading anger against the attack.
The students as a community are coming together against what most of them have the intelligence and the foresight to recognise as an assault on democratic India. BJP that had thought of ridding campuses of progressive discussion and debate with fear and police action, finds the resistance buildng. The ABVP has actually accelerated unity and solidarity amongst the student groups as has been seen in the JNU and HCU elections where larger coalitions contested and won the polls.
The BJP clearly is left without any ideas of how to tackle the student community. Dialogue is alien to its method of functioning, and as a young student said, “it is their way, or the highway.” This inability to mend bridges, and concede demands, was evident yet again in BHU where the police was brought into the campus by the VC clearly under instructions. The very fact that the protest took place, that it attracted a sufficient number of students, and that it resisted efforts to break the unity is an indication of the growing anger in campuses even such as BHU has been perceived as a loyal BJP bastion.